Jean-Marie Lovett: “Morning Mugs”

First, something that my business partner and I have not mastered (yet) but we’re always working on is to divide and conquer. We’re trying to make sure those who don’t have to be on a call aren’t on it and make sure we’re not all overlapping and participating in the same things. Instead, we’re effectively […]

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First, something that my business partner and I have not mastered (yet) but we’re always working on is to divide and conquer. We’re trying to make sure those who don’t have to be on a call aren’t on it and make sure we’re not all overlapping and participating in the same things. Instead, we’re effectively figuring out how to divide up the work, carve out responsibilities and communicate this back to our staff so that things don’t get lost.

As a part of my interview series on the 5 Things you need to know to successfully manage a team, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jean-Marie Lovett.

Jean-Marie Lovett is the President of Bindable. She is a seasoned operations and marketing executive with over 20 years of experience. She has a successful track record launching new consumer products and has proven herself instrumental in shaping and growing businesses both large and small throughout her career.

Before joining Bindable at its founding, Jean-Marie served as Vice President at JP Morgan Chase. There, she managed the marketing channels and operations for all student loan partnerships, including nearly 200 affinity groups. Lovett is a graduate of Colgate University, where she received a Bachelor of Arts degree with Honors, and holds a Master of Business Administration from the Kenan Flagler Businesses School at UNC, Chapel Hill. She is a member of the Massachusetts Associate of Insurance Agents (MAIA). Jean-Marie is currently serving on the Travelers National Producer Council representing New England.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you share a story about what brought you to this particular career path?

I grew up in New York City and on Long Island. I started out with a liberal arts degree in economics and no clear direction for my career path. Post-college, I went back to New York and worked for a foreign exchange company in the World Trade Center where I had a really interesting opportunity to turn what was more of a personnel HR department into a finance department working directly with brokers who were its largest assets. I then moved to North Carolina and got my business degree thinking I might want to follow in my dad’s footsteps to become an entrepreneur. Ironically, post-graduate school, I began my career at BellSouth, but had the opportunity to be a part of the innovations group. This afforded me a chance to be part of a small entrepreneurial and innovative team within a larger company. We got to do a lot of interesting things around Voice over IP (VoIP) and security systems and I established this desire to work in industries going through change.

I was drawn back to New York during the dot-com craze in the late 90s. I joined a project management startup called Abridge (formerly BeBusy), but unfortunately, the company took a hit due to the events of 9/11 and wasn’t able to survive given a lot of our clients were financial institutions. After a couple years in New York I decided to take a chance on Boston where I was then introduced to John Fees, the co-founder of Next Generation Insurance Group (NGI). I originally wanted to move into the nonprofit sector and was thinking about working for a college or alumni association. John invited me to work with him at eGrad, a company focused on student lending and affinity relationships. That was my introduction to affinity marketing and when I first started working with Bill Suneson, who would become the CEO of Bindable. Shortly after Bill and John launched NGI, I joined them to establish a new digital agency and helped to transform it into what is known today as Bindable.

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

It was really early in my career. I was working at a foreign exchange company in the World Trade Center during the first bombing in 1993. The company needed to be fully up and running in an office setting in order to successfully operate. We had to very quickly set up a new office, and in doing so, I became very involved and focused on learning all the ins and outs of the business operation. I volunteered to help in many different areas of the company, which was a great learning experience for me because I got to know a great number of people that ultimately helped me as a person and in my career. I also learned a lot of skills that helped me respond to different situations, like the one we are all facing 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?

I’ve made a number of mistakes in my career as most people have, especially in the early years. Speaking publicly for the first time can be really challenging and you don’t realize how difficult it truly is until you’re up there doing it. You have all the confidence in the world, but then you find yourself flubbing your way through it. The biggest lesson I’ve taken away from this is that you’ve got to do your homework and be ready for anything to happen. The more prepared you are, the more confident you are, which leaves less of an opportunity to make mistakes.

Ok, let’s jump to the core of our interview. Most times when people quit their jobs they actually “quit their managers”. What are your thoughts on the best way to retain great talent today?

You need to recognize that not everyone is meant to be a manager. In large companies people are sometimes elevated to management positions simply because that’s the next career path for them when in fact they may not want to be a manager and might not be the right person for that role. In order to be a successful manager, you must have a desire to be a manager and know what it takes. It’s about empowering employees, communicating clear roles, and making sure everyone understands how they fit into the overall structure. You have to also be thoughtful in how you grow and scale at a company by making sure you can give people openings to advance in their careers. While those opportunities may not necessarily be managerial roles, employees should still be provided with additional responsibilities and opportunities that will not only put these people on the right path but also help build a strong team.

How do you synchronize large teams to effectively work together?

My business partner and I synchronize large teams by facilitating a lot of different communication channels and understanding how people respond to those channels, while knowing that it won’t be the same for every person. For example, take the open office concept — some individuals thrive in open offices and some don’t. It’s about understanding how individuals work and absorb information in the best way possible.

At Bindable, we do a good job of that by having several means of communication. When we moved to remote workplaces due to the pandemic, we made sure there were more frequent opportunities to touch base and share information with everyone in the ways they wished to receive it. Typically we communicate over Slack, while sometimes we communicate via smaller virtual team huddles. One of our teams is doing “Morning Mugs,” where team members communicate what’s on their plates workwise, what’s going on at the company, and what’s going on in their lives outside of work. As we scale, we’re taking more of a project management approach and looking at all of our teams to make sure we get input from everyone. It helps us keep track of where deliverables stand and what items may need more attention to get to the finish line.

Here is the main question of our discussion. Based on your personal experience, what are the “5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Team”. (Please share a story or example for each, Ideally an example from your experience)

First, something that my business partner and I have not mastered (yet) but we’re always working on is to divide and conquer. We’re trying to make sure those who don’t have to be on a call aren’t on it and make sure we’re not all overlapping and participating in the same things. Instead, we’re effectively figuring out how to divide up the work, carve out responsibilities and communicate this back to our staff so that things don’t get lost.

Second, continue to hire the right people because people are the ones who make the company strong from the beginning. Never lose sight of that.

Third and fourth are communicating expectations but also empowering people to lead. Early in my career I was heading to a client meeting with the senior account manager and he just turned it over to me and let me lead the whole meeting. It’s so important to have times like these and let junior people lead so that they gain leadership experience. Of course there are times when you can’t help but take the lead and respond, but you have to give your team the power to be leaders so that clients and partners are able to look to those junior people instead of always looking to you.

Lastly, acknowledge that mistakes will be made. We all make mistakes and creating an environment for people that signals we don’t tolerate mistakes is not beneficial. Instead, create an environment that acknowledges that mistakes happen and it’s about how you respond and react to them that matters.

What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?

In addition to empowering your younger people to lead, be sure to keep an eye on your company’s culture because the people make the culture. As you grow, it’s fascinating to watch workplace culture evolve and adapt, especially with everything that has happened this year and the transition to working from home. The culture is what makes people want to come to work. They have to be passionate and excited about not only what they’re working on but the people they’re working with. The office perks don’t make a difference if the culture is not strong.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

My focus has always been on how to empower girls and women and seeing what opportunities are out there for them. I like to think of it as first and second chances. First, making sure everyone has a chance to understand what their educational, career, and life opportunities are and making sure everyone has access to them in some way. What I mean by second chances is I think people can sometimes go down certain paths in life that end up not being the best for them, so making sure there’s an opportunity to explore a different path if needed. It’s very hard for people to do this in this country and around the world and if I could facilitate this and give people those opportunities, that’s something I’d be very happy to do.

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

I have to give full credit to my mother on this one. She told me not to sweat the small stuff which is an expression I grew up with (she even had a sign in the house with this saying on it!). It doesn’t mean don’t pay attention to detail but rather focus on the bigger picture and not letting yourself go down a rabbit hole. Remember to have perspective and don’t let something disrupt the clear focus of your day, week or your life. You’ve got to keep that focus on the bigger picture and manage through the small stuff.

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