Carrie McIndoe: A Passion for Creating Opportunity

Carrie-McIndoe-head-shotCarrie McIndoe read a great quote once and, although she doesn’t know who said it or if she’s even quoting it right, it spoke profoundly to her: “‘Savor the time you spend with the people you love and on the parts of your life that matter the most, so much so that it makes you so happy you could dance in the street.’”

After a long career in strategic business planning and financing for start-ups, McIndoe is living those words as the founder of Economic Ventures, a not-for-profit dedicated to entrepreneurship. “I’ve learned a lot of lessons, many the hard way, and want to share these to help others transform their lives. I can’t imagine doing anything better.” (more…)

Lucinda Snyder: Finding Solace in Sewing

Luc044Lucinda Snyder imagined she’d lead the life of an academic. With two Master’s Degrees, a job at Rochester Institute of Technology, and plans for a PhD in political science, she was pretty well on the right track. But life had other plans for her, and while the road has been extremely painful at times, she feels certain that she is now exactly where she is supposed to be.

Snyder comes from a long line of doctors – four generations to be exact. She was good in school and grades came easily but medicine didn’t call to her. Some of her college professors suggested she would make a good professor herself, so she opted for that route.

But when Snyder’s contract at RIT was up, she felt like she was ready for a change. She was an avid knitter at a time when the knitting trend was heating up, and Snyder made the difficult decision to indulge her creative side and open a yarn shop. She knew it was a risk, but also figured that she could go back to the academic life later if necessary. The business endured for three years, but in 2006 Snyder decided that it no longer made financial sense to keep the store going, especially as she was getting married and planning to start a family.

On November 27, 2008, Thanksgiving Day, Snyder’s son Cooper was born. Unbeknownst to Snyder and her husband before his birth, Cooper had a IMG_0287congenital heart defect, sometimes referred to as a hole in the heart.

“In terms of heart defects, it’s really not a big deal,” Snyder explains. “It’s normally an easy repair. He had surgery when he was three weeks old. But we were in that one or two or three percent they talk about. He survived the surgery, but the following morning he went into cardiac arrest and died shortly thereafter.”

Snyder found herself desperate for a way to channel her grief after Cooper’s death. “Knitting didn’t do it anymore. I needed something that challenged my mind and gave me something to focus on. I started looking at fabric and was really drawn to color and design.” She thought she might try to make a quilt. But she didn’t know how to sew.

“I borrowed a friend’s sewing machine, took a class at JoAnn Fabrics and basically taught myself how to sew.” From there she started making and selling her creations, both quilts and other handmade items, usually on Etsy or at craft shows. She also wanted to have another baby. “The sewing kept me from obsessing on that topic as well,” she laughs. In 2010 her second child was born, and in 2011 she made the decision to turn what had been a hobby into a real business, or, as she puts it, “I decided to become legitimate.”

lucEnds-May2014-051And so her line of handmade fabric goods – called Lucends – made the leap from hobby to business.

“I wanted something that was exclusively mine. I got tired of going to craft shows and three booths down somebody would have the same fabric as me.” She started exploring ways to change that. “Now, the fabric that I use, nobody else has.” She works with a surface designer to achieve this. “Every season we brainstorm, look at trends, color palettes, see what’s on the fashion design radar. Once we nail it down we use a company called Spoonflower in NC. They digitally print fabric on demand, so I have my fabric printed as I need it. I’m not committing to thousands of yards of fabric not knowing what’s going to sell.” This spring she’ll debut her 4th fabric collection. She uses these fabrics to make a variety of handmade items, including handbags, scarves, pillows, and custom-made quilts.

Snyder probably could have found work at an established design firm, but that wasn’t for her.  “There are big fabric companies that take on designers and produce their fabrics and sell it mainstream, but that’s not really my mission. At this point, every single thing has been done by me. I create every piece that I sell, and that’s important.”

Snyder is surprised at how many people she met and connected with through her business. “Do I have a great product? Yes. But I also think it’s my story DSC_0148that a lot of people can connect to, and feel like they’re part of my journey.”

“I see this business as Cooper’s gift to me. And so it’s very important for me to stay connected to that. It continues to help heal me and gives me motivation to move forward. I think this is how it was supposed to play out for me.”

When asked what research she did before starting her business, Snyder laughs. “Absolutely none. I just jumped. I just did it. I was lucky because I didn’t need to make money to pay the bills, so I could just grow and experiment and see what worked and what didn’t work. I guess that was my research – I knew enough to know that I needed to build the brand, to have an identity, and the rest would fall into place.”

“I joke that 2015 is going to be the Year of my Empire. I have this vision of where I want to go and this empire I want to build for Lucends. This year is the first year that I’ve taken what I’ve learned and gotten my ego out of the way to say okay, these are the things that sell, and these are the things I’m going to make. It’s trial and error. And my gut. I rely on my gut a lot.”

lucEnds-May2014-074It seems to be working. Her sales have doubled every year, though they gotten high enough now that it’s very unlikely they’ll continue to double.

As far as advice for other women considering a career change, the 41-year-old Snyder says simply, “I think you just have to go for it. If it’s on your mind all the time, then that’s what you need to do. I think a lot of people are afraid to take the risk. It is risky. But if it’s something you love and are passionate about, do it. We can be so fearful of change. We think, what if I fail? Well, what if you do? You’re not going to die from it. So you fail, you get up and start something different, or you try again. There isn’t any reward for not trying.”

…And then it hit me

R&D-2I was walking in my neighborhood one sunny Saturday morning with my 7-year-old daughter when out of nowhere a Hummer driving recklessly hit me head on.  The driver, a local mom, didn’t slow down before impact because she simply wasn’t paying attention.  The police report said my first words were, “What happened to me?” It was August 4, 2012.

I’ve never scared away from a challenge or been fearful that my mind or body would let me down.  Until that day, I’d never really been scared about anything.  It probably stems from being raised in a large family with a big brother who used to torment me with Navy-Seal-type vigor, like being made to tread water with my hands while my feet were raised about the water level. In the past, without much anxiety, I flew planes, zip-lined, repelled, ran marathons, entered ski races, water-skied, passed a UPS driver road test (with parallel parking), built websites, gave presentations and started my own company.  You could say I handle stress pretty well.  That’s because I always believed that things would work out. However, I wasn’t planning on getting hit by the front end of a Hummer. (more…)

Susan Lander: The Lawyer Who Channels the Famous and Infamous

1421227_219711334874164_531552474_o“Steve Jobs was really fascinating,” says Susan Lander of her tête-à-tête with the tech icon detailed in her book, Conversations with History: Inspiration, Reflections and Advice from Celebrities and History-Makers on the Other Side.

“He really blew my mind, crackling with brilliance and innovation,” she says, still in awe of the conversation.  “And Kurt Vonnegut, he was brilliant too, but believe it or not, Notorious B.I.G. was my favorite. I didn’t want to interview him at first, but he pushed for it, and he became one of my favorites. And of course, Betsy Ross came out as gay when I spoke to her, which was the big revelation in that interview.” (more…)

Barbara Werner: Music to Make your Mediocre Meatloaf Sing

BarbaraWerner-with-dogUpdate March 2014: Barbara Werner’s musical pairing app is now free to download from iTunes and GooglePlay.

Airlines offer music on planes to help panicky flyers relax. Music is piped through the metro or subway system to reduce crime. And supermarkets have been known to play loud music to push customers more quickly through the aisles without reducing sales. So why not play just the right mix of music to your dinner guests to make them feel they’re dining at a Michelin-star eatery?

Absurd? Well no, not really according to professionally-trained chef Barbara Werner, “With an open heart, an open mind, and a simple mathematical formula, you can elevate a good dish to great and a great dish to near perfection.”

Werner collects degrees and certifications like most of us collect lost socks from the laundry. On top of an associate’s degree in culinary art, she’s certified in reflexology, payroll and HR and is trained as a beverage specialist, bartender, and equissageur (dog and horse masseuse in case you’re wondering). In addition, she’s taken sommelier classes and is a licensed manicurist and tattoo artist.

“I am always studying something and telling myself, someday this will come in handy, I don’t know where or how but it usually does,” says Werner who prefers the moniker of Renaissance Woman. (more…)

Gurjot Sidhu: Making Business Women Feel Glamorous, One Suit at a Time

feb11_27One question we love to think about here at Career 2.0 is whether women initially avoid pursuing a career doing something they love most because of what is expected of them? Are there expectations of women, especially highly educated women, about what’s a “proper” career path? That’s that question I was thinking about while interviewing Gurjot Sidhu, founder of Gurjot New York, a high-end custom clothier for business women.

Gurjot started sewing with her grandmother when she was seven and she was hooked. “Oh my gosh, I loved it!” she says of her favorite childhood hobby. She took sewing lessons and sewed gifts, pillows, fashion and anything else she could dream up.  But when it came time to find a job after college, it never occurred to her to think of it as an option. “I thought, I’m going to go to college and then to work. I never thought of fashion school as a path to that.” (more…)

Samantha Razook Murphy: Creating a Movement from a Summer Camp

Beth_Samantha_Melisa_SillyThey say that necessity is the mother of invention, and no one knows better than Samantha Razook Murphy.

Running a residential summer camp for teens, far from family and friends, this creative mom launched her own day camp for young girls to occupy her daughters while she worked round the clock. With a focus on hands-on science and project-based fun, Curious Jane was an immediate success and has evolved today into a highly successful camp, after-school, and community-events business aiming to empower girls to solve problems and experiment in unexplored subjects.

“We take a STEM approach but it’s also creative. Really my goal with the girls is to remove fear of failure as they tend to have greater internal and external pressure to get something right. I want girls to fail. I want them to see it’s totally fine and they can learn from it. I want them to use their hands, look at the world in a different way, open the kitchen drawer and see tools and resources for their creativity, and, best of all, know they can do it themselves,” she explains with enthusiasm.

A native of Atlanta, Georgia, Razook Murphy always did well at school. Academics were a top priority, and she didn’t disappoint when going to Yale. But her choice of major – graphic design – at an ivy league school was non-traditional. Graduating a year early, Razook Murphy moved home and did some work in the field only to discover it wasn’t really her thing.

She married young, at 23, to an entrepreneur who was building a computer camp business in which she was very involved. But the day after her honeymoon, the newly pregnant Razook Murphy was initiated into the very grown-up world of financial strain and endless worry: “My husband, Doug, was in a very serious car accident. He survived but the recovery process took a year. The business went into Chapter 7 bankruptcy. We were wiped out and basically had nothing.”

With her options limited, Razook Murphy felt her best shot was to retrain and – thanks to her parent’s support – she returned to school to get a Masters in industrial design. With their one-year-old daughter and not much else in tow, the couple moved to Brooklyn, NY, where she started studying at The Pratt Institute and Doug began to rebuild his business. “It was pretty tough going. We were lucky enough to have a lovely older woman across the street who looked after Eleanor while I studied and worked on Doug’s business. We had to take a lot of loans and drained our financial resources, but we managed.”

With her degree in hand and another baby joining the family, Razook Murphy ramped up her involvement in the business. While this was the family’s main bread and butter, she still found time to teach at Pratt and do some industrial design freelance projects.

Fast forward a few years and with the recession going strong, Razook Murphy and her husband needed to get a little more creative about making money in order to stay in their increasingly expensive Brooklyn neighborhood. The plan was to establish a new overnight program – Blue Tree Camp – for teenage girls on the Bryn Mawr campus outside Philadelphia that Razook Murphy would run while her husband remained in Brooklyn.

But what about her daughters? What to do with them while she worked?

LivvyGrace_Samantha_Eleanor_Sitting
With her daughters Livvy Grace and Eleanor

“I didn’t have anything in my mind. I was in pure panic mode. I was only thinking, ‘We have to be able to pay the rent so we’re going to call Bryn Mawr and rent space there to run a teen girls’ summer camp. Maybe I can set up a day camp on the side for younger girls where I can put Eleanor and Livvy Grace while we work and work and work. Curious Jane is a fun name. Yeah, let’s go with that.’ It was as simple as that,” she laughs.

And so Curious Jane was launched purely out of necessity, as so many service-oriented business are.

Before taking it to Bryn Mawr campus later in the summer, Razook Murphy rented some space in Brooklyn, signed up a few of her friends, and got started. “We ran a few weeks of Curious Jane in early summer then I packed up my kids, packed my stuff, moved to Bryn Mawr, lived in the dorms for six weeks, ran Curious Jane there and then ran the teen overnight program,” she recounts breathlessly.

Starting small, Razook Murphy hired one teacher and did everything else herself, from driving the camp van to designing the classes, all the while being responsible for Blue Tree. She created an umbrella entity, Girls Dream Out Loud, to house Blue Tree and Curious Jane. “So I won’t lie, it was incredibly stressful that first summer. My kids were there, other kids were there. I look back on it and it creates panic in my stomach. But you put one foot in front of the other and just keep going.”

The following summer, she saw the pay-off. While the Bryn Mawr Curious Jane camp remained small with the focus being on the teen Blue Tree program, the1973956_10151955129636516_1973352057_o Brooklyn camp took off. “We went from 78 camper weeks in 2009 to 520 one year later … 700% growth! What happened was that the girls came, they loved it, their moms loved it and we had an audience.”

And who wouldn’t love classes with names like Guerilla Art, Spa Science, and Gadgets + Gears. You can even learn how to create your own graphic novel or made quiz boards with conductive paint in Wired 101.

Growth came mostly through word of mouth and there was a huge response from the community. Within another summer, Curious Jane opened a Manhattan location and today offers its camps in eight locations.

While it initially subsidized Curious Jane, after six years the Blue Tree teen residential camp has run its course and this summer was its last. “Basically Curious Jane proved to be the much stronger brand. It was able to support itself. It’s unique in that it’s all girls and based on themes like toy design or electronics. These 6-11 year olds are so jazzed to be in the classroom working on their projects because the staff is just so awesome. Curious Jane’s approach has attracted the most phenomenal young women as staff members. It’s a very collaborative and inspiring environment,” Razook Murphy explains.

Curious Jane got a big boost in 2014 when it won a generous small-business grant as part of a nation-wide competition. “It was tremendous! There were CJ_Mag_Cover_BlackOutlinesome debts that needed to be cleared but most importantly we were able to engage a business development group. We’d always grown organically and didn’t have a strict game plan. Frankly we were a little all over the place and they helped us narrow the areas we wanted to move into, to lay a path should we wish to pursue additional funding. We also secured a new office space which allowed us to accommodate more staff and supplies and therefore do more outside of the office. And finally we launched a magazine for cool creative girls. It’s advertising free, full of fun stuff to create, and just awesome!”

And how does she feel now from those heady camp days in 2009? “I’m thrilled, I love waking up every single morning and coming to do what I do. That’s an enormous blessing. I love the people I collaborate with and the fact that I do something good for girls, especially my own girls. They can see a role model, a strong confident woman. Success for me has been being able to grow and develop resources at every state, and frankly to have developed a little bit of grit. People respond so positively to Curious Jane and I get to make a living from that. How great is that?”

Tips from Samantha Razook Murphy

  • Don’t let fear of failure hold you back.
  • Connect strongly with your first customers, value them, learn from them, serve them, they are by far your best tool in growing your business.
  • Mind your time and your energy — throw yourself in but take a moment to step back
  • Reach out for feedback — it’s scary but critical
  • Put one foot in front of the other
  • Remember that “balance” has no momentum… chaos does. Get comfortable with that, use it!

Celia Berk: Everything’s Coming Up Roses… Finally

Celia Berk Press PhotoDreams never die. Sometimes they just don’t happen exactly when you think they will.

Celia Berk remembers that moment vividly. The moment when she knew exactly what she wanted to do the rest of her life – sing… but not just sing … sing on stage, and sing on a New York stage. Her moment is now here, just a few years later than she originally thought.

She was in sixth grade and her mother took her to see the great Ethel Merman in what was one of her final performances. Merman was doing a revival of Irving Berlin’s Annie Get Your Gun at Lincoln Center, and Berk was blown away. “She was absolutely amazing. I bought a souvenir program and when I got home, I crossed out Ethel Merman’s name and put my name in her place.”

Sort of like the business owners who write themselves a check for a million dollars before they’ve made any money, knowing that one day, they’ll be able to cash that inspirational check, Berk would look to the program occasionally as inspiration. (more…)

Joi Gordon: Volunteering Your Way to A New Career

GordonSuitingClient
Joi Gordon (right) with a client from Dress for Success

Not everyone is as lucky as Joi Gordon. She discovered early in her career that she needed to make a change, that job satisfaction and happiness could only result from doing something that propelled her out of bed in the morning. And while Joi may have been lucky in her timing, she says it’s never too late to do what you love, especially if what you love is living a life of community service in the non-profit sphere.

“The best time to explore the possibilities is when you can volunteer. Find out what you’re passionate about, and give your time and your talent. Join boards and get oriented with the operations of an organization. Understand what is required to run a non-profit organization. When the time is right, make the switch. Because there will be a right time. There’s always a right time for a person to refocus, reshift.”

An only child, Gordon grew up in Brooklyn before moving to Oklahoma where she studied radio and TV broadcasting at the University of Oklahoma. Those were the heydays of court TV and Gordon was sure she wanted to be a court reporter, covering scintillating trials and breaking down legalese for the average Joe. Heeding the advice of a professor who recommended she get an institutional understanding of her preferred beat, Gordon opted for a juris doctorate from her Alma Mater.

As a means to an end of a career in legal journalism, Gordon returned to NY to take a position with the Bronx District Attorney’s Office. All was going to plan until the newly minted public prosecutor switched on the local news one morning before work.

Gordon recalls vividly, “It was the usual busy morning, trying to get out the door for work when I was distracted by a story on a not-for-profit that had just opened its doors six months earlier. The organization, Dress for Success, was appealing for donations of women’s business attire to help them in their work of getting disadvantaged women into the workforce.

She left that day for work, planning to contact the organization only about dropping off some items. Speaking with the young founder, Nancy Lublin, Gordon was inspired. The 22-year-old had dropped out of law school to launch Dress for Success with a $5000 inheritance from her grandfather. Teaming up with some nuns from Spanish Harlem and supplementing her income by playing poker in Atlantic City, Lublin was shameless in her pursuit of resources for her non-profit. As soon as she heard Gordon was a lawyer, the entrepreneurial Lublin offered her an unpaid position on the Board of Dress for Success.

Gordon immediately felt a connection with the organization and appreciated Lublin’s passion. She signed on with the Board and provided oversight as Dress for Success began to build out the platform to expand its operations beyond New York. After a little over one year, and only 29-years-old at that time, Gordon knew she had found her passion and signed on full-time to run the Dress for Success New York office as Lublin took on a worldwide role: “I left what I was doing without even questioning it. I cannot say I grew up wanting to be in the helping profession, but I decided this was going to be my path, my journey, and my opportunity to make a difference. My decision was met with mixed reviews from my parents. My mom was always a strong supporter of me, if I was happy, she was happy. My dad, an immigrant from the West Indies, was less sure. Being a lawyer meant having status, he was definitely more concerned about the shift and didn’t understand how his only child, a lawyer, decided not to do that anymore. But he came round and before his death last year told me how proud and happy he was that I made that decision all those years ago.”

Gordon ran the NY Office for three years until Lublin decided to step down from the organization to write the next chapter in her life, inviting Gordon to step DFS Joi Gordon with Vanessa Williamsinto the CEO role in 2002. In addition to suiting up women for job interviews, under Gordon’s leadership, Dress for Success has focused more intently on employment retention and offers resumé-writing support, interview training, and general all-around confidence building. “It’s not unusual for us to work with women who have spent 20 years in the corporate world, lost their job, and then lost their way. They need an organization like ours to pick them up again. We work with non-profit job training agencies offering hard skills training like computer training or a culinary program, for example. They refer a woman 48-72 hours before her interview, and we help get her ready. If she doesn’t land the job, we help her further along the process to help her find employment.”

Dress for Success has helped more than 775,000 women find work and is now in 136 cities in 17 countries around the world. “I never would have imagined to have operations in so many countries and find this common denominator, not only in the women we serve, but the women who serve the women we serve – our volunteers. They are so passionate about helping women overcome obstacles and succeed,” Gordon says proudly.

Gordon acknowledges it was easy for her to make the transition. She was young, with a husband and child, but no debt as she had gone to law school on a scholarship. She was also earning a modest salary as a public prosecutor so her day-to-day expenses were reasonable.  But based on her experience with Dress for Success, the 46-year old CEO is adamant in her belief that women must discover their own inner motivations. “If you don’t move forward, you’re standing still. Join a board, do your research, get involved in organizations that you believe in and feel strongly about. Figure out the timing. Look for the right opportunity but it must be strategic, you’ve got to do your homework and you need to get involved. There are so many opportunities for people to get involved in the non-profit sector first as a volunteer, then as a Board member and hopefully then as an employee.”

DFS Joi Gordon 2011 GalaBeing in so many cities worldwide, Dress for Success offers many volunteer opportunities for women looking to get into a new field, learn new skills, or even get a foot in the door. They can serve as image consultants in the boutiques, helping clients getting suited for interviews. Others can work in the career centers, reviewing resumes and doing mock interviews. “Women of a certain age have such wonderful experience in the workforce to offer. We get great use out of retirees to act as speakers for our numerous workshops for example.”

And the best thing about volunteering is that you become a known quantity to a whole group of people previously outside your network. So while you may not have a lot of experience in that new field, your passion and commitment will be proof of your reliability, putting you in serious contention for a job in the organization should one arise, or in similar organizations where others can vouch for you. Volunteering also does wonders for one’s confidence and feeling of fullfilment.

As Joi says, “I’m incredibly fortunate to have a job that combines my commitment to public service with my passion for women’s issues. Volunteering is wonderful in that it offers that opportunity to everyone.”

If you are interested in becoming a volunteer with Dress for Success, information is available here.

Encore is an organization targeting men and women in midlife careers looking not only for continued income but the promise of more meaning – and the chance to do work that means something beyond yourself. Read an earlier Career 2.0 profile on Jere King who did an Encore fellowship.

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Michelle Tenzyk: Bringing Down Walls to Build Relationships

MichelleTenzyk-full-lengthWhen you look at Michelle Tenzyk, you see a very well-put-together, well-packaged individual. She’s a confident and successful business woman and feels comfortable talking about it. But like many high achieving professional individuals, there is a truth behind the woman that remains hidden. A truth that – up until now – has not been a topic of conversation in the business realm. Tenzyk aims to change all that. After a fulfilling career as a Human Resources Executive for 20 years, her second act is to help others realize their unique potential. “I want to address misperceptions. I want to take it down to the granular level and open up the conversation as to who really is the person behind the title.”

Tenzyk could have been a professional pianist. Discovering the keys at the age of eight, she played competitively throughout her school years and graduated from the College of St. Rose, New York, with a Bachelor of Science in Music Education. Knowing that pursuing a music career would be a difficult path to follow, she opted for business instead and headed to the University of Albany to get an MBA in Human Resource (HR) Management and Systems. “I miss music terribly, it was a big part of my life and enormously fulfilling but I didn’t see a future in it.”

Tenzyk held a coveted position at the infamous blue-box jeweler, Tiffany’s, where she spent five years as Director of Worldwide Training and Development. For the next ten years, she held senior HR positions in various industries until she landed a prestigious job with Condé Nast Publishing as the Senior Executive Director of Human Resources in 2005. Speaking frankly, Tenzyk says it was not a good fit from the get-go.

After parting ways, she went through a tough year, but equally used the time to consider going out on her own. With the support of her colleagues and confidantes she decided to move forward with the idea and in 2007 opened a full boutique consulting firm in Manhattan: East Tenth Group. “I wanted it to be a firm, not just a one-woman show. Seven years later, the business is going well. We offer strategic HR consulting, leadership development programs, and executive coaching services and I couldn’t be prouder.”

While Tenzyk is happy with the direction the business has taken, in recent months she’s been working on building up to something infinitely bigger, something she hopes will send waves through the corporate and business community and change forever the way we interact with each other in professional settings.

On October 1st, joined by a panel of women from a variety of industries, Tenzyk will launch “The Truth Behind Our Titles™”. This movement is dedicated toMichelleTenzyk-logo shifting the belief that in order to be professionally successful, we need to hide or disguise our inner struggles and difficulties. Tenzyk firmly believes the opposite to be true … our greatest challenges are often the key, and the door, to our greatest successes. The event will address the difficulties many executives face, personal challenges – such as depression, illness, burnout, domestic violence and more – which people tend to shy away from discussing or even acknowledging in a corporate setting.

“The Truth Behind Our Titles™ has been a ten-year dream. The concept is born out of a deep belief I have that, especially in the professional setting, there is a need to talk more openly about some of the struggles we face as very high achieving women and men: doing it in a way so that there is no fear of ruin of reputation or that this is somehow seen as a sign of weakness,” Tenzyk explains.

This not just pie in the sky and HR fluff. Tenzyk is speaking from experience …

“My own story is one of a deep adversity after being diagnosed in 1994 with clinical depression. I’ve been hospitalized many times and have had this illness as the undercurrent of my career for the last 20 years as a successful business woman. Depression can be misunderstood and carries a stigma especially when it falls into the category of major depression, which is what I have and live with. The illness is not always physically noticeable yet we suffer very deeply. And it’s not something people are as comfortable talking about in the corporate world. It is often treated as a weakness or something we should get over quickly and certainly not something to speak freely about.”

Yet, Tenzyk confidently states her depression has not prevented her from achieving great success because she was able to employ strategies and solutions to show up at work living a more balanced and integrated life. “I’ve had to find ways to cope, to keep a balance and be mindful of when there is too much stress on me. My depression definitely has a genetic component but can also be influenced by multiple life stressors. I tend to throw myself into everything I do. I can be very intense sometimes.”

Tenzyk’s story is a powerful one, but she is not the only woman courageous enough to share her story. She will be joined by a collection of powerful women with inspiring stories about their personal struggles in the workplace and their ability to overcome. Among others, Nikki Johnson-Huston will talk about her experience growing up homeless and Wendy Samuelson will share how she copes with Usher’s Syndrome, a debilitating hearing and sight condition. “We will speak to issues the corporate and professional world doesn’t like to get into, the messy bits, and how we have contended with these challenges in our careers. We want others to understand how we live our lives today, more integrated, well and wholly in the professional world and give those who need it hope that they can do the same. In other words, empowering others with strength and resilience through our common experiences.”

The launch event will perhaps be a personal challenge for Tenzyk as it is the first time she will speak so publicly about her experience. “It’s important for me to bring down the curtain of shame. To show it’s okay to talk about what I have gone through and speak proudly about what I have achieved over my career in spite of my illness. I want to inspire and make it possible for others to feel as capable themselves.”

The goal is not just to help individuals who might feel isolated in their working life but also to change how HR manages these issues and how we deal with each other more broadly in working life. A positive reflection of the HR community’s belief in Tenzyk’ s vision, CHRO of Global Business Travel at American Express, JoAnne Kruse, will make the opening remarks of the evening. Some prominent HR executives will be in the audience, along with CEOs, while other companies are bringing staff members using the event as a learning opportunity. “The turnout speaks for itself. People want to have this conversation. This is resonating. The idea of the truth. To know your truth and feel empowered, building a sense of community to know you are not alone.”

People can be inspired after events like this and many want something afterward. In anticipation of this, a LinkedIn Group will be available and other resources and support are in the works. There are plans to bring the event to Philadelphia in 2015 and other cities shortly thereafter.

Tenzyk’s timing couldn’t be better. Considering the growing debate around how to manage mental health in the US, there seems to be a momentum and sense of urgency to get these issues on the table. But regardless of the broad appeal an event like this might have, for this woman at least, the journey is personal.

“The Truth Behind Our Titles™ is my life’s work. My view is go big or go home. I’m going for it. I am acting in faith that this will gain traction and we will tour the country, possibly the world. If that doesn’t happen, I know I will have given it my all. And you know, what is most important is having one person that next day [the day after the event] to put down their shoulders and say ‘I am not alone.’ In all my years in business, I have yet to hear my story. I am not aware that we have looked behind the corporate door before in this way, but now it’s time to go there.”

Advice from Michelle Tenzyck

Michelle is often asked what women can do to support themselves more wholly in the workplace. She identifies some common traps women should avoid:

  1. Not asking for help.  As high-achieving women, we often “go at it alone,” as if making our own way demonstrates strength. This has many truths to it – but the real truth is, strength comes from asking for help – and regularly.  We have many different sources – from those who have expertise you don’t, the same expertise that I do have for better insights, from people with different POVs, and those more junior to my experience, more senior – you get the picture.  In doing so it makes us more efficient, productive and happier. Often, our strength stems from support.
  2. Not confiding in anyone. This pattern must be broken.  Whether it is someone internal to your company or external, but someone who is not only a good listener, but a great listener.  Someone who is willing to give you input and objective guidance.  Someone who is genuinely empathetic and compassionate.  As Brene Brown says, “someone who really has your back, no – really has your back”. Hope, once found, is one of the most powerful tools.
  3. Not utilizing support systems. Whether you go to HR, your EAP (employee assistance program) or an external group; find a group of like-minded, kindred spirits where you can share your struggles and challenges openly and honestly.  This could be just 2 of you or 10 of you.  But a group with whom you can share the truth without fear of repercussions or stigmatization.  Resilience is born from the realization that you are not alone.

 

Tickets are on sale now for the October 1 event in New York City at the 3 West Club.  You can register here: http://thetruthbehindtitles.com.

Deborah Hernan: Learning from Icons to Launching New Lines

IMG_1680 If luck is when preparation meets opportunity, then Deborah Hernan has had a career full of it. While most of us settle for reading about the business and creative greats of our time, Hernan has had a career replete with learning from some of the best first hand.

From a successful decade at a NYC advertising agency, she was recruited to Revlon where she became a brand and marketing machine. And then as the AIDS charity, amfAR (the Foundation for AIDS research) was growing at an astronomical rate, she was again recruited to provide some discipline to the organization founded by Elizabeth Taylor. But after decades of travel, Hernan longed to stick closer to home. Inspired by her own tween daughter, she decided to launch a skincare line for girls, Ottilie & Lulu.  But true to the greats she worked with, Hernan is not just launching a product line but an industry.

A native of Brooklyn, NY, and a graduate of Seton Hall University, at first Hernan thought she might want to be a teacher. So she headed to Massachusetts, earned a Masters in Education at Boston University, and stayed up north to teach English grammar and literature to college-bound seniors. But after a few years, she was questioning that path. “I knew I loved writing, and the field of advertising had always seemed interesting to me, especially the copywriting side.”

She started networking and interviewing, but was encouraged to consider account management instead. It turned out she was quite skilled at that track.  Over the course of ten years at Laurence, Charles & Free, an advertising agency, she rose from account assistant to vice president, along the way developing the critical skills to succeed in that world – balancing demanding clients with the internal creative forces. Eventually however, the frustration of nurturing creative campaigns that could be killed by a client with the drop of a hat became too much for Hernan.  “I really wanted to be able to say, ‘YES! I want to do that,’ and then be able to make it happen.”

Again, preparation met opportunity, and Revlon recruited Hernan to manage their fragrance brands and help launch new ones. “Everyone at Revlon eventually spends time on Charlie and Jean Naté, which were fun to work on, but one of the best parts of the job was working with Diane Von Furstenberg.”

Von Furstenberg’s fragrance, Tatiana, named for her daughter, was struggling financially at the time. “She knew how to make a fragrance, but her then business partners mishandled her business with pricing and distribution all over the place.” In fact, Von Furstenberg was on the verge of bankruptcy when her friend, and new Revlon CEO, Ron Perelman acquired her fragrance business and put Hernan in charge of managing it.

“She was a very clever woman and really interesting – that word doesn’t do her justice, but she truly was really so interesting to be around … and she was always looking for ways to channel her creativity.”

Hernan fondly recalls one afternoon when she met with Von Furstenberg at her family’s farm in Connecticut, Cloudwalk. The task at hand was to discuss designs for the Christmas fragrance set, but Hernan walked away with a gift she treasures to this day. “Diane was throwing out ideas for how to make it really special, and of course, it was my job to balance creativity with the cost of goods.”

She happened to have a tray of beads in front of her, and as they spoke Von Furstenberg casually starting picking up beads and stringing them on a thread.  She was just doing it nonchalantly, not following a pattern or a drawing and when she finished it, Hernan found the result, a strand of onyx, and silver with beads mixed in, breathtaking.

“I said to her, ‘I love this,’ and she said ‘it’s yours, take it.’ To this day, when I wear it people say, where did you get that necklace?”

The flip side of getting to marvel at Von Furstenberg’s creativity was justifying the numbers to Perelman. While Von Furstenberg’s creativity was inspirational, Perelman’s business acumen was equally amazing but also massively intimidating. “Once a year I had to present to Ron and it was a total nightmare, but there’s good and bad in every situation, and the good was that you never went into a meeting with him without knowing your numbers inside and out. You never wanted to be embarrassed or ridiculed… even though you would be anyway. The man was a walking computer.”

Revlon was an exciting but rigorous environment and the toll began to show. “One night out to dinner, a friend said, ‘You look terrible-you really need to find a new job. I know someone looking and you would be perfect.’”

The job was at amfAR, the leading AIDS charity that was wildly successful in fundraising but also screaming out for some experienced leadership. While the nonprofit was a departure from her corporate past, amfAR was aggressive and the opportunity intrigued Hernan. “AIDS activists then were educated and very demanding—and with good cause.  Their lives and the lives of their friends demanded deliverables.”

Hernan took over communications as well as managing the schedule and communications of one of the charity’s founders:  Elizabeth Taylor.

The day-to-day job had her managing everything from fundraisers at leather bars to black-tie fundraisers in Cannes where people thought nothing of dropping $40K on an auction item.  But by far the best part of her job was tending to Taylor: “It was just the most fascinating thing in the world,” says Hernan. “Elizabeth was a really smart, really passionate woman and, by the time I met her, a lonely woman.”

Working for Elizabeth Taylor meant going to work wherever she was, whenever she was available. So Hernan had lots of meetings at Taylor’s house in Bel Air and in hotel rooms around the world. “I’ll never forget one room in her house. It had huge black and white photographs of all of the loves of her life who were gone: Richard Burton and Roddy McDowell, Montgomery Clift, and Rock Hudson.”

Despite being lonely, Taylor still had her jewelry, another great love of her life.  “Part of my job was to convince Elizabeth to wear the jewelry of our event sponsors. They were paying a lot of money to underwrite our events, and in return they hoped she would be photographed in their pieces, but Elizabeth believed that if you couldn’t own it, you shouldn’t wear it. It was a real challenge.”

And as a late riser in the morning, Taylor would hold meetings with those she was close to right in her boudoir.  And if she liked you enough, you would have your business meetings right on her bed: “One day, I walked into her bedroom, and she was wearing a simple white cotton nightgown with more jewelry on than I had ever seen, and I said, “Oh, I see we slept with our jewelry on?” And she replied, “Oh Debbie, jewels stay longer than men so they’re good to sleep with.”

While Taylor was a captivating force to be around, managing her schedule could be challenging.  If Taylor was supposed to be on the podium at 8, she would sometimes not arrive until 10. “Time was not a reality for her then,” says Hernan. “People would be screaming at me and I would be doing a lot of pacifying. It was so embarrassing, but then Elizabeth would arrive, the sea would part, the sun would come out, and no one said a word.”

While very few people could pull that off, Elizabeth taught Hernan a lesson she follows in her business today. Elizabeth always said, “It’s better to deliver something late and great, than something poor and on timeIMG_1049.”

When Hernan became a mother in her mid forties, the travel schedule began to wear on her.  “I was in Southeast
Asia one week, then South Africa, then Europe, and so on. If something went wrong at home, it wasn’t easy for me to get back, and it occurred to me why would I want to do this (be a parent) if I can’t actually be with my daughter?” She started thinking of other jobs she could do closer to home.

She didn’t have the answer until one day when she was bathing her daughter, Jules, who was just four or five at the time. Looking at all the soaps and bubble baths and other potions with pictures of babies the precocious girl asked, “Mommy, what are we going to use when I’m not little any more?”

It was a good question. Hernan realized that while the baby and toddler markets were inundated with natural products for skin care, when you became a tween, the options were dismal. The few products that were out there tried to appeal to tweens with sassy girl images but nothing truly natural, nothing made in the USA, and nothing that Hernan could imagine buying.

It was her “a-ha” moment. With her experience at Revlon, creating a product line for girls didn’t seem daunting. She knew the process – identify labs to create a formulas, test the products, seek regulatory approval and market them. And of course, find the capital.  “You can never have enough money to launch a product line, but you really can’t even think about it unless you have about half a million.”

In 2008, Hernan got to work. Branding her product line, Ottilie & Lulu, she was insistent that her line be manufactured in the US, which required even more capital because of the high minimum requirements.  She was fortunate to have a captive audience of potential investors at her daughter’s school.  “All my investors are mothers of tweens who believe in this idea and want their daughters to have access to quality skin care products.”

With capital in hand and manufacturing complete, at the end of 2009, Hernan launched her direct-to-consumer website. Some of the air was taken out of her sails when she realized that, while getting to this point was a huge accomplishment, it was only the first hurdle. “I thought it would be easy to enter the market, but once I created the product I realized that was just the beginning. Then I had to sell it.”

Sales limped along slowly for a year with no additional funds available for advertising. But then, once again, preparation met opportunity when Hernan was introduced to a senior executive — who was also a mom with a young daughter- – at FAO Schwartz. She opened the door for Ottilie & Lulu to have its own outposts at the flagship FAO Schwarz and Toys R Us stores in NYC.

ottilie_lulu_familySales slowly built thanks to a healthy national and international customer base introduced to Ottilie & Lulu at FAO Schwartz. But in 2012, Hernan began to feel tired and couldn’t shake a cough.  She was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a blood cancer, that sidelined her for most of 2013. Although she went through a successful stem cell transplant, she had to remain in isolation with a long period of rest until her immune system recovered.

While the momentum halted, her thinking did not and the alone time proved to be valuable for refocusing the business on a core product line: five items for tween girls’ face care and a growing online component: ottilieandlulu.com. Back in business, Hernan is ready to tackle the challenge of both launching a tween skin-care category and becoming its leading brand.

“I’ve been very fortunate in my life,” Hernan says. “Now I’m back on track, and as Elizabeth advised me, it may be later than I planned, but I’m going to market with a great product.”

Tips from Deborah Hernan

  • Be open to different lifestyles and others’ experiences.  They can inform and enrich your perspective no matter how hard it may seem in the moment.
  • Never, ever underestimate yourself.  You have amassed a body of experiences and learning that can be applied to a broad spectrum of situations.  Maximize your flexibility.
  • Disappointment and setbacks are a part of life’s experiences.  Pull out what’s valuable and move forward.

Tracey Pontarelli: Honing Messages and Muscles – From Bold Brands to Buff Bodies

Tracey PonterelliTracey Pontarelli sweat her way through college – not because she was anxious over grades, but because she realized early on in life that working out was key to her happiness and overall well-being. “My husband jokes that I’m nicer when I’m working out, and I am.”

Despite her love of the gym and devotion to a healthy lifestyle, her desire to put her Seton Hall University joint degree in journalism and business to use was stronger than the call to make a career in fitness. And inspired by a fortuitous meeting with a PR big wig when she was in high school, she was led down a path to a career in Public Relations.

Pontarelli, a native of Coventry, Rhode Island, was awarded the prestigious Horatio Alger award during her senior year of high school. The award, which honors students who excel in spite of adversity, matched Pontarelli with Harold Burson, the founder of global PR giant, Burson Marsteller, as her mentor, a friendship that continues today. Known as the Godfather of modern PR, Burson looked at the practice almost as a science, coaching his staff to analyze how to influence their client’s target customers through a carefully constructed process.

Throughout college, Pontarelli maintained contact with Burson, and while he surely helped illustrate what a career in PR would look like, he never offered her a job upon graduation and – true to the spirit of Horatio Alger – she never asked for one. She wanted to earn her own way.

“I thought I wanted to go into PR, but I didn’t fully know what it was until I got into it.  Luckily it played to a lot of my strengths and I think I was meant to do it,” says Pontarelli. She landed her job first in New York City at Golin Harris and then at Ketchum PR first working on clients such as Nintendo, Evian, and Wisk Laundry Detergent.

As a counterbalance to the stressful working pace, Pontarelli continued her love affair with fitness and – spurred on by a YMCA director who was impressed with her natural ability to lead others – she got certified and taught fitness classes at the Hoboken, NJ, YMCA. By day, Pontarelli wrote corporate messaging and pitched reporters and led step classes by night. It was a balance that worked.

When her then boyfriend, now husband, moved to Boston, the moonlighting fitness instructor made another jump. This time she landed at Mullen PR and continued teaching at several gyms in the Boston area. Burson was there throughout as a sounding board. “He was just so amazing and told me to keep in touch, so I did, but neither of us ever discussed a job until I was ready to move back to NYC.”

At 26, the newly engaged Pontarelli returned to NYC, and now, with four years of PR experience under her belt, she was ready to show off her skills at her mentor’s namesake firm. Burson sent Pontarelli’s resume to the human resources department and Pontarelli did the rest. “Obviously it helps when Harold Burson calls you his protégé in public, but at that point in my career, I knew I would make him proud.”

She landed a position as a manager in the Consumer Brands division and started managing accounts ranging from Kellogg’s to Fidelity Investments.

Those who worked with Pontarelli understood that indeed she was destined for a career in PR – she thrived in the environment where she was able to creatively help clients through their communications’ challenges, while mentoring and training younger staff all while working towards the agency’s goals. The job was exciting and, at times, all consuming. Pontarelli worked her up way from Manager to Director and finally Managing Director.

Seven years, and two children later, Pontarelli got a wake-up call. It was a Saturday and she was heading into the office to finish a global new business proposal. “I got ready to hop out of the car, and my three year old said to me, ‘Happy Valentines Day, Mommy.’”

For Pontarelli, who loved her job, that was it. “You know that saying, ‘You can do it all, just not all at the same time’?  That was the moment I realized something had to give.”

She resigned from Burson, but continued to use her skills by launching a consulting business. She did PR and branding strategies for friends who were starting small businesses and for a group of former colleagues who needed outside help with bigger clients.

“The nice thing about working in PR is that your skills are really useful for a lot of things, so I was able to pick up a lot of work.”

In 2012, one of those friends, Catherine Goodwin, came to her for PR help for the new gym she was opening, Exceed Physical Culture. Pontarelli had long ago let her fitness certification expire, but she dove into the project helping with branding and media relations. Much like the YMCA Director 20 years earlier, Catherine recognized talent and encouraged the 41-year-old to get re-certified which she did, this time in group fitness and personal training.

“Even when I wasn’t teaching classes, I was sort of a ‘half teaching’ because I just naturally want to help other people through things … I’ve always loved group fitness because it’s motivating to be in settings with people who are struggling along with you, but I also find working one-on-one to be motivating.”

In addition to maintaining her PR consultancy, she now teaches at least two group fitness classes a week and coaches a set of at least six personal training clients at Exceed on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.

While Pontarelli came full circle to fitness, this time around she’s using her PR skills to guide her through the process.

“One of the  first steps in PR is understanding your audience and getting to what someone’s true underlying motivations are – their anxieties and their desires.  That’s how we started every assignment at the agency, and that’s how I come at every single person I work with – what caused them to come in the first place and how do we get them to a place we want to be?”

Pontarelli, now a 44-year old mother of three, finds the work particularly gratifying when she’s coaching midlife women. “We’re really hard on ourselves as a gender, and I am passionate about the fact that women should focus on being strong, happy and supportive of each other. That’s what’s really important.”

Citing an email she had received that morning that boasted proven methods to shrink thigh fat, Pontarelli, not a fan of spot reduction, practically shrieks. “You are never going to have someone else’s body, but what you can have is a strong and healthy body and be proud of your workout. I try to get people to focus on that, and then the other stuff tends to fall into place.”

For women trying to get into the habit, Pontarelli suggests a fascinating book she read this year, The Power of Habit, which unlocks the secret of how habits are formed and broken… hint:  you have to replace a bad habit with something else to truly break it. But the upside to exercise? “The book has a whole section on it – exercise is a “keystone habit,” so when you exercise regularly, it creates other positive habits like eating better and working harder.”

The best part of Pontarelli’s Career 2.0? “I’m helping people, one on one. In consumer PR, I didn’t always feel this way – I was doing things that were fun and interesting, but now I feel like I’m really helping people and it’s very gratifying.”

While she continues to bring out the best in her clients, she’s working ceaselessly on herself as well. Next stop? Her first New York City Marathon.

Tips from Tracey Pontarelli

  • Do what you like and be open to where it leads you.  There are endless possibilities for you out there, but the right ones can be found where your passions lie.
  • Get out of your comfort zone. That is where Career 1.0 was. Career 2.0 is probably going to require a bit of a leap!
  • Believe in yourself. You are a capable, smart woman.  As one of my favorite instructors says, “Why not be this amazing?”  Why not indeed!