“Gracefulness and joy.” With Tyler Gallagher & Vanessa Cartwright

Gracefulness and joy are generally not words used in the context of business. People use analogies on how to fight and win much more often. But, I feel we should also remember that we need human beings who do business. We can be smart and determined but let’s also do that with an element of […]

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Gracefulness and joy are generally not words used in the context of business. People use analogies on how to fight and win much more often. But, I feel we should also remember that we need human beings who do business. We can be smart and determined but let’s also do that with an element of grace, and bring happiness to everything we do.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Vanessa Cartwright. Vanessa is responsible for client success and strategic direction at Astound Commerce, ensuring that the company provides the very best partnership and solutions to all of its clients, while managing Astound’s business and operations. Prior to becoming CCSO, Vanessa was the CEO for Fluid for six years, managing client relationships and the delivery of services and solutions. Vanessa has deep experience in Retail and eCommerce, as well as Financial Services, Telecommunications, Publishing and CPG.

Previously, Vanessa was General Manager (NY) and SVP Senior Client Partner for Blast Radius. Vanessa has also held senior leadership positions within RMG Connect/J Walter (Canada) and Rapp Collins (UK) and carries with her a deep digital background. She has a BA in Russian and English, and a postgraduate Chartered Institute of Marketing.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

My role today as Chief Client Success Officer for Astound Commerce requires strength in both ‘left-brain’ and ‘right-brain’ thinking, along with a good deal of common sense and patience. I need to switch from high-level strategic development of business vision and direction, to quickly interpreting financial performance data, communicating complex situations simply to a variety of audiences and problem solve for a team made up of people from varied skill-sets, backgrounds, geographies and cultures.

From an early age, I gravitated towards assuming roles of responsibility. I also had a great love of literature from a young age (with a real enjoyment of maths and sciences). I monopolized our family’s library cards so I could take out enough books to last me through each week.

I have a strong tendency towards action and tackling the seemingly difficult, from deciding to learn Russian at Keele University with a semester in Tver in Russia, to upping sticks from a growing career in London as Account Director at WWAV Rapp Collins and to moving to Vancouver to see what new adventure it might bring. A few years after taking on the Managing Director role of RMG Connect in Vancouver, and then Toronto, I did it all over again, packing once more, this time to see what New York had to offer.

Each of these steps towards my career today has played a role, as I have learned how to combine creativity, critical thinking and judgement with managing a wide variety of people. The world of Modern Digital Commerce, in which Astound Commerce are at the forefront, requires both insights and analytics, strong design and innovation, a solid understanding of the technologies that enable companies to meet the ever-changing demands of consumers, as well as the business acumen and understanding to ensure a solid financial foundation for the company. To me, there is no one story that explains how I arrived in my career and current role, just a series of chapters that have each built upon each other, and hopefully, more chapters are still to come!

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

I joined Fluid, now part of Astound Commerce, in 2012. By 2016, I was CEO, and my primary goal was to determine the next evolution of our company, to ensure our continued growth, stability and success. This was a huge responsibility given to me by Fluid’s founders and our board of directors. I felt very accountable to them, and to all of Fluid’s employees to find the right outcome that would result in a strong future that stayed true to the original purpose of the company: creating outstanding customer experiences. Running a corporate development process that determined our goals, articulated our story and the strengths of our company, and then meeting with a vast range of potential partners, investors and acquirers, while at the same time running the company, was a wonderful combination of fascination, stress and ultimately, success. We realized how closely our vision aligned with that of Astound’s, and came to see the strength of the combined company that we could put together. Two years after our merger with Astound Commerce, we are happy that our clients (and prospective clients), partners and the analyst community of commentators and consultants see this, too!

One of the most exciting projects during my first role at Fluid (now Astound Commerce) was finding and creating a new office space that would define and fuel our culture. The process included looking at real estate, working with architects and overseeing the design elements.

One of the central components included creating a steel kitchen island designed by a store in Chinatown that makes industrial furniture. The goal was to make the island a central place for the agency so it felt like home for our employees.

To launch our new home in SOHO, we threw a housewarming party, inviting two street artists (one of them, Jon Burgerman, who has become quite famous since then) to help us visually articulate the spirit of our company and its vision. They created oversized canvases in real time during the celebration. Our employees voted on them, selecting the one that best represented us. While we did select a winner, we kept both of them and they still hang in our offices today.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Very early on in my career, I was responsible for proof-reading a magazine that would be sent to two million members of World Books, the largest mail order book business in the UK at the time. After checking the final printed version, I realized that I had missed an incorrect price, and we were offering a set of books for a lower price than we should have. I was horrified and barely slept all night. In the morning, feeling certain I would be fired immediately, I confessed and showed my manager the error. To my huge surprise, she simply smiled, and said, “Well, never mind, these things happen, just check more carefully next time.” I was dumb-founded and hugely relieved. To this day, I remember my manager with respect and fondness. While I certainly still struggle to find this story funny, it taught me that in business, mistakes can and do happen, and that unless what you are doing is truly life and death, the best managers will be understanding and will use a mistake to help teach and build a relationship rather than berate and damage it. I also learned that while I have a good number of useful business skills, detailed proof-reading is not one of them and I need back-up in this area.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

We work hard to define our vision and service offerings and to make sure that we stay pioneers in the world of today’s digital commerce. We are often the first to implement new technologies, with a tremendous track record of creating innovative customer experiences and leading the way in terms of the strategic direction we provide to our clients.

However, what truly sets us apart is our determination to do whatever it takes for our clients to make sure they are successful. Our founders have plentiful stories of staying up all night to code websites for our clients to ensure successful launches and this spirit stays strong and true to this day. Just a few months ago, we received a wonderful email from one of our most senior clients thanking our team for stepping in, and saving an incredibly important promotion, on their largest revenue-generating day of the year. While I can’t share the client name or team details, these comments below show just why people chose to work with, and for Astound:

Team Member A: You are an amazing star player. Even though you were traveling, your constant support towards our business is unparalleled.

Team Member B: I know we asked you to work extra hours at the end of your day, and you delivered the solution without worrying what hour of night it was.

Team Member C: As a team leader, you have always extended your support to rally the team and be the back-bone of the support team.

Team Member D: Thank you for getting all the data set up in a short period of time and testing the system.

To me, these types of unsolicited client testimonials are the the true demonstration of what makes us stand out, as Astound Commerce.

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

We are increasingly recognizing the impact that industries such as the apparel business have on the environment, from their use of non-renewable natural resources, to their heavy production of carbon emissions. With a career and company based on Digital Commerce, I believe it is our responsibility to help change this and I have personally a strong interest in ‘Re-Commerce’ and other ways to reduce our industry’s impact on our global environment It’s important to think about moving towards business models that change the concept of product ownership to more sustainable ones, such as rental or recycled products. In addition, use technologies such as AI can make significant changes to the supply chain in order to find efficiencies such as zero-waste production, reduced inventory and local delivery. Our software platform, Configure, enables global brands such as Ralph Lauren and Louis Vuitton, to offer their customers the ability to customize products specifically to their own preferences and requirements, which means manufacturing to order, and again, reducing wastage and the impact of unnecessary inventory. We are excited to contribute to the changes needed and are keen to find other ways to drive this change.

What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?

As I began my career, it did not cross my mind that there would be barriers due to my gender — perhaps due to naivety and inexperience, or perhaps because my upbringing and education never instilled this thinking in me, but always encouraged me to believe that everything I would like to accomplish would be possible. I was supported in my career by women and men equally, with great role models and mentors from both genders. I would encourage other female leaders to instill the same sense of the possible in their teams.

What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

However much the concept of a ‘flat organization’ sounds appealing, in terms of the lack of hierarchy and the ability to encourage incredible thinking from all levels, it is extremely difficult to manage more than a relatively small number of people. Managing effectively needs you to spend time mentoring, coaching, goal-setting and delegating. It’s a different albeit complementary set of skills. To be an effective leader, to inspire and create a great company, you need to be supported by people you can trust with skills that you don’t have, ideas that are their own, and who you can trust to execute and make decisions.

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?

I still stay in touch with my previous managers, from the UK, Canada and the U.S. One of the finest leaders I have known, Virginia Greene, took a chance on hiring me as an Account Director when I arrived from London to Vancouver back in 1999. She taught me that to be a strong leader you have to foster and create an environment you want to work in, and that decisiveness and intelligence can go hand-in-hand with joy, grace, and humor. As a mother, grandmother, and wife, Virginia also showed me that a successful professional life doesn’t mean you need to lack a personal life.

Additionally, there was a pivotal point in my career where I was looking at what might come next and my friend Cindy Gallop’s direction was to think about the way I wanted to work, and what was going to make that right for me whether it was the physical surroundings, the culture, the people and their ability to make decisions, etc. She taught me how to focus on how to make the right choice, creating the ideal environment for who I am versus trying to slot into a role that already existed.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I’m a single parent and have served as volunteer and Executive Board Director with the Dobbs Ferry Schools Foundation for the last 10 years. In that role, I’ve brought my career knowledge in marketing to our efforts.

I am proud of the fundraising we have done, which has led to multiple programs including: foreign language education in the elementary school, upgraded books in the elementary library and new opportunities for science and research projects in the high school.

Equipping the next generation of leaders with programs that enrich their education is something I am very proud of and will continue to do.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

1. Life is long, and it would probably have been OK to take a year off to travel before starting my career.

2. That said, work can provide you with incredible opportunities to travel (with somewhat nicer hotel rooms).

3. Don’t be afraid to take risks and make decisions. Know that some will be mistakes, but that if you are working in the right place, with great leaders, mistakes become opportunities to learn and improve.

4. The small things matter to people more than you realize, so remember to smile, buy lunch for your team, celebrate birthdays and have dogs in the office if you can.

5. Trust is important. You need people around you who you trust. Integrity, accountability and honesty all go a long way.

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

Gracefulness and joy are generally not words used in the context of business. People use analogies on how to fight and win much more often. But, I feel we should also remember that we need human beings who do business. We can be smart and determined but let’s also do that with an element of grace, and bring happiness to everything we do.

We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

Jeff Bezos. As we have all read, he has recently committed $10 billion towards driving change to positively impact climate heating, and I would love to understand what changes he is intending Amazon will make as one of the world’s largest companies with a huge impact on our world.

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