I grew up in Chicago, and from the time I was little, I liked to be in charge. It started with deciding on behalf of my fellow girl scouts how we were going to sell cookies that year and that I was going to sell the most — I was about having a plan and getting others to follow it.
That might have come from my mom. She and my grandmother were two of the smartest people I’ve ever met. My grandmother, taught me something early on that I put into practice every day: you have two ears and one mouth — use them in proportion. You learn so much by listening. Listening makes you smarter when you speak.
My mom was a “corporate mom”. Watching my mom, with what was to me, back then, a big office in a downtown office building, I saw who I wanted to be.
My dad owned an advertising agency and in high school, I worked for him in the summers. I loved it. I loved sitting with the creative team and hearing how they were going to talk about products, looking at the concepts come alive on storyboards that back then were literally done by hand, in marker. I still call my dad for guidance on advertising and media; including social media! At almost 80, he’s super active on Facebook and has a new girlfriend he found on match.com.
My first job out of school was as an account exec with a company that sold printed circuit boards to the automotive industry. I didn’t even know what a printed circuit board was! I mostly had established accounts that were on a perpetual re-order cycle, so it was all good.
Then, I moved to Atlanta for job doing the same thing for the largest competitor of the company I worked for. When I got there, they asked me to come meet with them a week before I was to start. Things had changed. My soon-to-be boss told me that they couldn’t have a “lady” do this job because “all” of the engineers with whom I’d be dealing with were male, and “…here in the south, honey, we often entertain male buyers at certain establishments where you can’t go”. But it was going to be ok. They’d give me another job — managing the “customer service ladies.” I was stuck. I needed a job, but the whole thing just felt bad. I trusted my gut instinct and walked.
I needed a job. I got one selling copiers. I had to make tons of cold calls and it was almost straight commission. I hated it.
A few months later I got a job as the head of marketing for a women’s clothing manufacturer. I had tried to sell them a copier. I loved my job and was there for 7 years.
Through that job, I met someone that had just launched a dot-com startup doing b2b online auctions for designer clothing to the “secondary market”. This was in the 90s before ebay® was even public—we were a bit ahead of our time. Things caught up and the company ultimately got bought by amazon, but after I had moved on.
I got recruited from that company by the tech vendor that was doing our build out. They were unique in the dot-com space because they merged tech development and marketing into one company that could do your dot com strategy, build it and then promote it. I was hired into a regional marketing role which ultimately kind of turned out to be sales. Again. I was asked to be the lead on trying to acquire some business from what were then called “old economy” companies.
My first and only big sale was for a million dollars (!) to a company that needed a strategy for how to aggregate their various websites into a single online brand presence. It was called UPS.
UPS had started up a dot com incubator to leverage the company’s IP, infrastructure and other assets to do dot com businesses with the intent of spinning them off. They needed people that knew the start-up space and had worked with the venture capital community. I joined UPS in April of 2000 as the VP of market development for Eventures.
I got put on my first assignment helping develop a returns offering for tech products. This was 2001—UPS had just bought Mail Boxes Etc. I had an idea that maybe we could use those stores for people to drop off returns and set off to talk to the person heading up that team.
Literally, by the end of that day, I was told I had a new job. I was going to help figure out what we were going to do with this network of 4000 retail locations we had just bought! I led the market testing and subsequent rebranding to the UPS store in 2003.
In 2005, I was selected to go on UPS community internship and was sent to McAllen, TX for a month with 9 other staff level upsers from around the country.
We worked in the community—we built houses, taught interview skills to teenagers to help them prepare for getting a job and learned about all the problems people in this community were facing. The high school graduation rate in McAllen was 30%. Not the drop-out rate, the graduation rate.
I met a family that lived in the most dire circumstances–things I had never even imagined. I got exposed to situations I didn’t see in my life and started to understand the things people in this community were dealing with.
We were there during spring break—the 4 school age girls in the family had no food—their only regular meal each day was the school lunch they got. I took them for their first ever meal in a restaurant. We went to chili’s. It completely overwhelmed them.
That experience changed me. As the saying goes, I got woke. I’d never seen people who had the problems these people did. My problems were suddenly so unimportant, and truly not problems. I sent money to that family and to United Way in that area for many years.
I came back from McAllen and decided that I was going to work in the UPS foundation so I could have a job where I made a difference with the work I did. It took me 5 years, a bunch of bugging people, and a couple of stops in other marketing jobs along the way to get there. In 2009, I developed and launched ups direct-to door, a co-op media product intended to compete with direct mail.
Finally, in 2010, I proudly became the director of corporate relations for the UPS foundation. The plan was for me to 1) be the first marketing person in the foundation and look at things through a marketing lens to help build brand equity for ups, 2) oversee all the communications for the foundation and 3) to manage the diversity organizations we supported.
The plan was not for me to run UPS's United Way campaign; the second largest of all the companies that supported United Way.
Once I wrapped my head around the fact that this was a marketing exercise, and I had to create a value proposition for our employees to buy United Way. Understanding what United Way did and why and how suddenly made it easy for me—because I got it. My job was to help those who like me, didn’t get it, to get it. And I did. Year one, I did some research and found that only 9% of upsers thought they might know someone who had been helped by United Way. The perception was that United Way was for other people, not us.
My go-to-market strategy was to find upsers who had been helped by United Way and get them to share their stories so our employees would understand that it could be anyone that needs help, even a upser.
My executive team sponsor was concerned that people wouldn’t admit to needing help. I responded that if I could get 3-5 stories, I could build a messaging platform around that. I launched my communications plan and within 24 hours, I had over 100 stories of upsers who had used United Way for help. The campaign grew from $48m to $65m in the four years that I ran it. I grew the number of employees giving at least $10,000 from 38 to > 350.
I loved what I was doing because I felt that the work I did made a difference. I had found my space; the intersection of my passion and my purpose.
In 2015 I was offered the opportunity to take a role with United Way as the global chief marketing officer. I realized it was the universe speaking to me and this is what I was supposed to go do.
For more than four years that I served as the global chief marketing officer for United Way worldwide; the world’s largest privately funded non-profit. With 1,800 United Way locations operating in 40 countries, I led the creation, development and implementation of United Way's global marketing strategies designed to engage our donors, volunteers and workplace partners in the fight for the health, education, and financial stability of every person in every community.
My team included brand, media strategy, product/segment marketing, communications, data analytics, and strategic alliances with partners such as the NFL. Yes, I actually had to go to Superbowl as part of my job! I know….
During my tenure at United Way we premiered a TV show; the hero effect, which aired on OWN (Oprah Winfrey Network), partnered with Beyoncé on her formation tour, and launched an award- winning brand campaign, “Join the Fight” which used stark imagery to portray a world absent the impact of United Way.
In December of 2019, I was honored by target marketing magazine naming me as the “Marketer of the Year” and in 2017 was the American marketing association’s non-profit marketer of the year awardee. I’ve also received the OnCon “marketing ripple effect award” (2019) and received a top 50 marketer award in 2020 from OnCon. My work has received numerous other awards inclusive of the Harvey Communications awards, multiple gold Stevie® awards, multiple PRNews awards, and multiple gold marcomm awards. The PSA campaign I launched on behalf of United Way in my inaugural year was recognized as PSA of the year by PRNews. Under my leadership, United Way’s research team also received a DigitalEdge 50 award for PerformanceLink; the organization’s first business intelligence tool. I currently hold a seat on the national board of the American marketing association as I believe it’s important to help develop others, so they too, can find their path. Outside of all that, my husband, bill and I have an Alaskan klee kai, Mojo. He’s been on Animal Planet. I manage his career, too!