Storytelling and performing, says Saya Heathco, have always been at the core of her personality. Growing up in Chicago, music was her “first love” and she began her career in marketing and advertising with an agency focused on arts and entertainment brands such as Blue Man Group, Second City and Chicago Children’s Theatre.
“Marketing is really about telling stories and connecting with people,” Heathco says. “It’s also a conversation — getting to know people, trying to understand and anticipate their needs, delivering a product or service in a way that creates that connection, that relationship.”
'If I don't put myself in situations that scare me from time to time, then I stop growing.' Saya Heathco
Heathco’s career was progressing full steam ahead until 2012, when she decided to move to Tampa “for a guy, as embarrassing as that is to say,” she says; however, that guy became her husband, and they now have a 2-year-old son. At the time, though, she encountered skepticism from colleagues who thought leaving Chicago for Tampa would be career suicide.
“I definitely got a lot of looks and judgment,” she says, “but it was a risk I was willing to take — I was young and felt like there was still a lot for me to learn.”
In Tampa, Heathco landed a job with 22squared, where she worked with household-name clients such as Publix, The Home Depot, Baskin-Robbins and Shoe Carnival. Over the course of nine years, she worked her way up to become senior vice president and director of strategy. But like many successful executives, she felt the pull of entrepreneurship.
“I got to a point where I could almost do my job in my sleep and still get recognized for it,” Heathco says. “If I don't put myself in situations that scare me from time to time, then I stop growing. Anytime I find myself feeling like I don't have to work hard at something, that’s when I know it’s probably time for a change.”
That change took the form of Coconspirator, a St. Petersburg-based business and marketing strategy firm Heathco co-founded in May with Ally Gannon and Shane Needham. She's the company’s chief brand officer and says it’s so far, so good, for the fledgling business: “We blew through our goals in the first three months.”
Heathco is still finding her way as an entrepreneur but says she gained confidence through a unique approach to mentorship as she was weighing her career options.
“I called every past boss that I still had contact information for,” she says. “I wanted to learn more about their journey and ask them what they thought I might be good at. That just opened up a Pandora’s Box for me and I took a look at every possible path. It was really helpful to hear about their experiences, and I’ve stayed in touch with them since then.”
— Brian Hartz
Name: Saya Heathco
City of residence: St. Petersburg
Title: Partner, chief brand officer
Birthplace: Elk Grove Village, Illinois
Years in the area: Nine
Marital status/children: Married with a 2- year-old son and 4-year-old pup
Alma mater/degree: Northwestern University, master’s in integrated marketing communications; University of Illinois, bachelor’s in marketing
What community group or organization are you most involved with? Since moving to Tampa Bay, I’ve had the chance to support some incredible community efforts like Eckerd Connect Raising Hope, the American Marketing Association, Creative Mornings and Mobilize.
What's the weirdest job you've ever had? As a brand planner, I cruised with a GoPro, traveled Europe to study beer, scooped ice cream, visited a toilet engineering facility, and interviewed condiment fanatics ... it felt weird to call it work sometimes!
What's your top tip for being productive? Lean into the moments where your head is in it and ride it as long as you can. I might work for 12 straight hours and blow through other plans I had. But I lean into the slow days too, when my mind and body need to recharge. I also make music playlists that create an almost pavlovian response to focus. I have a “mellow” playlist for writing, a “feel good” playlist for creative energy, and an “instrumental” playlist for when I just need to zone out and work quickly.
If you could have a side hustle, what would it be? I’d love to get back to singing if I have the time (and the pipes) for it again someday.
What's your favorite off-hours activity? Game night with friends
Have you gone to the movies in 2021? If yes, what did you see? Nope. All streaming for me.
What's the top item on your bucket list? A penguin safari
What's your favorite podcast? I still prefer old fashioned radio! I’m a Hot 1015 fanatic, and have recently discovered WMNF for something a little different.
Where is your happy place? On the couch with my husband, my son, my dog, and a bowl of chocolate frozen yogurt.
Describe yourself in three words. According to my last 360 review, I’m smart, outgoing and supportive.
Who is your mentor for your career and why? My dad, Dr. Arvind Goyal. As an immigrant, entrepreneur, physician, teacher, policy maker and public health advocate who got his third master’s degree in his 60s, he was a consistent source of support and inspiration to work harder.
What are the biggest lessons you have learned from your mentor?
- Old age is your age plus 30...It’s never too late to learn (his mantra).
- Hard work is never wasted.
- No job and no amount of money is worth more than your happiness.
- Success is contagious…if you help others be successful, it will come back to you.
- Business is just a series of relationships. The better the relationship, the better your business.
- You’ll always remember someone who makes you laugh (he’s much better at this than I am)