Fast Company: What’s your best habit, and what’s your worst?
Maria Teresa Kumar: I can eat everything. I guess that would be my best and worst habit.
FC: What do you do when you’re creatively stuck?
MTK: I go for a walk or start reading trends in consumer marketing. Reading trends sparks ideas!
FC: What’s the business buzzword you never want to hear again?
MTK: When we’re in external meetings or conferences and folks say that it’s time to take a “bio break.” That’s really too much information. It’s gross.
FC: How do you unplug?
MTK: I play with my kids, who are 6 and 7. Our home is pretty neat, but there is an understanding that the Hot Wheels race track going from the second floor to the front door remains up. I get particular joy launching a Hot Wheel down the track, and watching it do a loop and sail through the air before I head out for the day.
FC: What advice are you glad you ignored?
MTK: A Hollywood executive who served as my boss very briefly said I wasn’t articulate, that I spoke too fast. He expressed that my career would stagnate as a result. Eighteen months later, I secured a contract with MSNBC. Having earned an Emmy nomination since I started with MSNBC, I’ve been piping myself into his living room most evenings for the past decade.
FC: What advice would you give your younger self?
MTK: To be patient and maximize every opportunity to learn.
FC: Do you have a work uniform?
MTK: Heels and lipstick!
FC: What’s always in your bag?
MTK: Baby crumbs: a toy from my kids or a sock. And if I’m lucky, before I jump on the plane, the latest edition of ‘The New Yorker’ has arrived in my mailbox.
FC: Do you have a mantra?
MTK: I channel my grandmother’s mantra: “‘No’ is for everybody else.” My grandmother was married at 13. At 26, she found herself a single mother of eight with an eighth-grade education, when her husband, 14 years her senior, shared that it was too much responsibility and left her. She taught me about persistence.
FC: Is there a meeting you never miss?
MTK: My kids’ performances. They didn’t choose my line of work. So I make it my priority that I’m there when it’s a big day for them, regardless of where on the road I may be the day before.
FC: What’s your favorite object in your office?
MTK: A statue of Cesar Chavez next to the American flag. It speaks to why I do what I do. I deeply believe in America and her possibility, and it’s a constant reminder that her possibility can’t be realized until we provide real equity and opportunity for the most marginalized among us