Where Stories — and Women — Matter

I‘ve wanted to be a storyteller for as long as I can remember. As a little girl in Iowa, long after I was supposed to be asleep, I would read mysteries and adventure stories with a flashlight under the covers.

My professional storytelling career began as a news reporter and anchor at WCCO-TV, the CBS O&O in Minneapolis. Thanks to the station’s commitment to global news, I was sent to cover news in Africa, Central and South America, Europe and even to live for three weeks with former headhunters in Papua New Guinea. But after 17 years in broadcast journalism and with three young children at home, I felt something was missing.

Tremendous! Entertainment was born from that desire to tell stories that elevate the human spirit. With Jane Durkee, chief operating officer, and Shannon Keenan Demers, senior vice president of production and creative, at my side, we’ve been able to do just that for almost 20 years.

Many have debated whether women make better leaders than men, and studies first published in Harvard Business Review certainly give women the nod. In my experience, women excel at driving results, but they also tend to be more collaborative, more empowering and more likely to spot opportunities that mere analytics miss. This heart-led filter creates a company-wide culture that retains the most talented women and men and, ultimately, leads to financial success.

Take Bizarre Foods With Andrew Zimmern, a franchise we created in the early 2000s that is now Travel Channel’s longest-running series. It explores cultures around the world through the lens of food, and it celebrates the ordinary-yet-extraordinary lives of people who may look different but who exemplify ideals we all value. Early on, when Andrew discovered a tribe that was willing to offer up its only meal in three days to him or a man who happily risked his life at sea with nothing more than a ball of string and a rusty knife so he could feed his family, we knew we were on to something special — something that viewers would respond to.

And when it comes to giving women a voice, you don’t often think of the Middle East as a place where women are in leadership positions, but while researching Dubai for Bizarre Foods, supervising producer Tammy Bloom discovered a woman who owns a camel farm and employs mostly men. She also found two women who started a global gourmet food company, a woman executive at a thriving camel dairy and a young woman entrepreneur with a successful food and travel business. We made it a point to feature all these stories.

When you treat coworkers like family, allow them to express their creativity and give them the flexibility to spend time with their loved ones, you find engaged and talented people who are committed to their work and willing to go that extra mile.

Colleen Needles Steward is president and CEO of factual-based production company Tremendous! Entertainment in Minneapolis.