Sarah Robb O’Hagan’s resume is stacked with impressive titles at cool companies: CMO of Gatorade, President of Equinox, Executive at Nike and Virgin Airlines. Earlier in her career, though, the New Zealander had her share of professional missteps. Today, she credits success credit to those failures.

LOOKING UP: For wide success at a number of cool companies, O'Hagan used her failures, mentors and family members to lift her up, and cites a mix of ambition and risk as a requisite foundation. Photo: Dylan Coulter

 “I had four or five years I call ‘the canyon of career despair,’” she says. “However, I’ve always felt those tough experiences are exactly why I had the humility and resilience to make it.”

No risk, no reward 

That faith in failure is typical of women entrepreneurs, according to a 2014 Ewing Marion Kauffman report. It’s also one of many tenets O’Hagan champions through Extreme You, a venture she launched in February with the aim of helping people reach their potential.

“‘...eventually you should reach out and grab something that will make you invaluable.’”

Her leap away from Equinox and into her own business is a choice that falls right in line with another Extreme You tenet: Break Yourself to Make Yourself. “Midcareer, we are less tolerant of risk and less likely to notice opportunities,” she says, “yet they still lie in the landscape. Destructing your routine gives the confidence to get out and take risks.”

For young professionals, O’Hagan has another piece of advice: Get Out of Line. She says, “This generation has been raised to believe everyone progresses together, but eventually you should reach out and grab something that will make you invaluable.”

Hurdling the gender gap

O’Hagan applies that same moxie when facing barriers like the gender gap. Despite intimidating research, like the 2014 Center for American Progress study that found women hold around 52 percent of professional-level jobs, but only account for 14.6 percent of executive officers, O’Hagan says she always felt capable and supported enough to make it to the senior executive level.

However, she also recognizes that she’s benefited from mentors and family support, and believes there are systemic reasons so few women reach the C Suite. Referencing Anne Marie Slaughter’s message, she says we need to figure out how to “balance the support systems equally around both men and women if we are going to see both genders realize their full potential in the top executive ranks.”