Jennifer is a lady that has mastered the art of assertive femininity. She can effortlessly glide from a play-by-play sports commentary with the guys to a discussion on the pros and cons of wedges with the girls. Raised in Detroit, Michigan, by parents who encouraged her to go after her dreams with no regard for her gender, she has worked her way up the corporate ladder to become the chief marketing officer for Michael Saunders & Company at the age of 40. Her keen eye for business, and dedication to family, make her an extraordinary example of a successful, modern women.
Tell us a bit about your professional background?
Well, I’ve always wanted to be passionate about what I did. My first opportunity was with Ford Motor Company, where I helped recruit engineers and other potential employees. After that, I worked at a recruitment-advertising agency, then a non-profit doing sponsorship marketing. Next, I found a wonderful opportunity with AOL, where I did promotions, sponsorships and event marketing. After AOL decided to disband their broadband team, I moved to Quicken Loans, which allowed me to incorporate my experience from all my jobs.
As a company, Quicken Loans is dedicated to culture and team values—something that has been a real building block for me. When I landed here in Florida and began with Michael Saunders & Company, it felt like the perfect fit. I was so passionate about the company because it allowed me to use my past work experience, but also, I love real estate. My original major in college was interior design, so I have fun. I feel that I’m exactly where I am supposed to be and every job I’ve ever had has led me to this point.
What was it like for you in predominantly male environments?
Basically, I just acted like I wasn’t a woman. I know that sounds weird, but I just never took “no” for an answer. I always pushed. I always applied myself. If I saw four guys standing around the water cooler, I’d join right in. If they were going golfing, I’d put myself out there and say, “Hey, I like to golf, too.” If there was an event all the guys were attending, I’d always assert myself in there.
I felt the pressure to prove myself, but also, I felt capable of proving myself. So, it was never a matter of trying to achieve something more; it was a matter of showing them that I could. I wasn’t striving to be one of the guys, because I don’t think that’s the right attitude, but I wanted to show them that we could all do this together. I have always had that attitude. I don’t just see myself as a woman in business; I see myself as a businessperson. And I think having that attitude helped me.
Do you think that experience helped you form a strong professional persona?
I think that came from my parents. That was instilled in me from the very start. I give so much credit to my mom. She was one of the first career women. She worked in retail management for twenty years, starting at the counter of Toys’R’Us. She moved her way up to management and never stopped. I wanted to achieve that same greatness, but I wanted to do it in the business world, where primarily there were a lot of men.
My dad was a Ford Motor Company executive for almost forty years. He was such a great role model because he never treated me like a girl. He basically taught me that I am a person that can achieve anything I want. He had me on the golf course at age seven. He had me watching sports probably from the time I was in the womb. He talked to me like I was a person, not a girl.
You have a unique living environment. Can you tell us about your arrangement?
My husband and I have been married for 19 years and from day one we were always very close with my parents. I was 19 years old and one of our first dates was literally with my parents. They have always been friends with us; they were very young so that was helpful. Obviously, they’re my parents first, but also friends.
Fast-forward into our later married years, and my parents had retired. My husband and I owned a home down here in Florida, so we said, “Hey, if you’re retiring, why don’t you go to Florida and live in the house and take care of it for us.” Of course, they jumped on that opportunity. Why wouldn’t you from Michigan, where it’s cold and dreary?
We started vacationing down here more, and I thought, “Why am I going home all the time?” Then, we had a great opportunity to relocate, so we hopped on it. Unfortunately, when we did that the house we owned was just a little too small for the four of us to move into. So, we didn’t kick my parents out; we let them stay, and my husband and I got a rental. Of course, that first year we were down here with my parents, we were always together. We’d go out to dinner together, shopping together, golfing together, they’d be at our house in the pool, we’d be at their house having dinner. Finally one day, I said, “This is ridiculous. We’re paying for two of everything. Why don’t we just sell this house, get out of our rental and buy a big house together that we can all live in and be happy. You guys can take one side of it, we’ll take the other side of it, and we’ll share the family room and the kitchen.” My parents are very young, they’re still in their 60s, so it wasn’t out of necessity, as neither of them are sick. It was really just out of convenience because we share our lives together. It made sense for us. It certainly wouldn’t make sense for everyone else.
They call me the princess. My mom takes care of the house, and my dad still works part-time, but he kind of takes care of the outside stuff, while my husband does the cooking and laundry. They’ve afforded me the opportunity to be the businesswoman. I could not be more grateful for that situation.
Has that support system been critical to your success?
Absolutely. I have the best support system that any businesswoman could ever have. I have a partner, that’s my husband. Not only is he my husband, but he’s a true supporter of everything I do. We laugh because he is the one at home making the dinner and doing the laundry—those sort of household chores—but it’s what he loves to do, and it’s how he helps support my career. He has been an amazing support.
The cool thing, too, is that my parents, after paying for my college for so many years, they’re happy to see it finally paying off. They see it, and they know how hard I work and how much time I put in, and they’re so supportive of all my endeavors, so it’s great to have that support system.
What is your advice for maintaining a long-term marriage?
We’re by no means perfect, but probably about ten years ago, right at that seven-year mark of our marriage, we learned that communication is critical. Now, we don’t let anything go unsaid. We just make sure that we put everything out there. We also have an understanding , the key is compromise, and that we have to find a middle ground that will work best for both parties. Really, we just talk. We’re really good friends. We share the same beliefs and values, and I think that really helps, of course. But it comes down to communication. We also know each other well enough that after twenty-one years together we can sense if the other is having a bad day, and we’ll give them a little space.
What advice would you give young women who aspire to lead?
Women, traditionally, are very good listeners and problem solvers. I think the key is just to be true to yourself. That was the one thing that I made sure that I did in my own career. Even though I could talk the men’s talk and walk up to that water cooler and start doing the gab, you do need to know your place at certain times, and you do need to be yourself. If you find yourself in a career where you’re trying to be something you’re not, it’s time to reevaluate. Know your values and know your goals. Don’t be afraid to let people know about those goals. Don’t be afraid to go to your manager and say, “I know I’m not chief marketing officer today but in ten years, I want to be and I want to get there with you. And maybe I won’t be your chief marketing officer, maybe I won’t be your lead engineer, maybe I won’t be your #1 employee, but I hope that while I’m here you can see that I want to be.”
Be true to yourself, know who you are, build on your own strengths, don’t try to find someone else’s strengths. Find the right career for yourself. If you do those things, the rest of it kind of works itself out.