A friend of mine from college has left 20+ years of corporate life with a subsidiary of Tribune Company and started her own already-successful business (Acacia Insights) … consulting, planning, organizing, and motivating individuals, teams, and corporate clients to be effective in their work. She blew through our office last week to review the website we are creating for her. She did this on her way to sit on a panel of uber successful women entrepreneurs at our alma mater. Seeing her (and her suitcase packed with individual module bags, alphabetized by contents), I couldn’t help wondering if this could possibly be my friend who, senior year, convinced us that she could graduate without turning in her final paper for her major and could definitely go with us for a week on the Cape before the graduation ceremony? Could this be the same friend who challenged me to drive the car home from the above-mentioned Cape vacation, steering from the back seat while she worked the accelerator and brake sitting on the car floor? (Note to my kids: you didn’t just read that.) And is this actually the same friend who freshman year shunned the typical dorm room decor (Indian bedspreads, posters, candles) and opted instead to decorate with a D-con-embalmed dead rat and a three-toed tree sloth? I had to interview her to find out.
KR: How were you able to stay with one company for all those years?
AA: My corporate career was the professional equivalent of serial monogamy. In this one organization I was able to do so many things, so many different jobs, and experiment; succeed and fail. And I had plenty of opportunity to fail. But if you’re not failing, then you’re not really trying hard and pushing yourself out of your comfort zone.
KR: Where did you start in the company?
AA: I was at the Orlando Sentinel as a copywriter, then promotions/PR manager,… then VP of new business development for the company. The common thread was what I was able to do on an entrepreneurial level. It was really “intrapreneurial” — I was developing new businesses with other people’s money — a whole lot easier.
KR: Not really, you have a lot of people you have to answer to in a corporation. I remember hearing about that promotion to VP from another friend and being so proud of you! Didn’t you mention that you worked on disaster preparedness on top of everything else you were doing there?
AA: Yes. Later I headed up planning, which included the business continuity, disaster recovery and hurricane preparedness, leading a company-wide team of 35 people.
KR: Now there’s a division that rolls right off your tongue.. hope they didn’t have to paint that on your door. Did you ever have to put any of your plans to the test?
AA: Oh, yes. We had an anthrax scare; public relations disasters; system failures; and three hurricanes that hit Orlando within six weeks. Working up the documents to cover any and all of these possible scenarios that might mean the newspaper couldn’t print, is like corporate planning on steroids. It’s like working on a three-dimensional puzzle where everything has to be looked at and planned for. The results were 600-page manuals that were both in binders and online.
KR: So, when disaster strikes you whip out the 600-page manual?
AA: Pretty much. And usually you have to keep adding to the manuals because things happen during these events that you could never plan for.
(after a pregnant pause on my end)
AA: I know… nothing like how I was in college!
KR: I don’t remember you being prepared for class much less a corporate disaster. Do you think you’ve lost your sense of humor now that you are a super-successful “woman in business”?
AA: You know, there was a time early on that I thought you had to check your personality at the door before you went into the office. But I quickly learned that humor is such an important thing to bring to the workplace. And that it is really important to be yourself. And that means to be able to laugh at yourself.
KR: Yeah, but how funny are you really still? Do you still apply ghostly/ghastly makeup for no apparent reason? …Like the time you traumatized one of the transfer students who was living in the basement of our dorm —- pretending to be giving birth on the stairs outside his room?
AA: That was sort of mean-spirited… like getting punked. I don’t do that anymore. But I will tell you I have won many a costume contest. It’s all part of being creative with everything you do. …Just like how you approached my website.
KR: Glad we circled around to that. Why did you choose KRD to create your website for Acacia Insights? It’s not usually a good idea to work with friends.
AA: I have followed your blog since you started it and am an admirer of your work, and had hoped that one day my business would be at a level that I could hire you. You have always had that great sense of timing… knowing instinctively what’s the next great idea. You took my very specific requests — coming to you with a logo set-in-stone and things that I needed to have included in my site and you worked with these elements and made the site elegant but with a whimsy that made it unexpected and interesting.
KR: I should remember to interview friends more often! Acacia Insights (the site) will be live soon. We’ll keep you posted.