Alison Gutterman is president of Jelmar, LLC.  She is very proud of the company and the products that carry the CLR brand.  Alison is dedicated to bringing the Jelmar quality to an ever-increasing audience.  It is not just the family business, it is truly a part of Alison Gutterman. more>>


Why the best business knowledge can come from the most unexpected sources

WPOWorking at Jelmar for the past 20 years has given me more invaluable career experience than I can ever quantify. OK, that’s probably not a huge surprise.


Here’s the more surprising part: many of the experiences I’ve had outside of Jelmar have been equally valuable to my career and the company.


Let me explain what I mean. A few years after I started at Jelmar, I decided to go to grad school. I had my doubts about the decision at first, in part because I wasn’t sure if more formal education would be the best use of my time when I had the opportunity to be getting practical, on-the-job experience.


But I decided to take that chance, and let’s just say it really paid off. As I’d hoped, I gained access to new knowledge that I never would’ve been exposed to otherwise—knowledge I could use to become more effective in my career.


But what I didn’t expect was what I’d learn about my company: we weren’t perfect. Don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of things we were doing right—things we exceled at, even. But the fact is that a decades-old business will stagnate if its employees don’t regularly take steps to introduce new ideas and knowledge, and by definition those things need to come from outside your internal team. Going to grad school not only helped me understand how to be a better leader, but it also gave me a wealth of ideas about what the business needed to do in order to continue growing and thriving.


In other words, you don’t know what you don’t know.


Of course, that’s the truth whether you’re a Fortune 500 company or a small family business. It’s just that when you’re in the latter category, you might have to try a little harder to gain exposure to new best practices and new thinking.


Even though I used grad school as an example, that new thinking doesn’t need to come from traditional channels. In fact, I regularly derive huge amounts of inspiration and motivation from the Women Presidents’ Organization (WPO), a peer advisory group for women leaders of successful companies. This group of amazing women regularly engages in discussions on a variety of topics and issues, some directly related to business and some not.


For example, we’re currently discussing the book The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. The book argues that anyone can lead a happier, more meaningful existence if we make certain agreements with ourselves—“be impeccable with your word” and “don’t take anything personally,” for example. It certainly isn’t a business book by any means, and yet, I have no doubt it will make me a better leader.


The point is that valuable knowledge can—and should—come from a range of both expected and unexpected sources. You have time to acquire new knowledge, even if you don’t think you do. It’s as simple as participating in a peer advisory group over email, watching an interesting TED talk, or reading a blog on a relevant topic. There are so many learning opportunities around us that you don’t even need to leave your office to take advantage of them.


If you’re a business leader, it’s a great idea to encourage your employees to seek out a variety of learning opportunities as well. You can plan training seminars and other learning events, allocate funds for employee education, and make online courses available. It’s also important to talk with your team about the importance of ongoing education, for the good of the company and their individual careers.


And don’t forget to set an example by taking advantage of learning opportunities yourself—and letting your team know. Admitting to your employees that you don’t know everything might feel a little uncomfortable, but I know from experience that it’s one of the best ways to foster a culture of learning. And believe me, the benefits of that can’t be understated.


The benefits of embracing the messiness of life

happy_new_year_2016It’s that time of year again when everyone’s talking about New Year’s resolutions. Exercise more. Stop being late to work. Clean your house more often.


In other words, be perfect (or pretty ridiculously close to it).


But where’s the fun in that?


Sure, few people actually enjoy working out, getting up early, or cleaning. That’s the point of a New Year’s resolution after all—to get a fresh start and a second chance to be better at the things you know you should do, but just don’t want to. And I should know, because despite having the world’s best cleaning products at my disposal, I’d rather stand outside for an hour in this freezing Chicago weather than clean my bathroom!


The reason I’m not crazy about New Year’s resolutions isn’t just because they’re the way we try to make ourselves to do things we don’t like. It’s also because when we try to force everything in our lives to go exactly right, we’re bound to miss out on some amazing experiences we never would’ve expected.


Here’s an example. One December a few years ago, I was so busy I forgot to send out holiday cards. I was horrified to have neglected something that seemed so important to all my family and friends, and I wondered what they must have thought of me for forgetting them.


Then I discovered some wonderful news: New Year’s cards are a thing! So I sent out my holiday cards in January, and guess what—not only did people not think I was a terrible friend and family member, but they thought I’d come up with a really clever, unique, memorable idea.


OK, maybe that’s a slightly silly example, but you see my point. Life isn’t always perfect, and we all make mistakes. But when we try to look at these unwanted changes of plans as opportunities instead of misfortunes, life often rewards us in wonderful ways.


In fact, my two decades at Jelmar started off as an unexpected turn of events. Unlike most of my family members, I’d never worked at Jelmar during the summers while I was growing up. By the time I reached my mid-20s, I assumed I’d never have a career there. But one morning while I was having breakfast with my dad, he suddenly asked me if I’d come work for him.


I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have mixed feelings about working for the family business at the time. As much as I loved my family, I’d always been extremely independent and had chosen to gain work experience elsewhere. Plus, my dad didn’t have a job description or a desk for me, and he made it clear that I’d need to work hard and prove myself before he’d be willing to promote me.


But as you can probably guess, I decided to accept my dad’s offer. At the time I wondered whether it was a big mistake, but it’s turned out to be the greatest opportunity I could have asked for. Of course, it hasn’t always been perfect. Case in point: I’ve been fired more times—yes, fired by my own father—than anyone else at the company! But because I decided to accept a little bit of uncertainty, I’ve experienced the joys of working with an amazing group of colleagues and family members to create products that help people. I can’t imaging having any other life.


So if you’re like me and you hate New Year’s resolutions, let me propose the anti-resolution: embrace the messiness of life. Because life doesn’t have to be perfect to be, well, perfect.


Think bigger: my thoughts on thankfulness this holiday season

giveWith the holiday season in full swing, many of us are busy making sure our plans turn out just right for the people around us. Whether it’s cooking a flawless holiday meal to impress our in-laws, finding exactly the right gift to make our kids smile, or planning holiday vacations to get much-needed time with our families, we’re all a little obsessed with creating memorable holiday experiences for ourselves and those we care about.


That’s a wonderful goal. The holidays are a perfect time to take a break from day-to-day concerns and remind ourselves of the happiness our family and friends bring to our lives. And I find that the old saying that giving is better than receiving is absolutely true. When I find the perfect gift for someone I know—when I really nail it—the feeling of joy is totally mutual.


At the same time, we need to think bigger.


It isn’t always easy, especially during the holidays when we tend to get caught up in lots of little details. But each one of us is connected to a larger community of people, not all of whom have the luxury of gifts, vacations, or even a meal. Taking time to think about the world beyond ourselves not only reminds us to be thankful for everything we have, but it has broad benefits for society as a whole.


For example, at Jelmar we believe in doing what we can to make the less fortunate feel as fortunate as anyone else. We work with Cops for Kids to help give food, holiday gifts and other necessities to children. We also donate to the Chicago Food Depository every year in all our employees’ names. Giving is a joyful experience—especially when it’s shared—and we want everyone to have the opportunity to take part in it.


This outlook comes from the way I was raised. Since childhood, I’ve been taught that sharing what you have is not only rewarding, but that it’s imperative if you’ve achieved a certain amount of success. My family has always looked for ways to help the less fortunate, and we believe that generosity toward those in need is the best way to express thankfulness for everything you have. Recently I donated a well to a family in Guatemala on my dad’s behalf as a Hanukkah gift, and to him that was far more meaningful than anything I could have bought for him. I hope to pass on this sense of generosity to my two young kids, and I’m already doing my best to teach them not to dwell on material things.


I mention all this not to brag or to solicit praise, but because I hope it will inspire other businesses and individuals to express thankfulness through giving this holiday season. It doesn’t matter if it’s a lot or a little—you’ll feel great just knowing you’ve contributed to making someone’s holiday season a little happier. And if you don’t believe me, start small: next time you’re in line at a coffee shop, try paying for the person behind you. Trust me, it’ll make your day.


Why an imperfect holiday dinner can be totally perfect

squashEvery family has some crazy holiday stories, and mine is no exception.


Like the time my dad started a food fight in the middle of our kitchen. He threw a spoonful of sweet potatoes at my mom, and let’s just say things escalated from there. My mom had borrowed my sister’s favorite pink angora sweater that day, and I’m not sure if my sister’s ever forgiven either of our parents!


And then there was the time my dad and my uncle broke the pool table. We know they had some sort of disagreement, but exactly what happened in the basement that Thanksgiving remains a mystery to the rest of the family. (And we all figure that’s probably for the best.)


That’s the strange thing about the holidays. No matter how much your family loves each other, any underlying conflict you manage to suppress during the rest of the year is bound to surface when you spend a whole day (or days) together.


It doesn’t help that the holidays put a unique kind of pressure on just about every member of the family, especially the host. Between preparing an elaborate meal, making sure the house is spotless, scheduling family activities, and making sure everyone arrives on time and conducts themselves appropriately, the holidays can be more work than fun.


As a result of all that planning, holiday meals tend to be some of the most formal family gatherings, and this was especially true when I was younger. Not only are adults and children alike expected to be on their best behavior, but the meal itself has be spectacular. That means that if the turkey is dry or the pumpkin pie is burned, whoever is responsible might face disappointment and even judgment from his or her entire family.


To an extent, I understand why we put this kind of pressure on ourselves. Everyone wants their family holiday gatherings to be special, so we continue to idealize the holidays no matter how many food fights or broken pool table incidents occur.


At the same time, aren’t those crazy stories precisely what make the holidays memorable? Take those sweet potatoes my dad threw at my mom, for instance. I have no recollection of how they tasted, whether they were cooked perfectly, or even who prepared them. What I remember is the hilariously stunned look on my mom’s face when my dad threw them at her—and the joy my family felt to see a formal holiday dinner interrupted by something so unexpected and fun.


That’s why I think the perfect family holiday dinner is overrated. Because when it comes to family, we don’t always remember the things that went well—but the imperfections can be unforgettable.


Why a clean hotel room is even more important than you think

hotel_roomI admit it. When it comes to hotel rooms, I’m a germaphobe. Like a won’t-touch-the-comforter, wear-shoes-at-all-times, sleep-in-a-silk-sack kind of germaphobe. That’s right, I said a silk sack. It’s a thing.


I’m not so unusual—everyone has their own idea of a travel nightmare. For some, maybe it’s long lines at the airport, accidentally taking someone else’s suitcase at baggage claim, or a hotel losing their reservation.


But for me? The thing I dread most while on the road is a hotel room that isn’t totally clean.


Let me explain. I don’t necessarily mean an obviously filthy hotel room. For me, the real horror lies in a room that seems clean until you look just a little closer. That’s when you may notice a mystery stain on the bedspread or maybe some unwanted hair in the bathroom (and I mean hair of a particularly disturbing variety).


Because that’s the thing about dirt and germs: no mess you or your family could make will ever be as disgusting as a mess left by a stranger.


And as it turns out, I’m not the only one who thinks so. While it may seem fitting for the president of a cleaning company to have an obsession with perfectly clean hotel rooms, a recent survey conducted by CLR® revealed that finding a clean place to stay is a priority for the vast majority of vacationers. In fact, 86 percent of survey respondents list cleanliness as one of the top criteria they look for when reading online hotel or vacation rental reviews.


And it’s no wonder. Whether I’m on vacation or traveling on business, I find it impossible to feel at home if I don’t have confidence in the cleanliness of my surroundings.


For example, once I arrived at an upscale hotel only to discover that the bed sheets had a “crunchy” texture, and let’s just say I found that deeply unsettling on many levels. Since it was too late at night for housekeeping to change the sheets, I had no choice but to sleep fully clothed—in jeans and a long-sleeve shirt—during the summer in Florida. And needless to say, it’s a little tough to get a good night’s sleep when you’re struggling not to touch—or think about—what’s on your sheets.


It’s because of these experiences that I can relate to the 54 percent of survey respondents who said they’d be willing to pay an extra fee to make sure a vacation rental is clean when they arrive. Personally, I would be thrilled if every hotel I stayed in offered me the option to pay for an extra-thorough cleaning. Because let’s be honest: can you really put a price on knowing you don’t have to worry about encountering a previous occupant’s germs, hair, or bodily fluids while you’re trying to enjoy your vacation?


That must be why many travelers are taking matters into their own hands, with 31 percent reporting that they clean their own hotel room or vacation rental property upon arrival. To me that’s taking it a bit far, given that I can’t stand cleaning and can barely bring myself to clean my own home. But I definitely get it. Spending just a little time cleaning when you arrive at your hotel enables you to feel comfortable and calm for the rest of your trip. And that’s exactly what vacations—and cleaning—are all about.


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