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“Why you should not be afraid to try something new” With Kristen Fowler, VP at JMJ Phillip Group

“Don’t be afraid to try something new. When I first started working, I wanted nothing to do with the sales side of the business after having preconceived notions of what it was like. Instead of saying no without trying the new role, I accepted and ended up really enjoying and finding success in sales. If […]

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“Don’t be afraid to try something new. When I first started working, I wanted nothing to do with the sales side of the business after having preconceived notions of what it was like. Instead of saying no without trying the new role, I accepted and ended up really enjoying and finding success in sales. If I would have shied away from the opportunity, I would not have gotten to where I am today.”


For my series on strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kristen Fowler. At the age of 29, Kristen Fowler holds the position of Practice Lead for Clarke Caniff Strategic Search and Vice President at JMJ Phillip Group. Kristen leads cross-functional teams across sales, strategy, executive search, recruiting, and service delivery in the hospitality, retail, and luxury sectors. Kristen is a graduate of Walsh College, with a Master of Business Administration (MBA) and Michigan State University, as well as SHRM-SCP designation from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).


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

To be honest, I kind of fell into the executive search world. After graduating college, I went to work in retail management. I learned a ton but knew that retail wasn’t for me in the long run, so I completed my MBA while working in retail. During the course of my education and retail job, I really enjoyed the human resources side of the business, so I decided that was the next path I wanted to take. By going into the agency side of the business, it’s allowed me to connect with people all over the country, at all levels of their career and is rewarding to see the impact you can make on people’s lives.

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

We have a trend of “food bombing” people for a job well done or sometimes, or should I say most of the time, when we are trying to mess with their diets. I got a taste of my own medicine when I was preparing for my wedding and trying to eat healthy. I came back to my office one afternoon with 50 pieces of pizza dangling from the ceiling over my desk. It was all in good fun and we strongly believe this helps build a fun culture at the office!

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?

The very first job I was assigned to at JMJ Phillip was to fill a Material Manager role at a Tier I automotive supplier. Coming from retail I had no idea what that job entailed of, but I didn’t want to say that I didn’t know. After multiple conversations with candidates that were fumbled through and hearing terms thrown around that made no sense, I realized that it wasn’t working. I learned that it is acceptable to admit when you don’t know something, because sometimes trying to “fake it ’til you make it” can lead you down a rocky road. If you’re too embarrassed to ask, get familiar with it on Google.

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

JMJ Phillip has built a culture around working hard and rewarding our staff for it. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t there the longest, I was still given the opportunity to grow into leadership roles strictly based off of my performance. On top of that, our founder has come up with some pretty cool perks for a job well done – Disney trips, multi-office summer beach party’s in Chicago, and weekly catered lunches are just a few to name.

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

I am working on developing a monthly women’s lunch club amongst all of our locations and are planning on expanding the program into local networking groups. We are starting small with case studies that are discussed amongst all the women in our offices and are looking into books and other networking events. It is so important that we as women empower and support one another. It doesn’t matter what city you are in, women can learn so much from someone else’s experiences and it’s always nice knowing you aren’t alone in any of struggles you are facing.

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

Don’t be afraid to delegate. As women, we often like to try to do everything ourselves and sometimes we feel like we are failing by asking for help. Not only is taking on everything impossible, but it prevents your team from continual learning. Find individuals on your team that compliment your strengths or weaknesses and allow them to step up. Delegating gives the opportunity for team to continuously grow and learn new skillsets. Almost 99.9% of the people on your team will surprise you with what they are capable of.

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

Communication is key when managing a large team. As the leader, it is your job to be the voice that is heard, so don’t be afraid to speak up and give clear directions. Ensure that communication is consistent and there is a clear path to reach all members of your team and also, that there is a clear path for employees to reach upper management. The members of your team that are closest to your customer and carrying out day to day tasks often have the most ideas and advice. In order to improve, your team needs to be able to connect with you to provide their thoughts.

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 am grateful to my mom for always supporting me in my career. Growing up in two different generations, she wasn’t afforded a lot of the same opportunities that I was. Seeing the advancements made in the workplace for women since she began her career makes me feel lucky. It pushes me to take advantage of every opportunity out there, knowing that a lot of women before me helped pave the way for the success I am now able to experience.

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

JMJ Phillip invests heavily in STEM programs. Women are highly underrepresented in STEM and by investing early in women’s education, I hope that it opens up additional career paths for young ladies in fields that previous generations stayed away from due to stigmas.

What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

-Don’t be afraid to try something new. When I first started working, I wanted nothing to do with the sales side of the business after having preconceived notions of what it was like. Instead of saying no without trying the new role, I accepted and ended up really enjoying and finding success in sales. If I would have shied away from the opportunity, I would not have gotten to where I am today.

-Inspect what you expect. If you ask an employee to complete something, follow up with them. Not only does this ensure it was done to your expectations, but it allows you to recognize the individual who completed the task.

Never stop learning. We live in an age where information is getting passed along at record speed. Whether it is a book, news article, podcast, or documentary, take the time out of your day to learn something new. Faking it ’til you make it only goes so far, you need to have substance to back it up.

-If you take care of your team, they will take care of you. We preach that we “win and lose as a team.” Taking care of individuals is more than just financially compensating them well, it is recognizing when they are stressed and jumping in to help out or letting them leave early to go to their child’s game. By showing you value them and their time, they will be reciprocal in times when you need the extra support.

-Be open to feedback. Sometimes it hurts when others are critical of you but swallow your pride and listen to what they have to say. More often than not, they want to see you succeed just as much as you do and are only trying to get you there.

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. 🙂

I would inspire a movement to have employers incorporate volunteerism into their scorecards. As leaders we must be socially responsible within our communities and encourage our teams to do the same. If all employers gave employees paid time off to volunteer, whether 2 hours or two days, it could make a huge impact in our society.

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

“Do sharks complain about Mondays? No. They’re up early, biting stuff, chasing things, and being scary. Be the shark”

If you want to be at the top of the food chain, you need to attack your work and get things done. The time it takes to complain about the work in front of you, could have been used to complete it. If I were to get bogged down by minuscule tasks, I would lose sight of the bigger picture and wouldn’t have advanced as quickly in my career.

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 🙂

I would love to meet General Motors’ CEO, Mary Barra. She was born and raised in Michigan just like myself and I admire her ability to rise to the most prominent role in automotive, a predominately male industry. Mary Barra has seen great success with her career, but also has been able to be a supportive wife and mother to two kids. She is someone who makes me think it is possible to “have it all.”

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