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Jennifer and Karolyn Pott: “People will love you. People will hate you”

“People will love you. People will hate you. And 99% of the time it will have nothing to do with you.” I think that as a woman — and a highly sensitive person by nature — was so important to hear. Not to stereotype, but women do tend to be more emotionally-driven; we are quick to judge ourselves and […]

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“People will love you. People will hate you. And 99% of the time it will have nothing to do with you.” I think that as a woman — and a highly sensitive person by nature — was so important to hear. Not to stereotype, but women do tend to be more emotionally-driven; we are quick to judge ourselves and often internalize things that quite literally have nothing to do with us. We can also be described as “emotional”. But think about it — flip those traits on their head: we can take quick, decisive action; we are intuitive; we are empathetic. Those traits are super-powers!


As a part of our series about women who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jennifer and Karolyn Pott of The Adelaide Project.

Jennifer Pott is the Co-Owner and Director of Brand and Customer Experience for TPL Lighting. As the head of brand operations, Jennifer’s astute understanding of the evolving marketplace has resulted in a keen, forward-thinking approach to elevating the company above its competitors, and especially with the founding of The Adelaide Project.

Jennifer brings to her role, and The Adelaide Project specifically, an extensive background in marketing, customer service, and agency management, and over ten years in senior client service positions at one of Canada’s preeminent marketing agencies. As group account director for the agency’s largest and most important client, she was recognized for delivering best-in-class service, creating innovative solutions, ensuring operational excellence, and building strong relationships, both internally and externally.

In 2017, Jennifer joined the family-owned and operated TPL Lighting, parlaying her marketing and management expertise to the executive team. She sees The Adelaide Project as the most important and ground-breaking result of her professional career to date. Like Karolyn Pott, her sister and partner in the project, Jennifer sees “Adelaide” as a natural extension of TPL’s brand, one that will be instrumental in continuing the tradition of excellence that was established nearly 30 years ago with the founding of TPL Lighting.

Karolyn Pott: Co-Owner and Vice President of Operations and Administration of TPL Lighting, Karolyn Pott oversees the operational excellence that is a hallmark of the brand’s leadership position in Toronto’s commercial lighting industry. Over her 20-year tenure at TPL Lighting, Karolyn has worked in every function of the agency, building the business alongside the founder, and her father, Andy Pott. In her current role, Karolyn focuses on engineering and executing integrated operational strategies, linking people, processes, and delivery platforms under a compelling vision that is built on the belief that growth and profitability are outcomes of excellence — in customer service, employee engagement, and client retention.

Karolyn now extends that same expertise to The Adelaide Project. A part of the sister team spearheading the launch of “Adelaide,” Karolyn plays a key role in its success and in realizing the vision for TPL’s future.

The Adelaide Project is the first initiative of its kind in the Greater Toronto market, designed to extend today’s trend in customized, curated experiences to the commercial lighting industry. Karolyn believes that it’s how well you connect with your clients, manufacturers, and industry colleagues that really matters, which is why each interaction with The Adelaide Project is one-on-one, intimate, and personalized. Karolyn sees The Adelaide Project as an extension of TPL’s core values, design focus, and customer-centric business model, and passionately feels that it will be instrumental in carrying TPL’s tradition of excellence into the future.


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

JP: Thank YOU for having us!

“Specific” is just about the opposite of how I’d describe my career path — I’ve always followed the mantra of, when a door opens, walk through. In many ways, it is through a non-linear career path that I built up the resources and skills to arrive where I am today. With that said, however, it was ultimately my second child’s health issues (and Karolyn’s persistence) that triggered the move into the family business three years ago — it was that “aha” moment that allowed me the perspective I needed to understand what both a privilege and a responsibility I had in front of me with TPL Lighting, and put aside my stubborn need to chart my own course so that I could, quite literally, put my family first.

KP: In two words, my parents. Both of my parents were in the industry and so all of the talk around the dining table was about the lighting industry; it was familiar, and really the only industry I knew from a young age. When I graduated university I didn’t know what I wanted to do; I was working for a bank, but I wasn’t sure that was the path I wanted to take. So when my dad asked if I would meet him to have dinner with him one night, I said yes; not knowing it was to ask me to come work for him at TPL. I agreed to try it out, and he agreed to not hold it against me if I decided it wasn’t for me. And here I am, 19 years later, still with an active role in the business and now a second-generation owner, alongside my sister Jennifer, and brother Michael. People often ask me how I do it, how I work (or worked) with my dad, mom, sister, brother, husband, and brother-in-law, and I say “you just work”. Yes, there are challenges, and yes, there are disagreements, but there is also an immense amount of love, support, and deep understanding of who you are. So for me, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

JP: The Adelaide Project is disruptive for a few reasons. First of all, by definition, TPL Lighting is a sales agency, but The Adelaide Project is not about sales. The traditional agency model is to focus on projects and products; try to sell your product and get specified onto a job. The problem with this is that everything starts to become a commodity game. We realized we needed to think beyond the product, beyond the spec, and consider how we could create greater customer value throughout various stages of the specification journey. The Adelaide Project is about the experience you have with light; it’s about visually representing how the sum of lighting in the context of furnishings and decor and art is greater than the allure of any of the individual pieces. It is about bringing the design community together by inspiring conversation, by provoking thought, through sharing learning and experience, through collaboration.

KP: Exactly. The core concept of The Adelaide Project — a studio dedicated to bring to life functional and contextual representations of our manufacturers’ lighting and controls products in a highly curated, elegant way — is completely unique for a sales agency in this industry. We are the only ones doing this. We are also the only lighting agency in Toronto that is owned by women. In a male dominated industry, that in itself is disruptive.

We all need a little help along the journey — who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

JP: I have been extraordinarily lucky to have been surrounded by a number of inspiring leaders throughout my career path; men and women who have challenged me, broadened my thinking, taught me, modelled what aspiration and hard work looks like and results in. Flipping that on its head, I’ve also had the unique pleasure of mentoring young women at various stages of my career — and I would say it is these experiences that have had the greatest impact on me. I remember the first time I was approached for mentorship: if I’m being completely honest, I panicked! I don’t have enough experience or value to offer someone else! I’m already working a 60 hour week, how can I make time for this?!? The truth is that it is through the opportunities to coach and guide others that have allowed ME the greatest opportunities of growth and learning. I consider myself blessed to have had the opportunity to learn from these people, as they’ve all played a significant role in shaping the person I am today.

KP: So if I’m being honest, my first reaction was to say “I don’t have mentors”, but when I really think about it, I realize that I have some absolutely amazing people around me. I have a group of people in my life that support me and believe in me. They offer a shoulder to cry on, an ear to vent to, and a voice of advice. They are my family, my friends, my work colleagues; and the lines in many of the cases, are blurred. But I guess that’s what happens when you work in a family business for most of your career.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

JP:

  1. “Don’t strive to be a success. Strive to be of value.” This is a quote that originates from Albert Einstein, but it was one of my mentors that shared this with me over a glass of wine one evening, following a particularly shaky client presentation. I was trying to “win” the pitch, and that was what I was focused on. It was such an astute piece of advice — I was thinking about ‘me’ and the outcome I wanted, versus thinking about the client first, and what would be of value to them. The experience totally shifted my perspective, which led to a different approach…(and go figure, a win in the end).
  2. “You don’t need to know the precise path to the end-game in order to get started. Sometimes you just need to take a deep breath, trust your instincts and trust the process.” I still remember the visceral feeling of anxiety I had when these words were shared with me, I was literally paralyzed by a business problem because I was focusing on the fact I had no idea what the solution was. My boss at the time (perhaps my favourite boss of all time), stopped what he was working on and we sat in a meeting room with a whiteboard and a set of markers. He shared those words of wisdom, and then helped me break down the problem into the root issues we needed to address. It was such a valuable lesson…and one that rings very true today with what we as a society are navigating with COVID-19. We don’t know with any sense of certainly what the end-game looks like. The uncertainty of how long these extreme emergency measures will last adds to the complexity of figuring out how to create a contingency plan for the business. If we start from the mindset that we need to know all the information before we can figure out what to do, we will be too late — it will put us in the position of being reactive instead of proactive. So we have to take the information we DO know, take a deep breath, and get started.
  3. “People will love you. People will hate you. And 99% of the time it will have nothing to do with you.” I think that as a woman — and a highly sensitive person by nature — was so important to hear. Not to stereotype, but women do tend to be more emotionally-driven; we are quick to judge ourselves and often internalize things that quite literally have nothing to do with us. We can also be described as “emotional”. But think about it — flip those traits on their head: we can take quick, decisive action; we are intuitive; we are empathetic. Those traits are super-powers!

KP:

  1. “The man who says he can, and the man who says he can’t are both correct.” — Confucius. I would be remiss if I didn’t include my dad’s, the founder of TPL, favourite quote. He says it all the time; it’s his idea of a motivational speech to specification representatives when they’re facing a challenge or struggling with a client. But as much as I tease him for it, it is true. It’s up to us to decide what we can and can’t do. It always reminds me of my first few days working at TPL, when I was basically left on my own to just get the work done. I had no idea what, or more importantly, how, I was to do what I was expected to. I could have just sat there all day waiting, under the notion that I can’t do it, but instead I dove in. I took it upon myself to figure it out and do it how I thought it could be / should be / was done. And I quickly learned that my new boss wasn’t a person that says he can’t, and he certainly wasn’t a person that was going to sit around and teach me if I said I can’t. That has definitely shaped the person I am today, and as a result of that, I am a person that says she can.
  2. “You can be successful, achieve anything…but know, it won’t be easy.” This came from my mother, when she warned me about the male domination of our industry. I would help her do take-offs on electrical drawings when I was young and I remember her talking about how she felt as if she was constantly battling men, having to prove herself that as a woman; she had the knowledge her colleagues had. The industry has come a long way in the 19 years I’ve been in it, but it’s still tough. It’s sad for me to say that this advice is still relevant today, and if I was asked to share any words of advice to women entering our industry today, I would offer up these same words. Here is hoping that through The Adelaide Project, we can make some strides towards improving this and making it a more level playing field.
  3. “Don’t take things so personally.”I would say I have heard this piece of advice over and over and over again. Apparently everyone has realized that I am an extremely sensitive person, and one that takes everything to heart. And in this industry, you’ll get eaten alive for being too sensitive.

How are you going to shake things up next?

JP: We would love to welcome more female leaders into the industry — and into our business specifically.

KP: Next?! How about we say we will see where The Adelaide Project takes us. It has been an incredible journey getting this project launched; from the first seed of the idea, to finding the most perfect property, to opening the doors in February. We were just getting into the “good stuff”, so to speak, of launching The Adelaide Project when COVID-19 hit. Based on the initial feedback and response, I am very excited about what the future holds.

Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?

JP: Ooooh that’s a tough one — I’m a voracious reader across all categories. Where to start…Anything that Brene Brown writes or speaks about — her recent podcasts on Collective Vulnerability or FFT’s….her books ‘Dare to Lead’ or ‘The Gifts of Imperfection’ — there are such compelling moments of self-reflection and learning that are triggered by her work. In a different vein, an oldie but a goodie that has absolutely impacted the way I think and approach business opportunities is Blue Ocean Strategy — the authors argue that cutthroat competition results in nothing but a bloody red ocean of rivals fighting over a shrinking profit pool; that lasting success comes not from battling competitors but from creating “blue oceans” — untapped new market spaces ripe for growth. As it relates to The Adelaide Project, this concept absolutely came out of this kind of thinking: let’s NOT engage in the commodity game, let’s challenge the status quo in the industry and in the agency model. What if we could find a way to focus on SOLUTIONS instead of products. What if we could find a way to bring better clarity and transparency and collaboration to the specification journey. What if we could find a provocative way to create connection in a digital era. The Adelaide Project is the only concept of its kind in Canada, perhaps even in the lighting industry, and we brought it to life by thinking not about how to compete with others, but rather by imagining a new version of the specification journey.

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. 🙂

JP: This might sound a bit cheesy, butfor me it would be about love: inspiring people to have more love for themselves, drop that wall so you can really feel love and in turn spread love, act from a place of love. My six year-old talks about this — and his level of self-awareness as it relates to the difference in his behaviour and reactions when he is having a “love-filled day” versus a “red (angry) day” is profound and inspiring. Makes me imagine what if the whole world acted and reacted from a place of love, instead of from fear or insecurity or judgement.

KP: I am a neat freak by nature, and recently have been making more environmentally friendly consumer decisions, so I think I would need to go with trying to influence people to pay more attention to the garbage and waste we all create. I know, nothing to do with lighting. I find myself getting so annoyed at people when they are seemingly oblivious to the amount of waste they create, or better yet, support, on a daily basis. We need to have access to more environmentally-responsible options, and we need to make better choices in our buying habits. So, if I could inspire a movement it would be to more conscious consumers. We only have one planet earth; let’s take care of it!

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

JP: “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you will land amongst the stars.” As a young girl I was often paralyzed by a fear of getting something wrong. At the end of my fourth year of university, I made a split-second decision that took me to Nepal and (I believe) altered the course of my life — certainly it has shaped the person I am today. From that moment, I jump in, I take risks, I (try to) lead from my heart, from my gut — because the downside of those types of decisions is still usually pretty sweet.

KP: I recently read a quote that said, “Women have a unique power of being able to look at the world’s problems and discover solutions that transform lives and make the world a better place.” So while I can appreciate that my “world” might be a small one, this quote resonated with me. I saw myself, in my many hats, in it: a daughter, a sister, a wife, a mother, a friend, a business owner, a boss. I have been referred to as The Glue; the one that holds things together, the one that looks out for everyone else before myself.

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