Looking at Elizabeth Chambers Hammer’s career and accomplishments, it’s hard not to be impressed. She’s a business owner, journalist and philanthropist, and has a successful TV career as a judge on two cable network shows. Plus, she is a regular on the TODAY show — WOW, right? Those facts aside, what most impressed us was that in addition to being a total boss, she is also a wife (of actor Armie Hammer) and mother of two children. She’s a real woman, who is doing realand big things.
Elizabeth is Chief Correspondent for the Human Rights Foundation, her involvement in which she attributes to her career beginnings at a national news network (more about that later). She is an active supporter of various organizations, such as STOP CANCER and The Hammer Museum, and is the founder of San Antonio-based BIRD Bakery, which has an additional location in Dallas. As an avid baker, Elizabeth opened BIRD Bakery not only to fill the need for high-quality and homemade treats, but also to honor her late grandmother who owned a catering company of her own, just down the street for the original location in San Antonio.
Through my discussion with Elizabeth, it was undeniably clear that regardless of the endeavor or commitment, she executes everything with passion, intention, and integrity. We spoke to Elizabeth about her passions, and how she juggles her career and business while still keeping family a top priority.
WHY WAS IT IMPORTANT FOR YOU TO OPEN BIRD?
I’ve always loved baking and making my own recipes for cookies and cupcakes. Even when I was only doing television, I would come home and bake. It’s therapeutic. You never know how your day is going to go but you know that if you combine certain ingredients, it’s going to come out well. I’ve always loved the immediate gratification of baking. I’ve grown up with a family of chefs and restaurant owners — it’s always been in my DNA.
And I saw a need for it. Five years ago most people in San Antonio people were going to the grocery store to get their cupcakes with who knows what ingredients, so I definitely saw a need for cupcakes in the area.
Also, I felt like my grandmother was there watching. She had her company blocks away from where we’re located. She was my best friend and it was a way to remain close to her. When somebody passes away it’s really difficult to maintain that memory. It was a gift to be able to share her legacy with people who didn’t know her.
IN YOUR EXPERIENCE, HOW DOES YOUR JOB BEING IN FRONT OF THE CAMERA ON TV COMPARE TO RUNNING THE BAKERY BEHIND THE SCENES?
My two jobs definitely compliment each other. Being on camera you have to be aware of everyone’s jobs and what they’re doing. It’s all about people. Whether you’re on camera and you know the camera operator, the director, your co-host, or you’re interviewing someone and it’s about their story. It’s the same thing when I’m dealing with my employees. The biggest part of running a business is your employees and your customers. In order to be a good boss you have to understand your employees and what they need and require from you — there are so many different personalities and ways that people think and work. Its a huge part of being a good journalist, and it’s a huge part of being a good boss. At the end of the day, it all comes down to people.
HOW AND WHY DID YOU GET INVOLVED WITH THE HUMAN RIGHTS FOUNDATION?
My first job was at Current TV — right out of school I was doing exactly what I wanted to do. I turned down jobs with local news to go into something with a more national platform, and I really loved it. We were doing every kind of story imaginable, going on oil rigs, crossing the border with illegal immigrants. We were reporting on hard news every day. After several years at Current I moved on to different shows that weren’t hard news. It was really hard for me because I feel like once you’re reporting on things that matters (not that those things don’t matter, but they were entertainment based), you need that to keep perspective. It’s so easy to live in LA and live what seems like a very ideal life. To me there was no sense of reality and no perspective if I wasn’t doing those stories. I was approached by Thor Halvorssen, the president of the Human Right Foundation, who asked if I would do a series of stories for them every year. He said I’d be doing things like interviewing political prisoners and traveling to tell stories from North Korea — it was exactly the substance I was craving after leaving Current.
HOW DO YOU BALANCE WORK LIFE AND FAMILY LIFE?
I have an amazing team and manager at the bakery. I wouldn’t be able to run a company from four states away if it was not for her.
When people ask about balance and how you do it, it’s important to know that you’ll always feel like you’re doing one thing when you should be doing the other. When I’m working on the bakery it’s taking away from my kids, and when I’m with my kids sometimes I feel like I should be doing stuff with the bakery. The biggest thing is knowing that it’s not sacrifice, it’s compromise. Focus on what you’re doing at the time otherwise no one is winning.
At least four days a week I have a specific time that I leave my phone and do a class with my daughter. Everyone in my life knows that at that time I’m just going to be with her. It doesn’t sound like a lot but that concentrated time helps tremendously. Another big thing, once you become a mom, is remembering to pay attention to your husband. Armie has been so supportive of the work I put into the bakery, because it really is 24/7. I think everyone understands that we’re happiest when we’re most fulfilled.
Then, organization and mental compartmentalization. My manager and I always joke that we have the tabs open in our brain, [laughing] you have to go to different tabs as things arise.
HERE AT LIVINGLY, OUR MOTTO IS ‘LIVE LIFE BEAUTIFULLY.’ WHAT DOES LIVINGLY BEAUTIFULLY MEAN TO YOU?
It means taking advantage of every single moment. This may be a silly example, but if you have plans to go out to lunch, having a glass of wine or ordering dessert, that’s living life beautifully to me. You can go to lunch and tick it off the list, but really being in the moment and making the most of every moment makes it indulgent, and makes everything more beautiful. It means trying a little harder, and being a little bit more indulgent when you can.