Mona Scott-Young is a rare breed of business person who has not only blazed trails for female entrepreneurs, she has also helped to position some of today’s biggest stars in the pop arena. After nearly two decades as co-owner and president of Violator Management, Mona stepped out on her own to launch Monami Entertainment, a management and marketing firm for music, film and lifestyle.
Also a wife, mother and philanthropist, this motivated Gen-Xer has redefined her look, her life and her career with bold strides, and has new ideas at every turn. In 2010, Mona took on the burgeoning world of reality television with her instant VH1 hit Love & Hip Hop. With emotionally volatile cast members seeking questions about love, life, friendship and fame, the weekly series has fans and media alike hopping on the bandwagon to choose sides and criticize the plots.
But are these situations real, or is it all just set up? You might be surprised at the answer.
In this exclusive UrbLife.com interview, Mona Scott-Young gives us some insight on her amazing career, why she values women in the workplace and encourages their growth, how she feels about single life versus married life, and why she’s standing firmly behind Love & Hip Hop. Read on for some real Tough Love!
After working with so many men, and now having your own company and employing so many women, have you found many different dynamics in the way your team cooperates?
Mona Scott Young: Oh, absolutely. I had some great guys on the team and my partners are men in the company. I think that it honestly depends on the person. I have probably one of the most killer work ethics, because I don’t know how to operate in moderation. I go hard all day long. I end up burning through people quickly, because I have a certain expectation level and I never want to be slowed down by the energy of folks or the unwillingness to put in the hard work up front.
I do have some great women. I feel a certain sense of responsibility to try and provide opportunities for women, so I try to surround myself with dynamic, forward thinking, and aggressive women. I think that we need to reach back and provide doors, because men do that all day long.
I do have some really great guys in my circle that support me and hold me down and have been around for years, that understand what I’m trying to accomplish and want to be a part of that movement. I don’t know if it’s really the male versus female for me – it’s more about work ethic and enthusiasm and how well rounded a person is, and how they’re able to multitask and handle and juggle and take everything in stride to get the job done.
Sometimes that comes in the form of a man and sometimes it comes in the form of a woman. I think those opportunities are far and fewer in between with women, and it’s up to us to keep the flow and legacy by reaching back and pulling another one of us up.
With everything that you do, you have a smile on your face, even when things get a little tense. What do you pass on to others about attitude and image?
MSY: All we have is our reputation and our relationships, and those are two things that I carry very carefully. I think attitude and personality and the ability to navigate and interact and relate to people all play into that very heavily. Nobody needs to know I had a bad day, nobody cares. That’s one thing, but two, I’m at a point in my life and my career where this is such a big part of what I do, I have to do it in an environment with people and with an attitude to enjoy my life.
If this is so freaking stressful and I’m so unhappy, then I don’t need to be doing it. I do this because I love it and enjoy it. I’m grateful and I’m happy to be here. I’m thrilled and blessed to be at this point in my career. I’m enjoying what is a second life of sorts, because I’m doing something totally new and different. That’s a blessing right there, there’s nothing for me to not be smiling about. I could be at home twiddling my thumbs wondering how I’m going to pay the mortgage. This is all a blessing.
I’m very happy to be alive, and to be able to do what I love and to earn a living doing it. I know that I have a strong personality, and it’s infectious. Don’t think I don’t have bad days where everyone is walking around on pins and needles, but for the most part I want to create an environment where people thrive and want to be there to put in the hard work. It isn’t easy. The last thing they need to do is hate what they’re doing.
It’s definitely a testament to leaving the dog-eat-dog situations. Just moving, doing my own thing on my own terms exactly how I want to do it. The ‘Monami’ is not just a nod to my French heritage or a very cute play on my name, it also means my sign in French, and the spirit that I want to do business in. It really embodies where I am and the space I’m in at this point in my life.
Because you’ve been successful both in and out of marriage, do you have pros and cons for each? How would you explain to someone what the difference is?
MSY: I have no cons. If [marriage]changes it, absolutely it makes you more aggressive, hungry, and more determined, because now you’re not just doing it for yourself. You have responsibilities to other lives that you have to take care of. All it did was enhance it.
Honestly I was still doing it as a single woman… great, money to burn, wonderful. When I go home at night, it’s just me… and who do you share it with? Also, the element of really, as you become more successful, having to choose the new people coming into your life very carefully, because you don’t know what their motives are.
For me, being married changed my life for the better. We had our children and our family, and it wasn’t until our son said to me, “Mom your last name is Scott; Jordan and I are Scott-Young… please don’t tell me you guys aren’t married.” We were like “Oh shoot the jig is up! Let’s tie the knot.” So we decided to get married, and we were already in a committed relationship.
At that point in my career, there was no way that I could have done it without the support of my husband. It was about finding someone that I could share not just the highs, but the lows. There were days when the deals didn’t go down and I had a really rough day… who do you share that with? For the most part, the people in your life, the people that you’re dating, they’re worrying about the good times, the sexy, exciting, glamorous stuff. They don’t worry about the deal didn’t go through and the shit didn’t jump off the way that you wanted it to.
I was feeling exhausted and literally drained [starting my company], and apprehensive about the next move. That was a very scary time in my life. [My career] was something that I spent 18 years building, and I was stepping out on faith and starting all over again. That was something I don’t know if I would have had the courage to do that as boldly as I did with no regrets. I was stepping out on faith, and was like, “I’m going to be good, I know this.”
My husband told me whether it was in these four walls or four walls smaller than this, we are who we are and that’s what’s important and that’s what matters.
Family, for me, only made things that much better, and having my kids changed my life completely. Now I have perspective, now I have legacy someone to build this for, someone to hand it down to. When I have that day and my daughter is like, “Mommy you’re beautiful and I love you,” that is like the end-all of all end-alls.
Even when other women say to me, “I don’t know when I’m going to have the time, I don’t know what I’m going to do.” I’m like, “It’s never a right time.” You want to make sure that you have certain things in place so that you can do right by your family. If it’s something that you’re feeling in your heart, don’t think that there’s a blueprint for this, because it really isn’t. It changes your life for the better.
What would you say is the best tough love advice you have ever gotten that really stuck with you?
MSY: I was on a flight, and it was in the Sky Mall catalog… “In life you don’t get what you deserve, you get what you negotiate.” [originally from motivational author Dr. Chester Karrass] Think about that. We walk around putting in the work and looking for somebody to say “I get it, you did a great job, and I’ll take care of you.” How often does that happen? Very rarely.
I came to understand and realize that me taking care of me is nothing but business. Me making sure my deals are straight and that I’m doing what I have to do so that my time, energy, and effort, because every second toiling away at something is a second I’m spending away from my family, I’m not raising my children, I’m not spending time with my husband. I need to make sure that all of those moments are spent in a way that benefits my family. That’s always first and foremost with me.
That also came with learning some hard and expensive lessons in this game – trusting people and working with good faith. Operating with the impression that you were in business with people that you thought were going to have your back and look out for you.
Now my thought process is very cut and dry, very simple, not personal. My time and my faculty, those are my assets, they’re all sweat equity. The brand is me, and my time has to be classified in a way that makes sense in order for me to take it away from things that are important to me. I don’t sit around waiting for anyone else to do right by me, because if I don’t do right by myself, then shame on me.
You must have been reading the press on your show Love & Hip Hop, and all the criticism on the way the cast behaves. Being a role model in business as you are, do their antics concern you? Do you ever wish these women would see things in their lives differently? Do you ever want to shake them?
MSY: Absolutely, and know that I absolutely do. The one thing I said going into this with them is to understand that this is not a magic box on camera. It will only capture what you put out there, and that is the material that I will edit to create the show, so be very mindful of that at all times. You have the ultimate power, because it’s about what you do and what you say.
At times I’m like, “Am I doing the right thing?” The one thing that I stand by is the fact that when I very seriously analyzed the show, it was more of an incomplete picture of who these women are. Of course, it’s the drama that’s going to make these reality shows work. I think it’s going to be an element of really getting to know these women and understanding the world that they live in and what they go through, good, bad, or ugly.
Women are represented in so many different ways. Who am I to judge how someone else chooses to live out their life? It’s not about exploitation, because there is a give and take with this. If you look to the opportunities that have been afforded to women like Nene [Leakes], like Evelyn Lozada, like Tami [Roman] who have book deals and movie deals and all kinds of other things. There are opportunities for the exposure that we see that without the TV show, they may not have had access to.
Do they have the ability to control what is put on camera? Absolutely. If they choose not to, will it end up on air? Absolutely. Why? Because I’m good at what I do, and I’m never going to ask them. I’m going to make the best damn reality show that I can make. Just like if I was making a documentary or a cartoon, it would be the best damn cartoon. I hope to be able to provide opportunities for these women, and I hope to continue to be able to do that.
What I do say to all of them is, “Be very clear about what you’re getting into. Know that this is something that you wanted, know the reasons and line up those reasons like dominoes so that you can tip them when the opportunities open up, and you can leverage this into whatever you want to leverage it into, because you guys are giving up a lot. Giving up your lives, showing your hurts, disappointments, vulnerabilities, and you should absolutely benefit from that.”
Emily’s story was very difficult to tell because she was hurting so much. What was interesting to me after the first season was, she said [later]that she didn’t even realize how much she was hurting, like, “This has been therapeutic for me; I didn’t realize that I was suppressing all of these emotions. Now I feel lighter and freer like I can see this more clearly, because it was hard for me to look at this subjectively because I was in the thick of it and what you did was kind of hold up a mirror.”
It’s like there’s benefits to all of this. We can sit back and judge people, but what I try to do is tell the truest story about their lives that I could. None of this fabricated, none of this is scripted, and I’m not putting words into their mouths. At very most, we’re taking scenarios that are actually playing themselves out in their real lives.
We format them so that it fits for TV. We had this argument, but the cameras weren’t rolling, so we’re going to find another point of entry so that we can reintroduce this on the show. We are filming a TV show ladies. Where are we going to do this? Is it going to be in a restaurant or on a street corner?
How do you tell people the truth about what you have to do to be Mona Scott Young?
MSY: The first thing that I would do is encourage. I’m amazed at what the human mind and spirit can accomplish once it sets itself on a goal. I never tried to dissuade anyone, because I think that we all have different skill sets. Focus on your skill set, figure out what you’re really good at, then hone in on that shit until it’s finely tuned tool for you to use to help get you to where you’re going.
I encourage women that say that they want to be me. Be me, so then I can go ahead and be Oprah. Push me up the ladder. Sometimes I get a little concerned when I look around and see the young women that are coming up in the game – even the ones coming through the educational system, it’s like, “Wow where are we? Are we well represented? Are we empowering our young women in the way that’s going to provide them with some kind of legacy?”
To me, it’s about making sure that they understand through hard work and commitment and being dedicated – are they going to get to all of those goals that they want to accomplish? Make sure your head is on straight. Whatever it is that you want to do, fine tune those skills. That intellectual information, your personal skill set, that’s your competitive edge.
Everyone can go and get the same education; everyone can have the same degree. What makes you uniquely you is your skills. That’s what you need to fine tune and develop to make sure you are the absolutely best you that you can be. That’s the only thing that no one else can compete with. No one else can beat you but you.