my story: a few chapters from start-up to Big and more
NEXT Career Design is a Movement Connecting People Transforming Careers and Creating Lifestyles They Love!
I developed this event as the capstone project for the Landmark Self-Expression and Leadership Program. I was challenged to choose an interest and use my experiences to make a difference within a community. I self-funded the project and enlisted a team of friends, family and supporters who participated because they saw something for themselves in our efforts.
My inspiration was a protracted job search. Along the way, I met many who shared experiencing loneliness and wanting to connect on a human level versus typical networking events.
Some of us were overwhelmed by the variety of lifestyle and career options from contract employment to traditional corporate positions and entrepreneurship. We learned that determining a career path and applying it to our searches was not simple. We also wanted easily accessible tools, techniques, and tips to get us to the next step.
We could be resigned to loneliness, lost in the morass of career options and out of touch with meaningful resources or, take action.
We chose to take action.
Together we are connecting people, creating a community, giving knowledge generously and supporting each other.
Against this backdrop, we created an extraordinary event for almost 100 people at Kean University's STEM Building. They were touched, moved and inspired by the speakers, guests, and connection among the community. We hope the movement continues in the future.
In early 2013, I reconnected with a former colleague and he asked if I was interested in an entertainment project. He wanted to recommend me as a business development and branding consultant. I read some background material and before I knew it, I was involved in a web series book show concept. Its’ creators are Kate and Burke Wood. Burke runs Burkewood Creative, an independent film company in Princeton, New Jersey, and Kate joins him at Burkewood developing long and short form film and TV programs.
Through a series of iterations, we developed the concept into Black Foxes and I became the show executive. Our project's rationale was based on the notion that although there are increasing numbers of African American stars in today's business, entertainment, news, performing arts and sports worlds, there are few continually positive images of Black women in the media. Too often they are negative stereotypes of angry, unhealthy, undereducated women.
Programming depicting authentic, well-educated women of color who can spontaneously and publicly share their life experiences and be optimistic, inspiring role models for diverse viewing audiences is lacking.
Clearly, there is a compelling need to present images, perspectives and voices of well-informed Black women to further understanding of the country’s strained social and cultural issues and values.
Black Foxes is a reality web-based series with an active social media component, responding to that need. It presents highly positive images, reflections and critical thoughts of a dynamically diverse group of six Black women. Their close affinity grew out of membership in a larger and longstanding New Jersey book club of African American women, called the Bibliophiles.
It is in their smaller, self-named, Black Foxes book club where these proud, charismatic, sophisticated women steep themselves in their culture through the literature of the African Diaspora. They use this safe place to share their frank comments about experiences, challenges, and commonalities that they find in their own lives and in the world around them.
It is reality programming with a twist. Authentic, intellectual African-American women invite you to read, dig deep, learn, laugh, and be positive and optimistic with them. At its core, Black Foxes is about sharing and connecting personal journeys. Black Foxes leads all women to find and share their voices.
I worked on brands targeted to children for several years. When Godiva Chocolatier came along it was my dream job! Moving to adult, luxury and chocolate was a trifecta.
One of my assignments was leading global innovation, business development and licensing. Godiva was then, the largest super premium chocolate producer by volume. There were over five thousand stores globally.
The category was hot and packed with more competitors than ever. People were getting their chocolate fix more frequently from grocery and drug stores versus malls where Godiva stores were. They also wanted small indulgences; bite size pieces. Godiva was not as accessible as the competition and did not have products in the sizes and lower prices consumers wanted.
A huge career opportunity opened when the CEO asked me to create a skunkworks team to develop a new business within Godiva to tackle these strategic issues AND launch the products.
It was the largest, most difficult project I ever faced. I had to move from vision to strategy and execute a high quality, profitable concept. As a global project, communication and adaptability were paramount. I also learned that alignment across a global organization is an ongoing process of winning people over - not a one-time event. We were transforming a brand.
I experienced many ups and downs along the way to making this idea a reality. Undeterred, in under a year, we launched a wide range of items on three continents.
I learned what it takes to champion a complex project across an organization while appreciating the impact on business and people involved. I grew personally and professionally and am grateful for the opportunity.
Rebranding an Icon
It was the middle of summer in 2011 when I received a call from someone I met through Godiva. He worked at Campbell Soup in the strategy group when they owned Godiva. He shared that we both attended Princeton and that he chaired the board of trustees for the University Store. He was looking for alumni interested in joining the board. I went through a brief vetting process and started attending meetings that fall.
My friend rotated off of the board and today, I am the Chairman. The primary University Store location is on Nassau Street. Its' current design is in response to a directive to focus on modern Princeton rather than tradition. However, the board (including members representing the University) consistently expresses a desire for it to be more linked to Princeton history and tradition. The store would be more effective in stimulating purchases and satisfying members and customers. This change encompasses store design, merchandise mix, and marketing.
With the store president and trustees, I am leading work creating distinct, powerful Princeton University retail “experiences” by defining the brand, transforming the environment and product mix.
We engaged Infinia as the branding agency and JGA for store design and implementation. We are addressing two distinct retail locations: Nassau Street and University Place.
The Nassau Street location is targeted for completion by spring 2018 with University Place following.
It is very fulfilling to lead the board during a key period in the store's history. I am excited about our progress and being a part of charting its' future.
Hackensack University Medical Center is a leading healthcare provider. As part of the Hackensack Meridian Health portfolio, I worked with my team to craft a marketing plan to support the center's business objectives. We engaged Infinia as our agency partner to collaborate on creative strategy and execution.
We developed a true stories campaign focusing on people who provide the quality, commitment, and leadership for patients and the hospital. We also included patient perspective to establish a balance between “the voice of the consumer and the voice of authority”.
This approach showcased the lives and backstories of healthcare professionals with stories that unfolded as episodes over time and various forms of content and delivery.
The creative campaign's working tagline was, "Pioneering the Possible"
The Possible is the North Star of health: all knowledge, discovery, applications, trial leads to the possibility of something better, greater, more effective.
Everyone here is driven by what’s possible. By the question, “what more can be done?” – for care, prevention, cure, diagnosis, treatment, comfort, trust, outcomes, hygiene, convenience, technology, collaboration etc.
In different ways, our physicians pioneer the possible. Through their curiosity. Their passion. Their humanity. Their intelligence and compassion. Their experiences of the possible along the way – the breakthroughs, advances, and insights - can be small-scale, personal, procedural, spurred by research or a certain patient-doctor relationship.
The point is: they’re all significant, they all count. They’re all part of a place that has been built on pursuing what’s possible.
Each story is a stage in a collective quest for something larger: something that the series will cumulatively demonstrate to the staff, patients and those seeking our care.
Everyone involved contributed spectacularly to this unrealized campaign.
Science & Human Spirit
The John Theurer Cancer Center is one of the nation's leading providers of cancer care and treatment. As part of the Hackensack Meridian Health portfolio, I worked with my team to craft a marketing plan to support the center's business objectives. We engaged the Lejas agency to collaborate with us on creative strategy and execution.
The creative campaign's working tagline was, "Where Science Heals the Human Spirit"
We have eleven vital systems in our body all operating in unison. What unites them is the intangible connective tissue of the human spirit. This makes us both matter and mind. One can not exist without the other… At John Theurer Cancer Center, we understand the importance of nurture as much as we do nature and together they make up the individual spirit of each and every one of our unique patients.
Everyone involved did tremendous work on this unrealized campaign.
Tech Start Up
In August 2014 a Princeton alum emailed me about discussing his technology company with Godiva. He said they had a unique marketing/research opportunity. I was no longer with the company so, I connected him with some other executives and mentioned an interest in the technology.
He responded immediately, "In summary, our technology allows companies and their consumers to exchange valuable information with each other. The centerpiece of our platform is an interactive profile of a person or product. Our team of psychologists and data analysts at Harvard helps companies develop and fine-tune these profiles of people and products associated with their brand. When the profiles are complete, consumers are able to access them by creating and revealing similar profiles of themselves. Companies benefit from increased engagement and valuable information about their consumers. Consumers develop stronger psychological connections with the brands and products they care about most.
The guiding principle of this reciprocal dynamic is that consumers generally want to know more than they currently know about the people and products they find compelling, and they would be willing to reveal more about themselves in order to obtain this knowledge. The more a brand reveals about itself, the more its consumers will be willing to reveal about themselves, and the more engaged (and loyal) they will become with that brand."
After we spoke I was struck by his understanding of human behavior. We chatted in depth about how it is shifting marketing dynamics. I expressed my interest in their approach and shared my background with the founder and CEO. He invited me to be an advisor. I wanted to join the team and contribute my business and brand development expertise. We settled some fine points and I started as a "sweat equity" partner.
We worked on pitches for professional sports teams, automotive, sporting goods, retail, entertainment, consumer products, educational publishing and not for profit entities. Getting meetings was challenging. When we did, it was satisfying to present a unique technology connecting brands and consumers. I worked with an extraordinary group of men with disparate skill sets. We were in two countries and three states. We talked on the phone a lot, learned from each other and contributed openly. I enjoyed working in a startup environment with a product linking consumers, brands, technology, behavior, marketing, and research.
When I was there, Myne had a bright future and I hope the team was able to realize its dreams for the company.
The slides illustrate the core “matching engine” technology that:
(1) Creates personality-style profiles of the people associated with a brand, and
(2) Matches consumers to these profiles using proprietary algorithms and carefully-crafted questions
New Distribution Channel
Creating distribution strategies for brand expansion was part of my responsibilities at Sesame Workshop and Godiva Chocolatier. At both companies, I had the unique opportunity to build the business relationship with QVC executives and represent the brands on live television.
Today, QVC is the world's leading video and e-commerce retailer, offering a curated collection of desirable brands to millions of customers around the globe each day through broadcast, the Internet, and mobile sales platforms.
In the US, QVC broadcasts live 24 hours a day, 364 days of the year. It reaches a community of affluent, educated women in more than 100 million American homes. QVC personalities host themed shows throughout the day engaging viewers, highlighting products in different categories, and providing shoppers with useful information in an entertaining format.
As an on-air expert guest, I introduced a collection of children's books for Sesame Workshop and launched Godiva's exclusive offerings for QVC during a special 30-minute holiday segment. Training and preparation were exacting. I learned the "do's" and "don'ts" of presenting and interacting with a host. We were instructed to relax, be spontaneous and not prepare a script. Trainers asked us to speak with the host and audience like neighbors chatting over a "backyard fence".
My first show days were a rush of excitement and nerves. Time simultaneously stood still and flew by in an instant. Godiva's holiday show was the most successful. Everything sold out! It was a triumph for the brand and bright spot in my career.
I returned several times for Godiva. With each visit, I learned more about QVC and its unique selling style combined with rigorous, analytical, data-driven business acumen. These were very special experiences that I will always value.
I was invited to conduct a negotiation and sales seminar as a guest lecturer. The students were executive MBA candidates at NJIT in their final phase of the New Ventures course and MBA curriculum.
Throughout the course, students were conceiving and developing a business culminating in a business plan presentation. During my session, they were in the final phase of plan development and this class focused on how to sell and negotiate with potential investors.
I was excited to give this seminar because it was an opportunity to discuss my perspective that selling is a momentary transaction. The art of negotiation involves getting into other people’s worlds, opening them to what is in it for them and creating a relationship that is conducive to closing the transaction.
The class’ energy was electric. They were so engaged the professor extended our session. I was delighted to demonstrate my “real life” negotiating experience in a way that was relevant to the class’ business plan concepts.
I used these slides to discuss four areas:
Framework - What is the context of the meeting, who participates from the seller side, who are the investors, do you have mutual interests, type of investment, what is in it for all participants
Know what business you are in and the problem it is solving. Have a strong, unique value proposition and address obstacles and competitive ideas early. Consider disruptive and innovative examples such as Warby Parker, Uber and Class Pass.
Learn from Experts - Cialdini and Uri
Sales & Transactions - Consumers/People from the Four P's to the Four E's, Story Telling, the Lean Method - Test, Move and Improve, Generating revenue and margins, Sales Planning and ABC - Always - Be - Closing
Summary - Negotiation and sales are about relationships. Identify what is important. Prepare, use a process and close the deal. Invest the time necessary to develop selling and negotiating skills and expertise.
During the talk, I used the videos below to punctuate Ury's Getting to Yes theory and examples of storytelling in branded advertising
Match on the Street | Elise Just Right | Match Official Commercial
Nature Is Speaking - Edward Norton is The Soil | Conservation International (CI)
Sobel & Co. Speaker
In the summer of 2015, my friend Abby asked if I was interested in giving a talk at a well-known women's networking event. She was asked to do it, felt she was not right for the topic and wanted to recommend me. I was intrigued and said, "Yes, thank you for thinking of me!"
Sobel & Co. is a regional public accounting and consulting firm serving the business community since 1956. Their programs throughout the year address business needs and provide practical information to a variety of industries.
The Executive Women’s Breakfast is for women in business and leadership positions. The objective of this talk was to demonstrate, through corporate strategic planning experiences, that it is important to work ON the business as well as IN it.
I opened by sharing my belief that my professional achievements are directly related to being comfortable linking vision/strategy and implementation. Said differently, working ON the business and IN it.
Stories from Sesame Workshop and Godiva illustrated my experiences moving from developing enterprise strategies to executing them. They were about addressing critical business needs, contributing to organizational transformation and driving brand sustainability.
The room was absolutely packed and the audience was so engaged, the moderator stopped questions. I was elated to share myself with such a receptive group. I relish giving even one person something that can make a difference in their life or career.
Martin Tuchman School of Management | Beta Gamma Sigma Awards Ceremony
The NJIT School of Management's Director of Graduate Programs invited me to address honors graduate and undergraduate business students at their awards ceremony.
I chose the word "Excellence" and how I use it to create who I am, as the framework for my talk. I shared my story by asking this question meant to stimulate thought and self-reflection, "If you live life allowing others to define you by their labels, standards, and measures, whose life are you living?”
My examples of life and professional experiences portrayed that other people's labels, ideals, and standards got in the way of defining myself. I had to disrupt my comfort zone to discover that leadership and integrity are my excellence. I believe every situation tests me to create who I am, evolve and not settle for anything.
In summary, I asked the graduates to consider three things as a path to discover their excellence: • First - Be who you are – define yourself • Next - You are - who you say you are - in the world • Last – Own it – do not settle
If you are a lucky child, you have a mom like mine who is always in your corner.
My mom is a lifetime member of the National Association of Negro Business and Professional Women. In early 2016 she sent me a somewhat cryptic email about nominating me for an award. We spoke, she explained, gushing ensued and tears were shared.
The prior fall I created Next Career Design and landed a new position. It was a creative and productive time. My mom said the award for Professional Woman of the Year spoke to my tenacity and drive.
Over 200 people were at the ceremony. Several tables of my friends and family sat glowingly beyond the dais. As I looked at the rest of the room and other honorees, my chief concern was remaining composed during the acceptance and thank you.
The event is a long day so, I purposefully kept my remarks brief. I prepared three short paragraphs. I made it through acknowledging the organization and other recipients with ease. I choked up and the waterworks started when I looked at those special tables and said, "The only reason I am here is because of the people in my life who have brought me here." In that instant, I wished my father were there and missed him more than ever.
It was a spectacular day. I am forever grateful to my friends and family for being who they are for me. People who know me know, that my mom is my #1 cheerleader and I would move heaven and earth for her.