“Know your purpose.” As an entrepreneur, I often hear this advice to the tune of: “what is your why?” or “what is your impact?” I wouldn’t have left the corporate world with all of its perks and cushy salary packages and benefits if I was lacking a purpose, a desire to be impactful or my own personal “why.” The reason that I decided to finally trust myself and fly without a net by creating my own vision for my career was because I knew I could serve a greater purpose. Turns out, I get so much joy from empowering others. I love the feeling I get when I know I have made a positive impact. So that is my “why.” Giving to others is the reason I fly out of bed in the morning excited to see what the day will bring. And in the time of COVID, this is also what sustains me when everything I’ve known seems shaky and fragile.
As a part of our series about women who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Christie Lawler.
Christie Lawler is the Founder and Owner of CJL CONSULTiNG, a marketing consulting firm offering a full suite of marketing, branding, sales strategy, and training services for local, national and global companies. Christie is soon to be a published author and speaks nationally on the topics of marketing, cultural development strategies and branding.
In 2018, Christie launched the philanthropic arm of her company — The WITI Group, a 501(c)(3) organization. This allows Christie to dedicate her time to fulfilling her true purpose of building the next generation of female leaders, both through her company and charity. Her foundation is supported by the annual WITI Conference which she created to be the only non-profit, invitation-only and female-only empowerment conference in the hospitality industry. Her foundation has grown over the past two years to involve more than 65 volunteers to help other women nationally. The pinnacle of The WITI Group is providing mentorship as well as financial and emotional support to all women in the food and beverage industry as our future leaders.
CJL CONSULTiNG is a WBENC Certified Woman-Owned Small Business. Christie also volunteers her time to with other nonprofit foundations supporting the hospitality industry as well as an industry advisory board member. She is also a proud member of the Female Founders Collective.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Thank you for inviting me to be a part of this series on female disruptors! Like so many people, this is not the career path that I had planned during my education. My goal was to be a global videographer and storyteller for a news network. After finishing my undergrad in broadcast journalism, my boyfriend-turned-husband and I were stationed in Germany and I found myself with a degree that didn’t quite serve the career opportunities available to me. I started volunteering at the local newspaper writing stories, covering events and taking pictures. After landing a regular position as a Staff Writer, I was eventually promoted to be the Editor of another community newsletter and then again to run the regional marketing office. It was an opportunity that would shape my new career path and I had absolutely no idea at the time as I felt I knew relatively nothing about marketing.
My efforts in starting the marketing office proved successful and we eventually grew to a team of seven before we moved back to the States. Upon landing in Texas, I took a role in beverage marketing and fell in love with the niche. It propelled my career with several promotions before I moved on to manage national chain accounts with two different global beverage companies. When it was time for me to look to charting my own course, I re-engaged in my marketing agency that I had started years before while completing my MBA.
There are many companies like mine that serve our niche, so I had to figure out my company’s point of differentiation as I had worked with or for all of my competitors in previous roles. I branded my firm to capture what my experience told me was lacking in our industry and focused on generating a bigger ROI while operating with true transparent practices. Then it took it one step further. I launched our philanthropic arm in 2018. The WITI Group (WITI stands for Women In The Industry) is a 501(c)(3) organization that aims to promote the future female leaders of our industry through mentorship as well as financial and emotional support when they find themselves in abusive or otherwise hostile work environments. This foundation is the realization of my passions all rolled into my professional and personal life. We are now nearly 70 female volunteers strong across the country. We are all either founders or CEOs or sitting at the VP and Director level of our national/global organizations. To fund our foundation, I created and host the only non-profit, female-only, invitation-only conference in our industry which we host annually on a working farm in the heart of Sonoma.
Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
The WITI Group was borne of a dark place of pain through a beautiful process of healing, self-realization and the strength and willpower to convert the pain into something that inspires others. WITI is my personal story. And my story is told to the best of my recollection over years of trauma recovery and healing.
The WITI Group, The WITI Conference and WITI as a general defining term all mean empowerment, equality and inclusion for every woman in the food and beverage industry to promote togetherness and support for all. We are the women who have volunteered to shine the light on the brighter path forward for all.
The WITI Group provides mentorship as well as support, both financially and emotionally for the women in the food and beverage side of the hospitality business regardless of their role. Our members all work to create a brighter future for all women. We are the mothers, daughters, wives, sisters and friends of all women who want to work to eliminate bad behavior from others by shining a light on our own experiences and personal journeys. Our hope is that by sharing our stories and our networks, that no woman will ever feel alone whether she’s in the kitchen, behind the bar, serving or cleaning tables or greeting guests — or managing any of those aspects of our collective business.
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?
My biggest mentor is a former boss. His name was Teddy Mac (to those who knew him) and before he passed away unexpectedly, he had given me the greatest gifts of my career that created ripple effects of positive momentum in my personal life. He was a friend before he was my boss, but he was never just a boss. He was a leader in the truest form. Teddy motivated me to always reach further by promoting the strengths he saw in me. He was a mentor without ever even trying to be one as his supportive and guiding style was always genuine. He had my back and we were an unstoppable team.
When Teddy passed in late 2015, my world went into a tailspin as we were very close, and I had just spoken to him the night before. I was in shock and it took me months to stop feeling a constant ache of loss every day. And it hasn’t gone away, it’s just become part of what fuels me to do more and be better. Almost five years later, he is still a guiding force in my life as I think about him every day. Teddy was also the person that taught me the most about how to be a positive leader and never just a boss.
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
I have received so much incredible advice, it is hard to choose just three! Early in my career a colleague who would eventually become my boss told me not to allow the way others treat me to affect how I think of myself. I was working for a very terrible woman who took every opportunity to tear me down and mock me. I was always struggling to figure out why she seemingly hated me so much because I was good at my job, exceeded all of my goals, was pleasant to everyone and a very diligent and hard worker. I always wondered what I was doing wrong and the self-doubt her treatment of me created started to overwhelm me. My savior was there to help me to understand that it wasn’t about me. The bad boss was angry at everything and everyone and she treated everyone terribly. She was widely loathed for her behavior and treatment of others and I was advised to process my feelings from the perspective that it wasn’t me, it was her. That changed so much for me. And while I never had the gumption to stand up for myself directly to her, she was eventually removed from my chain of command by her boss who saw what was happening and stood up for me.
That piece of advice has carried me through so many difficult situations over the decades that have passed. Another piece of advice is one that I have heard repeatedly, and I always try to impart the wisdom on others. It was to “trust myself.” It’s that simple. As a woman always looking for the next opportunity to challenge the status quo, I encounter a lot of self-imposed “imposter syndrome.” I often find it hard to accept praise or compliments and receive them quite awkwardly. And I am still working on that. But I convert this line of general advice in all of its instances to others by simply telling others whom I admire that, “I wish that one day you will be able to see yourself the way that I see you.” Imposter Syndrome is something that so many people face and since I am working on recognizing it in myself, I want to help others do the same.
The third piece of advice is “know your purpose.” As an entrepreneur, I often hear this advice to the tune of: “what is your why?” or “what is your impact?” I wouldn’t have left the corporate world with all of its perks and cushy salary packages and benefits if I was lacking a purpose, a desire to be impactful or my own personal “why.” The reason that I decided to finally trust myself and fly without a net by creating my own vision for my career was because I knew I could serve a greater purpose. Turns out, I get so much joy from empowering others. I love the feeling I get when I know I have made a positive impact. So that is my “why.” Giving to others is the reason I fly out of bed in the morning excited to see what the day will bring. And in the time of COVID, this is also what sustains me when everything I’ve known seems shaky and fragile.
How are you going to shake things up next?
I love this question! For my next act, I will be launching my first consumer product as a division of my company. Although COVID changed our launch plans, budget, and timeline… it hasn’t stopped us. I am partnering with other small and woman-owned businesses to create a line of products in line with my company’s niche market. Eventually, we will be offering these products on a large, customizable scale to restaurants, hotels and venues as well. So, short term, we are working on a soft launch to gain consumer feedback and make branding, packaging and flavor tweaks before going national or global.
Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?
I cannot tell you how many times I have read “Who Moved My Cheese?” I know… it sounds so simple, but this book was published very early in my career and it has guided me through so many of the unforeseen obstacles in my life and career. It helps me to recognize that the only constant in life is change itself. As a Type-A personality, change is not something that comes without a degree of chagrin for me. As a podcaster, I have a ton of podcasts in my library that I enjoy. But the reason I started my own show was to learn more about the people of our industry and personalize them through their stories. I started Lawler Out Loud: Mixing up the Mainstream because I wanted to tell the stories of the people in my industry that have reached “the top.” My podcast aims to allow our guests to share their personal stories including their struggles and triumphs in order to inspire others — specifically the next generation of leadership in the hospitality industry.
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. 🙂
Thank you, I consider that to be high praise! I am trying to inspire a movement to equalize the playing field for women in the hospitality industry. I want to live to see the day where a woman can exist in a room full of only men without any fear for her personal safety. When that day comes, we will truly be equal. My small role in this effort is not only through WITI, but through my sons. I am trying to raise men that will always be respectful toward others regardless of gender. But especially, to recognize that a strong woman is not a threat, but an ally. I would like to translate WITI into other industries as well so that all women have an equal power and voice.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I have too many to count! I am always inspired by words and ideas. Every year for The WITI Conference as part of the goodie bag, I produce artistic inspirational quotes on 10×10 canvases and place them around the property. When the attendees find the quote that speaks to them most, they choose it to take home to continue their inspiration all year long. I gathered about 50 different quotes, some famous, some anonymous and then I created one of my own to go into the mix. I was curious to see which of these women that I consider to be my tribe would choose the quote I created. Turns out, it was chosen by two of my closest friends who had no idea that I had authored it.
My quote came from a place I found myself in when creating my company and my foundation. It is simple — “When the door closes, turn around and kick down the wall.” I had done exactly that in my career. I had a reached a point where I felt like I was constantly viewing doors as “closed” to me. So, instead of turning back, I pressed forward and wrote my own rules. I realized that I was the only person holding myself back and allowing blocks to be placed on my personal and professional development. I kicked down that wall and haven’t looked back.
How can our readers follow you online?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!