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Sandra Duff of ‘Jackman’: “Prioritize what’s important”

Prioritize what’s important. With so many restrictions, yet being busier than ever, I have really re-prioritized what I want and need in my life. I have consciously focused on what I want to leave behind as we come out of Covid. For me I know that I want to leave a few things behind — regular weekly […]

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Prioritize what’s important. With so many restrictions, yet being busier than ever, I have really re-prioritized what I want and need in my life. I have consciously focused on what I want to leave behind as we come out of Covid. For me I know that I want to leave a few things behind — regular weekly business travel, always being accommodating and loose around my boundaries and having to please everyone.


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 Sandra Duff.

Sandra Duff is SVP, Activation and Operations at Jackman. Retail is Sandra’s bread and butter. With her hands-on leadership style and ability to execute on ideas, she is a trusted advisor to C-Suite executives and a consistent catalyst for growth. Sandra lives the truth that strategy without action is meaningless — partnering with leaders to build momentum and get to action fast — she leads internal and external campaigns that get people excited and engaged. And while she is serious about results and the momentum she and her teams work to capitalize on, she is committed to keeping the work fun.


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?

I always thought that I was going to work in government — my undergrad degree is in Political Science and Industrial Relations. When I graduated I joined the national trade association for credit unions — and realized that it just wasn’t a fit for me, and neither was a career in government. I yearned for a quicker pace and energy, so on a lark I made a move to retail. It was like I was home — the energy, constantly thinking about the customer and how to make a difference, quick decision making and implementation — I was hooked.

My career has been largely in retail marketing and I still enjoy it today. My focus now is both client work and operations at Jackman — both of which are very fulfilling.

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

One of my highlights is working for storied brands that I either admired from afar or as a customer. Seeing that inside look into how the magic is made is always an inspiring experience.

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

Right now we have a couple of exciting things in the works — some of it is around how we service our clients and others are for us and our teams. The internal focus on our teams has been amplified during this time as we help them navigate the stressors in their lives and how we can make their work life easier. Whether it’s looking at putting together a wellness offering or actively having dialogue around work life balance — it feels good to help our teams.

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?

There are a couple of people who believed in me at critical moments in my career. Whether it was starting out in a new role here at Jackman or working towards a promotion — what’s important is that those around us can sometimes see things with a better perspective. We often get caught up in our own view of ourselves, lose sight of an opposing view — and having a diverse perspective is very important to us as leaders.

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?

Of course, I think juggling children at home during the pandemic has hit all women particularly hard. What I find is that needing to spend more time with kids on schoolwork and on physical activity, or non-screen activities is a challenge when you are engaged from 9 to 5 and then some. Juggling this all has been a big challenge, especially in early Covid.

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

We were very worried about our kids in early Covid — they were in virtual school and not in any sports activities. As time went on, I relaxed my approach and prioritized what the kids needed. I hired a babysitter during the summer for a few hours a day 3x a week to get them out and doing things, put them back into sports and school in the fall. We all needed to get back to normalcy and I think they appreciated the new routine and I got more focused time at work.

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

I’m not sure this is because I’m a woman — but I do find it increasingly hard to turn off. I am always planning what’s next, thinking about how to address issues, worrying about staff having a hard time of it etc. It’s almost non-stop and feels like I can’t refocus to another area of my life.

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

It’s a work in progress! I’m trying to turn off with my team so they can get the break, resumed my reading routine and starting to think about how to engage differently at home — going back to planning weekend activities etc.

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

A couple of things that have worked for me:

  1. Building work time into my calendar. This gives me time to answer email, go to the washroom etc.
  2. This worked for me in the better weather — going for a walk when on a call that didn’t need me to review content.
  3. Making technology work for me and my kids — giving them access to messaging so I can answer the usual questions — what’s for dinner, can I go to the park etc. It’s less disruptive for me and gives them some independence they are craving.

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?

  • Give each other space — we all have 30 mins before dinner to do what we want.
  • Make a new routine and stick to it. When we are all home it’s easy to get relaxed about things, but getting back into chores, morning routines etc. helps everyone.
  • Make your kids part of decision making — helping to plan out the weekly dinner menu, what should we try this weekend as an activity etc. This makes them feel part of the process and more likely to embrace the outcome.
  • Make time for yourself — that’s the hardest one and of course it sounds cliché. But finding that time to read, exercise, practice self-care or just indulge in a guilty pleasure is crucial to recharging.

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.

  1. Think about the future, not just what’s in front of you today. I often focus 2–5 years out, to set goals and also think about how to appreciate what we have today. For instance, one of my kids will likely be away at college or university in 5 years — how do I appreciate this time now with him?
  2. Focus on what I am learning about myself. Growth comes in difficult times but focusing in on what I am learning is critical — how did I help a friend get through a tough time? Can I use that experience/learning more broadly? How has my leadership stance changed? Do I want to continue down that path?
  3. Prioritize what’s important. With so many restrictions, yet being busier than ever, I have really re-prioritized what I want and need in my life. I have consciously focused on what I want to leave behind as we come out of Covid. For me I know that I want to leave a few things behind — regular weekly business travel, always being accommodating and loose around my boundaries and having to please everyone.
  4. The last 2 things that I will always remember about this time — people are inherently kind with all the good news stories and the human spirit is a powerful thing.

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?

What I have found is that everyone is going through the same experience differently. Helping those closest to us means having understanding, being a good sounding board/listener and being ok with handling different choices.

How can our readers follow you online?

Connect with me on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/sandramessoreduff/

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


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