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Dr. Lisa Williams: “Light at the End of the Tunnel”

It is a scary time. But there is truly a “Light at the End of the Tunnel.” I developed a simple acronym to remind myself to stay hopeful — RENEW: R for RESILIENCE — E for EXPLORE — N for NEW — E for EXHALE — W for WE Personally, and professionally, I have surrounded myself with teams of loved ones and colleagues to ensure there […]

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It is a scary time. But there is truly a “Light at the End of the Tunnel.” I developed a simple acronym to remind myself to stay hopeful — RENEW:

R for RESILIENCE — E for EXPLORE — N for NEW — E for EXHALE — W for WE

Personally, and professionally, I have surrounded myself with teams of loved ones and colleagues to ensure there is a network of support day to day. These uncertain times have pushed us to be more selfless, caring and supportive. There is a renewed sense of community that is being created to support and help one another. Together we will be more successful.


The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Many of us now have new challenges that come with working from home, homeschooling, and sheltering in place.

As a part of our series about how busy women leaders are addressing these new needs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Lisa Williams.

Dr. Lisa Williams is the Founder and CEO of TheWorld of EPI™), a global, multi-million-dollar, multi-cultural children’s toy manufacturer, whose vision, mission and values are rooted in celebrating diversity. Dr. Williams is a supply chain academician and scholar who is an award-winning author on the subject and has presented to the White House and Congress. In 2003, Dr. Williams left her successful career in academia to develop a business focused on encouraging acceptance, inclusion and self-love among children of all ages- The World of Epi.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

When I was a little girl, I wanted to be a teacher. As a child, I would line my dolls along my little chalkboard and “teach” them the lesson of the day. As I grew into adulthood, it was little surprise I gravitated towards a career in academia. As my career in academia developed, I challenged myself to continue to grow, learn and develop. I earned a PhD in business, becoming the first African-American female to receive a PhD in Marketing and Supply Chain Management at The Ohio State University.

I soon became a professor at Pennsylvania State University, where I became the first African-American female to receive tenure. Ultimately, I became the first female and the highest-ranking professor in my field. In addition, I was awarded two million-dollar endowed chairs at the University of Arkansas for my research. Gone were the days of teaching dolls. Now, I was teaching corporate executives, MBA, PhD students and helping to inform global agencies across the world.

While I was content with the trajectory of my career, I happened to stumble upon a television segment focused on the perceptions of skin color among young girls — which ultimately changed my path. Specifically, the segment delved into the long-standing negative views young African-American girls had of themselves and their perceptions of dark skin tones. I was shocked and heartbroken by the sentiments expressed during the segment. I knew then, I had another purpose — to be an advocate of positive change, self-love and empowerment. In 2003, I left my successful career in academia to become an entrepreneur. I decided to create dolls that would reflect the beautiful features in all children. I committed myself to developing a business focused on encouraging acceptance, inclusion and self-love among children of all ages.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started at your company?

As an African- American mom, woman and entrepreneur, I wanted to establish a company whose mission was centered on diversity and inclusion. It was critical to my vision that I be able to provide children of color with a positive reflection of themselves in their toys. I was determined to create authentic and beautiful dolls that would provide children with a refreshing view of themselves and ethnicities across the globe- a positive picture to combat often negative images and stereotypes constantly seen throughout their daily lives.

In my quest to create the most authentic dolls, I travelled to China to visit a potential manufacturer. Locals noted how unusual it was to see an African-American in China. While I did receive some long looks and uncomfortable stares, the outpouring of kindness and warm welcomes was overwhelming. I was apprehensive about travelling abroad to this new country. In fact, friends and family were afraid for me to travel so far to chase my dreams, but my passion to create authentic dolls was my driving force. You know people dancing seem insane to those who can’t hear the music. I heard the music.

The experience put so much in perspective and further reinforced the premise for establishing the World of EPI and the subsequent Fresh Dolls collections. There is a need for authentic representation across the world. I now have an opportunity to help establish positive views of all ethnicities among our future leaders — children.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

In the age of COVID, as society has required increased social distancing, health and safety precautions, quarantines and closures, our children are bombarded with fearful images and scenarios, their routines have been upended and they must find new means of building and maintaining relationships. Now, more than ever, it is critical to ensure our children are exposed to hope, happiness and positivity.

We are excited to bring a new collection of Fresh Dolls to our customers inspired by the heroes who have helped to define these unprecedented times; essential workers. We are in the midst of development, ensuring each doll is unique, authentic and reflects the beauty, brilliance and diversity of children. From unique facial sculpts and custom blended skin tones to a broad range of body types, hair styles and textures, the new collection will feature mindful and intentional designs — that will enable children to see themselves in everyday heroes.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

An old African proverb states, “It takes a village to raise a child.” This line of thinking, I have learned, is also applicable to companies. I have been fortunate to have had a loving and supportive village helping me to raise this business- with so many influencing my decision-making, both personally and professionally.

My collective family has played the most influential role in driving the success of the World of EPI. They are my earth angels. They have provided unique insights, inspiring words of encouragement during the most trying times and even funding.

One of my most challenging experiences was keeping up with customer demand. I’m fortunate there has always been a high demand for our products. On one occasion, I received so many customer orders that our warehouse couldn’t fulfill the requests.

I drove to the warehouse, packed dolls in my car and drove home. There, my family — including my children — were waiting. We created a make shift assembly line, began printing shipping labels and packing dolls until the early hours in the morning. We slept a few hours and resumed at daylight. To this day I both apologize to my children and thank them for their support. Together we survived and overcame the challenge.

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Can you articulate to our readers what are the biggest family related challenges you are facing as a woman business leader during this pandemic?

We are in the midst of unprecedented times where it can often be a struggle to balance the responsibilities of work and home. As a mom and woman in business, I have experienced a profound shift in my life. I have had to find ways to balance the growing needs of my business with the on-going needs of loved ones-all via remote methods.

As someone who is considered high-risk for COVID complications due to medical conditions, including moderate to severe asthma, it is critical for me to limit interaction with others, socially distance and follow strict health guidelines. Like many, the most challenging aspect, is not being able to physically interact with family and loved ones. I have had to pivot from being an in-person support to my elderly mother and children to being a virtual one. As a small and close-knit family, not being able to see one another is very difficult.

Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?

I am in constant communication with my immediate and extended family. Like many, over the course of several months, I have established a close-knit circle of family and friends to help cope with these new and seemingly everyday stressors. I have increased communication with family and loved ones to provide virtual support to those I cannot visit. These virtual conversations have pushed me to embrace technology even more than pre-pandemic. In fact, I have become an expert on almost every online virtual meeting platform. While I can’t hug my mom, I can see her several times a day. That helps to relieve anxiety for both of us. In addition, I have educated myself on safety precautions to be sure I stay safe — and keep others, including my loved ones, safe.

Can you share the biggest work-related challenges you are facing as a woman in business during this pandemic?

As a woman business owner, one of my key responsibilities is making good decisions. From supply chain management during unprecedented times to anticipating coming trends to inform future designs, paraphrasing Truman, the buck stops with me. But I, like so many, like to gain insights from others. I have found networking can encourage creativity and motivation. Pre-pandemic, I would meet with colleagues over coffee, lunch or dinner to discuss challenges, obtain their perspectives and hear of lessons learned. All of these discussions would help to inform decisions great and small. While social distancing and virtual meetings are the norm, it’s not a replacement for sharing a meal and a good laugh with mentors, colleagues and friends.

Can you share your advice about how to best work from home, while balancing the needs of homeschooling or the needs of a family?

The COVID-19 pandemic has many feeling overwhelmed. We are managing through an unprecedented time that often requires long work hours, and caring for loved ones and yourself. Be intentional in carving out time for work, family and self-care as it is critical to finding a moment of peace and balance.

I find working from home blurs boundaries. There’s no delineation for lunch, breaks or even the end of the work day. My day can easily turn into a blur that starts in the morning and ends 12 to 13 hours later — without significant breaks. Place some breaks throughout your day. If necessary, set an alarm for lunch and at the end of your work day to signal the start of “family time.” Then set it to ring a few hours before bedtime, signaling time for self-care and relaxation. Having a set schedule to address the needs of work as well as time dedicated to family needs can alleviate some of the stresses you may encounter day to day. It will also allow you to better manage your personal and professional responsibilities.

Can you share your strategies about how to stay sane and serene while sheltering in place, or simply staying inside, for long periods with your family?

During these uncertain times, it is normal to feel fear, concern and stress. Working moms are managing business as well as the emotions of their loved ones at home. In order to take care of your family, you have to take care of yourself. You can support others best when you are healthy — physically and mentally.

When sheltering in place with loved ones, it’s important to balance family time and individual time. During family time, my family and I engage in group activities, including: playing games, cooking together or having family book discussions. When weather permits, safely get outside and soak up some sun. Seeing and smelling flowers helps me and my family to relax and connect with nature. We return home refreshed and rejuvenated. But there must be individual down time. Everyone needs to carve out personal time to relax, unwind and have quiet time. Taking care of yourself is important so you are mentally equipped to help your family through this tough time.

Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.

It is a scary time. But there is truly a “Light at the End of the Tunnel.” I developed a simple acronym to remind myself to stay hopeful — RENEW:

R for RESILIENCE. Remind yourself of the tough times you’ve overcome in the past. We each have examples in our own life to inspire us. We each remember times we couldn’t see our way; but we made it through.

I’ve used faith and resilience to stay hopeful. During my PhD program, there were some dark days; days I felt like giving up. But with resilience, I persevered. I had no idea I’d become the highest-ranking professor in the field. Reminding myself of this successful outcome in my life helps me stay optimistic.

E for EXPLORE. Now is the time to explore new ideas. Necessity is the mother of invention. These novel times require novel approaches. Take time to explore and think about a new way of doing things. We, at the World Of EPI, are now implementing new online strategies. We have campaigns designed to build new and lasting relationships and increase engagement with our loyal customers.

N for NEW. Every challenge brings opportunities. Harness the new opportunities. When I was faced with the challenge of creating authentic dolls, I simultaneously had the opportunity to travel the world and learn the art of facial sculpting. I took the opportunity and applied these learnings to my new business- laying the foundation for the collections we have built today.

E for EXHALE. During these trying and stressful times, it’s important we remind ourselves to simply BREATHE. During my meditations I follow my breathe. I breathe in slowly, gently hold my breath and then exhale slowly. I repeat this sequence 3 -6 times and gradually, I begin to feel peaceful and calm.

W for WE. We are all in this together and we’ll get through this together. There have been previous global pandemics and other tragedies, and we’ve survived. We will survive this.

Personally, and professionally, I have surrounded myself with teams of loved ones and colleagues to ensure there is a network of support day to day. These uncertain times have pushed us to be more selfless, caring and supportive. There is a renewed sense of community that is being created to support and help one another. Together we will be more successful.

From your experience, what are a few ideas that one can use to effectively offer support to their family and loved ones who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?

Communicate. Keep the lines of communication open with family. Have honest conversations about how everyone is feeling. If you are not in the same home, use virtual meeting platforms to actually see each other. Really probe — without nagging — to get to the heart of the matter. If support is needed outside of what can be provided by the family, investigate third party support services and resources. Consistently reassure loved ones that the family is and will continue to be there to support them through their crisis.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

One of my favorite quotes is, “Peace be still and know I am God.” This reminds me to breathe, relax and surrender. There is a Power that regulates my heartbeat, controls the cosmos and is in control of everything seen and unseen.

Remembering this relaxes me, calms my mind and causes my shoulders to drop. At that moment I’m reminded there’s something regulating my life and ALL life. I just relax, trust and watch all unfold perfectly.

How can our readers follow you online?

I’m on Instagram @TheDrLisa and @theFreshDolls

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!


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