Local Focus: Stefanie Salem’s Rocky Road to Success

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“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.”

Words of wisdom from Helen Keller, who endured both suffering and success. 

That “Rocky Road to Success” is the topic of the kickoff event of a new speaker series for women that takes place Tuesday, Feb. 12 from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Balboa Island Museum

This inspiring and empowering evening features a panel of influential women who will discuss their personal journeys on “The Rocky Road to Success.” The event will focus on the tough life lessons most women face before achieving success.

The panel includes Melissa Friebe, SVP of Brand Mktg & Consumer Insights at Taco Bell; Daphne Freeman, SVP of Sales & Events at Urban Decay; Nancy Dahan, Partner at Brown & Dahan LLP; Danielle Kennedy, Actress, Author, and Lover of Life; Annie Winger, Former COO and CFO of BVaccel; and Stefanie Farnsworth Salem, CEO and Founder of Newport Beach Wine & Food Festival.

Stefanie Salem

Salem, a Newport Beach resident, has had a busy and varied career. After earning a BA in Psychology from the University of Santa Barbara, Salem became a project director for an international company, a role that had her associating with foreign presidents, prime ministers and major CEOs.

Her next job, with Hampton Court Publishing, found her publishing a 650-page coffee table book on the military transition to the fourth republic of Nigeria, titled “In God’s Time, The Building of a Democratic Nation.”

After that, she became vice-president of international sales for a specialty lighting company, and then founder and CEO of the Newport Beach Wine & Food Festival, which in five years has become one of the top festivals in California.

So how did a psychology degree fit into her career?

“I thought I wanted to be a psychologist, but once I understood that I would be sitting in an office listening to people’s problems all day, I wondered if that’s what I really wanted to do,” said Salem, who noted that it did give her a basis to relate to people from every culture, so it seemed like the perfect degree to get. “I have always been a sales person, so between relating to cultures and having that innate ability to sell things no matter what they are, it’s a good combination that affords travel.”

Chef Nobu Matsuhisa and Stefanie Salem at the Newport Beach Wine & Food Festival

And travel she did, especially while publishing the book on Nigeria. She went to all 36 states in Nigeria multiple times to meet with governors and other dignitaries, a time consuming task that took its toll.

She hit her rockiest road when her car broke down near the Niger delta. She was on the most dangerous road in Africa, and signs on the road said “Do Not Hitchhike.”

Her driver told her that “you don’t see them, but they will come. We must go.”

Forced to hitchhike late at night, panicked, she finally got picked up and driven to the next town. She gave the driver all the money she had.

“I will never forget how much fear I had,” recalled Salem, who said she cried when she got to her room because she realized she was only half way through her project. “It was one of the lowest points of that project, but it taught me not to quit. I persevered and continued on.”

“You learn from your failures. When one door closes, another one opens. There have been trials and errors. I have always had the mentality that failure is not an option, and to be an entrepreneur you have to have that mentality. It’s easy to fail, but you have to get right back up. Quitting is not an option. You will fail. I have made epic failures, but only made them once.”   

“The Rocky Road to Success” event is open to the public. Tickets are $30; a $50 donation includes a new membership to the museum. Seating is limited. The Balboa Island Museum is located at 210 Marine Ave. To RSVP, visit balboaislandmuseum.org/the-rocky-road-to-success.

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