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>>


Advice for Myself As a Young Girl

AlisonGutterman13I recently had the pleasure appearing on a show called “8th and Walton” as part of the “Retail Her” segment. The host and I chatted about how I came into the business, key lessons I have learned and then concluded with an important question – “What advice would I give myself as a young girl?”


There’s so much I would tell myself. Knowing all of the success I’ve been lucky to have over the years, and how hard I’ve worked to help make this company what it is today, here is what I would tell myself to keep in mind when I was younger:

  1. Find Mentors – My father and grandfather both were huge mentors for me, and taught me about the importance of success through failure. You don’t necessarily learn about success until you fail. And that may not be failure of an entire business – it could be an idea, a product, a packaging concept, but failure teaches us so much about ourselves, our resilience and the importance of taking chances.
  2. Be curious and ask questions – If you don’t have a sense of curiosity and ask questions, how will you learn? Soak in all of the information you can. You never know when you will be applied it to your business and ideas.
  3. Ask for advice – Reach out to your family, your parents, grandparents, and ask them for advice and insight. I still reach out to my father this day and he serves as a huge source of information. I’m confident that I don’t have all of the answers all of the time, and by reaching out to my family and other mentors, I know that I will get solid advice that can better inform my decision making.
  4. Be careful of your online presence – Things you post online when you are 15 will be there forever. This is something I never had to worry about when I was a teenager, but in a different world where images, comments, opinions and jokes can be posted on the Internet without a second thought, it’s good to take a step back and consider “will I really want a future business partner to come across this 20 years from now?”
  5. Have more fun – While I had my fair share of fun growing up, I definitely had a serious side as well. I think it’s so important to spend time as a kid being an actual kid. Find joyfulness. Be exuberant. Find fun in everything you do. That is something that will carry over into adulthood and is something to be admired.


Overall, I think this advice funnels up into one larger message, which is to be entrepreneurial. If there is an idea you have, or something you want to do, do it. Pound the pavement. Make connections. Don’t be afraid to fail. There are lessons in all of this that you can take with you well into your professional years.


Is there any advice you would give yourself as a younger person that you think could impact your professional career? Please share!


The Importance of Giving Back

giving_backThis time of year, we are constantly reminded of the importance of giving back. As soon as November 1st hits, we see messages about food and clothing drives, fundraisers, charity events, and more. I love that giving back is a theme that is front and center as we come to the end of another year. And ultimately, I think that giving back is not just something that is one-sided. You too can grow and learn from your generosity.


Recently, I participated in an event with the Committee of 200 (C200), a woman’s organization which is focused on empowering women and girls by developing women leaders. The organization does this both at the university and high school levels and has a strong commitment to raising scholarship funds. As part of this event, we spoke with girls from five inner city Chicago area high schools about their skillsets and what they wanted to be once they left school. It was fascinating to hear about what their dreams and goals were, and their different perspectives on life.


For me, I learn just as much about myself by spending the day with these young women as I hope they learn from me. There is nothing more important than gaining wisdom by hearing others’ triumphs and struggles, what they are faced with on a daily basis and what they aspire to do in their lives. Many of these young adults grew up in vastly different circumstances than my own and may not have had the same access to the many positive role models I have had in my life. Taking the time to learn about these young women as they maneuver through life and make choices that may be very different than what was automatically expected of me, teaches me that I can have a positive influence on their lives. Whether it’s talking about the importance of education, or helping them see that their dreams are not insurmountable, despite whatever situation they are in, my hope is that in some way, my experiences inspire them.


Because I have a multi-cultural family, I know that in order to enrich my children’s lives, I have to look at things from a world perspective. The added benefit (and by no means a secondary one), is realizing that as big as the world is, it is getting smaller every day. In business and personal relationships, it’s all about finding that common thread with others – just because you haven’t walked in someone’s shoes doesn’t mean you can’t relate, and help them achieve their goals.


So in the spirit of the season (and throughout the year), I urge you to engage with others that may be less fortunate than you are, may have a different path in life or may have a different perspective. Learn about what makes them tick and what you may have in common. I guarantee that you will be a better person for it, and it’s my hope that they will be a better person as well.


A Culture of Family

cultureI was at an event recently and was speaking with someone about Jelmar and how our company works. He was surprised to hear what a small company Jelmar is (13 people), and asked what it was like to work at an organization with so few people. It got me thinking about the whole concept of culture within an organization and its importance to the organization’s success. To me, Jelmar has a culture of family and this has been integral to our success.


Whether you are at an international corporation with hundreds of thousands of employees or a small, family-owned business, culture is one of the most influential things on a company’s success. When it comes down to it, a company that creates a culture of motivation and empowerment will inevitably see higher, more quality output from their employees. A company that shows it values not just an employee’s output, but the employee themselves and everything they bring together will have workers that are more content and workers that are motivated to bring their best every day because they know that the company is invested in them as people just as much as they are invested in the company for employment.


At Jelmar, I describe working at such a small organization as “going to a family Thanksgiving dinner….every day.” We all see the good, the bad and the ugly every day, and ultimately we care not only about how people are getting their work done, but also how everyone is doing as people. Jelmar employees are not just “employees”, they truly part of our family. I care about each and every person in our office and like to think that the level of personal interest and the flexibility we all share in our office has been a key factor in becoming and staying the successful company we are today.


What do you think about culture and business? Do you find that creating a culture of family and motivation helps your business succeed?


Fall: The New “New Year”

fall_treeWhile Labor Day marked the unofficial start of fall, this past Monday truly was the first day of autumn. We’ve felt it everywhere the past several weeks – the hustle and bustle of back to school, the dwindling light in the evening and an increasing list of things to do on our calendars. The air is crisp and invigorating. The leaves provide an extra boost of color before we tuck ourselves away for winter, and with all of this comes a sense of a fresh start and a new year.


I got to thinking, while we technically celebrate the New Year in the sense of the calendar on January 1, to many, including myself the fall continues to mark the beginning of a new year long after we’ve put down our backpacks and college textbooks. I still get nostalgic seeing all of the back to school commercials and promotions in store about new clothes, new products, new images all to make this year the “best year yet”.


I look at my children heading back to school – they now have new teachers, new expectations and are trying to find their way as they continue to grow up and learn new things. They have new intentions for the year and new goals. While they don’t realize it, they are setting their own “business” goals until their next summer vacation. Where do they want to be when the final bell rings in June?


And while with businesses it’s a bit more complicated because of fiscal calendars and the nitty gritty details of running a company, I truly believe that as a business leader, we too should look at fall as a fresh start. Take stock of where we are as a company, adjust goals as we move into the last quarter of the year and set out with a refreshed vigor that matches the refreshing crisp air in the mornings.


I constantly am finding inspiration in those around me – my children, my family, my friends and my co-workers. So many people I know set out in fall with a renewed outlook on their lives and goals. They have spent summer reflecting with their close friends and loved ones and while many can think it’s “back to the grind” as soon as back to school, I think it’s more about living with a refreshed sense of purpose. Part of my purpose this fall will be to focus on how I can continue to have a refreshed outlook on the rest of the year – not just when it comes to my family, but with my business as well.


What about you? Do you agree that fall brings up a sense of a fresh start? I would love to hear what your new goals are for this fall!


You Can Lead Someone to Water, But Cannot Make Them Drink

leadershipThere are many types of leaders in the business world. Some lead with a heavy hand, forcing their opinions and thoughts on others and making employees completely yield to their decisions and their vision. If things don’t go their way they react in a less than motivating manner, or just take over projects to do it the way they intended.


In my opinion, people that lead in this manner are not getting the best out of their employees or themselves. And this extends beyond just the workplace, but also to parenting, friendships, coaching, and more. As hard as it can be at times, placing your trust in people to do the task you have set out for them in what they think is the best way possible is the most effective way to lead and to learn.


And while I may not necessarily agree with how employees are doing something, or think that I could do it better, it’s more beneficial for me as a leader to let them fly on their own. If they fail, I think that is nothing more than a way to learn and gives them an opportunity to improve as they attempt the project or task a second time. And if they succeed, well then they are proud of their work product and happy that they were able to do it in their own manner.


In short, I think that when leading a company, a team or even a household it’s important to keep in mind that you can lead someone to water, but cannot make them drink. You can lay out your vision, your rules and guidelines and can provide feedback, but what helps people grow and learn is trying things, potentially failing, and improving on their mistakes.


So tell me, have you worked with leaders that have trusted you to make your own decisions? Or if you are a leader, have you found it hard to let go and allow people to make their own choices and learn in that manner?