I grew up the youngest child of a hardworking, disciplined immigrant family. When I was in second grade, I had to accompany my mother, who didn’t speak English, to a parent-teacher meeting. My teacher asked me to tell my mother that I was a good student but that I was “a bit chatty.” I translated the message uncomfortably, and my mother paused thoughtfully—then ordered me to ask the teacher, “Is she distracting the class?” When my teacher said no, my mother said in her broken English, “OK, my daughter will be very social when she grows up. That is good.”
Mortified as I was back then, the moment stands out as one of my most formative. The fact that my mother embraced that key personality trait served me not only in that awkward moment but also throughout my life. My parents guided my sisters and me to pursue our passions, both personal and professional. We were taught by example that nothing in life is free, that you must earn everything through hard work and confidence in your abilities.
I developed my love for media in college. I was attracted to writers and publications with a strong journalistic voice that covered world affairs. I was interested in the innovators, the disruptors—any platform that challenged the status quo. After college, I landed two jobs in media research. Though the knowledge and experience I gained was invaluable, it proved too solitary and analytical, and the absence of frequent peer dialogue led me to pursue a career that would allow me to explore the sociability my mother had recognized as an asset.
So in 1997, I started in a junior advertising role at Variety. I was instantly smitten with not only the brand and its heritage, but also its willingness to be provocative. Its incisive journalism had a tremendous impact across the rapidly shifting media and entertainment landscape. I dedicated myself to maximizing the chance I’d been given, working the long hours and weekends necessary to exceed expectations. Whenever an opportunity to take on an assignment presented itself, I raised my hand and dove headfirst into the project. I even kept an extra outfit in the trunk of my car in case a senior executive asked me to join a meeting or fill a seat at a client event.
I never made a conscious decision to become the first Latina leader and female to run Variety. What I did do was always strive to be the best, to push myself beyond my comfort zone and to love what I do. It was a thrilling moment for me when I was initially given the role of publisher of Variety. When my announcement was released and it was noted that I was indeed the first woman and certainly the first Latina in over a century to hold this position, I thought back to my mother and father and how they encouraged and supported me. How grateful I am to my parents for instilling the value to always exceed expectations and to be authentic.
Michelle Sobrino-Stearns is the group publisher and chief revenue officer of Variety.