Happy Women’s Day

Sample Design: Woman in EmbroideryToday is the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day. To celebrate, we interviewed several executives at Affinity Express to find out what makes them successful and what advice they have for the rest of us. The participants are: Vice President of Global Finance and Accounting Andrea de Castro, Vice President of Operations Kristin Meidell, Vice President of Graphic Production and Support Services Joanna Grant, Vice President of Global Human Resources Tinna Hall, Vice President of Marketing Kelly Glass and Director of New Client Implementation Kellie Blaisdell.

It’s clear that, despite the variety of disciplines in which they work and the different backgrounds they bring to their roles at Affinity Express, these women share a common outlook.

They attribute their success to persistence and flexibility, while appreciating that their current environment allows them learn and exposes them to new opportunities. On a daily basis, they work so hard because they find contributing to larger goals and solving problems fulfilling. Their greatest accomplishments revolve around mentoring other team members; in essence, passing the torch onto others.

Whether you work for Affinity Express or not, I hope you’ll find their comments both insightful and helpful, regardless of where you might be in your career.

What is the one achievement in your career so far of which you are most proud?

Embroidery Digitizing Sample Design: Woman working out with weights

Embroidery design created by our digitizing team

ADC: I am proud of having achieved the professional level where I help to manage the company’s operations from a financial perspective and assist in providing my colleagues with the power to make sound decisions. In addition, I believe that I am recognized as one who comes to work always prepared, can be relied upon and is always eager to face challenges.

KM: During my career I’ve been able to mentor several people who have gone on to achieve not only their personal goals but also contribute to their companies’ visions. I’ve learned from my interaction with them and feel like I’ve come away with much more than I have given.

KG: I am fortunate that I have mentored several very talented young women and watched them increase their level of responsibility and success. To me, this is the true measurement of a manager—that your team members grow and acquire the skills to eventually do your job!

JG: I am most proud of the foundation of quality and reliability that has been established by the Graphics Services team. Without this, Affinity Express would not have been able to acquire the impressive accounts we have today and serve all our clients so well.

Joanna, you were on ASI’s Power List this year: one of the industry’s most powerful people! How do you feel about that?

JG: Candidly, I feel the “power” isn’t with the person—it is with the people that work for Affinity Express.  Yes, my personal connections have provided the opportunity to work with many different businesses in the industry, but they would not be with us today if the entire Affinity Express team had not performed well and at such a high level.

That’s great to hear. So why do you, all of you, think Affinity Express is a good place to work for women?

JG: Affinity Express is a company where the right person will be chosen for a job, regardless of gender, race, religion, etc. What matters is that our team members have the highest level of skills and motivation. This means women have as much opportunity as men at the company.

ADC: Having joined the company practically from the start of the Philippine operations and contributed to the set-up of the Global Finance and Accounting Team, I think women in Affinity Express are given the opportunity to think out-of-the-box and an equal opportunity in to advance in their careers.

KB: I am lucky to be part of a group that values me and my hard work.

KM: Affinity Express is a very diverse and talented group people. As a result, there are lots of people from which to learn and no one hesitates to share their opinions and work experiences.

KG: Because of the entrepreneurial spirit of the company, if you have an idea or can solve a problem, you will be heard. Most of the time, you’ll be given the room to experiment and fail within reason. Having worked in very large corporations, I value this kind of environment because it allows me to expand my skills and think creatively. You never hear “that’s how we’ve always done it” at Affinity Express.

I have to add, I’ve experienced much the same in my year with Affinity Express. Seeing all of you successful women here is inspiring, and I’m glad I have the opportunity to work with and learn from you. I’m also pleased to notice that both Kristin and Kelly mentioned mentoring others as their key achievements.

Conversely, how has mentoring helped you? Who is the best mentor you have ever had?

ADC: Fortunately, I have had a couple of great mentors. I had a short but meaningful time with Amit Basak* (and Fred Ayala* too) during the early days of building the Affinity Express dashboard reporting and budgeting process. Our CEO Ken Swanson has also been a mentor. Both are quite firm, smart and logical in what they expect. They gave me the ability to think creatively, make mistakes and ultimately deliver. Letting me stumble a bit allowed me to enhance my skills versus just executing according to a set of instructions. Now I have a better idea of all that I am capable of.

KB: I have had two, in different phases of my career: my previous boss, Mark Wasserman, during my early years and my current one, Kristin Meidell.

JG: Jane Bowden, the former director of operations for Lands’ End Business Outfitters was a mentor to me. Her attention to detail, focus on quality and consideration for her team, as well as her dedication to the good of the company, are the standards by which we should all be measured in the decorated apparel industry. Plus, her tenacity and drive is unparalleled.

KG: I never had a specific mentor but would soak up everything I could from the people around me, whether it was specific business practices or interpersonal skills. I have paid as much attention to the “bad professionals” as the good because it’s just as important to learn what not to do.

KM: Very early on, I worked for a publisher and a general manager who never accepted “no” for an answer. They always expected some kind of solution and would support me in anything that I needed. Thinking creatively was expected. Both were willing to talk through any issue or challenge as long as the end was beneficial to the organization. To this day I approach everything at work that way: find a solution, even if it is a temporary one until you can do better (as long as it solves the problem and is fair).

Embroidery Digitizing Sample Design: Woman Boss

Another design created by our team

What qualities do you think have helped you get to where you are today?

KB: Growing up, my father always tried to instill in me a good work ethic. His main lesson was that things don’t just come to you; you have to make your own successes. One of my earliest memories in business was starting a paper route at age ten. I tracked everything I made. When customers were late in paying, I would stick notes on their door to let them know I’d be holding their papers until they paid up. This gave me a good foundation for what I do today.

ADC: The qualities that helped me get to this position are perseverance, a willingness to continuously learn and the capacity to be flexible to any given situation.

KG: Resourcefulness and persistence have helped me overcome numerous obstacles. The job simply has to get done. I can laugh now, but I have built a tradeshow booth mostly out of duct tape when pieces were missing and motivated a team of sales people to help me set up an exhibit ten minutes flat while I distracted the press so they wouldn’t know we weren’t ready. Little disasters happen, regardless of how well you plan and you can’t let them get in your way. It doesn’t hurt that I’m crazy organized either.

TH: My persistence and perseverance in resolving issues and my ability to adapt to changes and people at all levels.

JG: I believe my work getting to know my accounts in detail has served the company well—what they need, their processes, and the way we can apply our services to best suit their needs. We haven’t always been successful in winning every account, but it isn’t for lack of trying!

KM: I guess just plain stubbornness and a desire to avoid failure have contributed to my success. When you have those two traits, you always find a way to make things work.

How did you decide you wanted to work in your discipline?

KB: Where I am today is completely different than what I imagined right out of college. Back then, I wanted to save the world, one tree at a time. In fact, I got into environmental policy at the end of school for my internship and decided politics were not my thing. Organizing and planning came naturally for me. My previous boss gave me so many opportunities to manage projects and encouraged me to complete our internal project management classes, which I did and then pursued the Product Management Professional designation.

JG: In companies I have worked for, without exception, I have always held positions that required me to roll up my sleeves and pitch in, regardless of the task. I have helped production get orders out the door, accounting with reports, customer service with phone support—all while selling new relationships. So, it has been less of a decision and more of an ongoing process that has led me to the field I am in today.

KM: I didn’t make a conscious decision to be involved in production. I was good at organization and streamlining workflows and I just kept being given different challenges and told to find a way to get it done.

KG: Fortunately, I got a job after graduating from college in a company that was a small group inside a very large corporation working on syndicated public service campaigns for television. When something was needed, like writing newsletters, curriculum guides, TV spots, press releases and more, I filled in the gap. I learned that good writing was in short supply and used it as the basis to learn marketing. Very quickly, it felt like something I was destined to do. Now I solve business problems every day by communicating.

What excites you most about your work?

ADC: What excites me most about my work is the thought that through the decisions I make and the analyses I carry out, I am able to empower a larger team to achieve the collective goals of the company. It also excites me to impart my learning and experience by mentoring and coaching my direct reports so they can grow in their careers.

KG: Every day in marketing is different and filled with surprises. I find it exciting that, no matter what comes up, I can handle it while making progress on the larger goals and objectives at the same time. It also is gratifying to me if I can recognize people for their good work—whether it’s my team members or others throughout the company. To say “great job!” is so easy and it means quite a bit to them.

JG: We have a great offering. It is thrilling when a client realizes they have a fabulous resource in Affinity Express and chooses to utilize even more of our services.

KB: I love seeing all the pieces come together during implementations and handing off happy clients to operations for long-term support.

KM: Problem-solving and organization are what I find most exciting about my position. There are always several different ways to look at things, so deciding what is effective and what isn’t, what makes sense in a situation, and so on challenges me. It’s sort of like working a puzzle.

What is the most difficult thing you have ever had to do professionally?

KM: Personnel decisions are probably the most difficult thing. Change is hard for most people and I hate causing anyone unhappiness or difficulty.

JG: It was extremely disappointing to have to walk away from clients because we could not meet their needs for various reasons.

KB: I left my previous company where I spent more than ten years for another adventure. It was not a decision I took lightly but I am now very happy that I did.

What keeps you motivated?

ADC: What keeps me motivated is that, with continuous diligence and learning, I can make a positive impact on the company and its shareholders. I can also encourage my co-workers, enabling them to believe in themselves, raise their confidence levels and be great contributors.

KM: Day-to-day challenges keep me motivated.

KB: It motivates me to seeing constant progress and to work with a motivated team.

KG: Two things: first, I crave the “aha” moment when someone says to me “that is IT!” and I’ve really nailed something. Second, when one of my team members completes a project, exceeds my expectations and does better at it than I could have myself, I consider it a great day.

JG: I am motivated to build on past successes to achieve future goals. And nothing makes my day like hearing positive comments from our clients about our services.

Turning things around, what was your biggest mistake at work and what did you learn from it or how did you change as a result?

ADC: The biggest mistake I made at work was when I thought I could handle an incredible volume of work and travel. I ended up burning myself out, but learned a valuable lesson. Now, I manage my time and commitments with careful prioritization and planning.

KM: My biggest mistake is thinking that I can do it all. I’ve had to learn over and over again to delegate, ask for help and graciously admit when I need it.

KG: Like Kristin, I have had to learn the lesson over and over again that there is only so much one person can do and that it is worse to exhaust myself than to delegate, delay or say no to a project. All your work suffers when you are spread too thin.

KB: During my first year after college, I sent an email to a client regarding the lack of interest his employees had in class and explained why they didn’t have the knowledge to do their jobs. When I returned to the client site, I found my email had become a dartboard! Needless to say, I learned that you should not write anything in email you don’t want distributed!!

That’s a funny anecdote, Kellie! Andrea, Kristin and Kelly: all of you seem to agree that your biggest mistake has been taking on too much.

Do you think this is something women do more usually than men? Do we have to learn harder to say no, to delegate?

KG: One of the strengths many women have is to multi-task and get quite a bit done, but we have to try harder to focus on the priority items and delegate more. That means letting go of the need for everything to be done ‘the right way’ or ‘our way’—which is much easier to say than do. Other people can’t learn and improve without being trusted to accomplish tasks, as well as allowed to stumble a little. We can’t step in and do or fix everything!

TH: I totally agree with you, Kelly. And you can’t improve much either, unless you let some things go and take on new tasks and activities to challenge yourself.

So what advice would you have for a younger colleague just starting out in your function?

ADC: My advice for my young colleagues is to seize every opportunity to learn from situations and be good listeners, because it will go a long way in building your career.

KG: Be flexible and work hard. It’s unlikely your career will take a straightforward direction, especially in this day and age, and you will be faced with choices every day. It’s not about the end or achieving that title you envision. Rather, it’s about what you pick up along the way, how you treat people and how your work makes you feel. This is what success is really all about.

KB: You can’t be an expert in everything so remember to get the basics down. Research project management to get a good understanding before you commit to this discipline, since it’s better to know the requirements before you invest the time to pursue it as a career.

TH: In any discipline, you have to build personal credibility and trust. In HR, I think having integrity and a strong work ethic are especially important. A positive, can-do attitude always contributes to success.

KM: Keep an open mind, don’t jump to conclusions until you have the facts, and don’t make hasty decisions without thinking things through.

JG: Your current successes do not guarantee future success. You can’t sit back and rest on today’s achievements but must always be working toward tomorrow’s goals.

The advice of these Affinity Express executives is straightforward: adapt, grow and give 100%.

Thank you, all, and a happy Women’s Day to you.


* Amit Basak is a member of the Board of Directors who served as interim CFO for a period of time; Fred Ayala is CEO of LiveIt Investments, Ltd., our parent company.

About Unmana Datta
Senior Marketing Manager at Affinity Express, Unmana is an obsessive consumer of blogs and social media, and fascinated by their use in marketing.

3 Responses to Happy Women’s Day

  1. Kalpana Magar says:

    Happy Women’s Day!

    Hats off to all the women for playing several roles so effectively- shez a daughter, a sister, a wife, a mother & so on…provides constant strength, cheering you on, praying for you, intervening on your behalf, and waiting with open arms even at the valley’s end.

    It is my pleasure working with such great lady leaders of Affinity. I have worked quite closely with Anday- she has reached such heights been so well versed in her field. Also, with Joanna- shez full on 24 hrs 🙂 I appreciate and admire her quality of being so active each moment.
    I am looking forward to work with you all during my tenure @ Affinity.

  2. Pingback: Designs of the Quarter: Q1 2011 « Affinity Express Blog

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