Interview with Alison Gutterman, President & CEO of Jelmar, LLC.
As published in Women Owned, Women Who Own It
What challenges have you faced as a woman entrepreneur and how did you overcome them?
Working in a male-dominated industry and as the only third-generation female owner of a large cleaning products company, earning respect and gaining confidence has been a struggle. Early in my career at Jelmar, I was managing men in their 40s when I was only 25. They were more experienced than I and often dismissed my new ideas about marketing and sales, and some assumed I didn’t have the drive to put in the long hours and hard work they did. I have had to learn to build my confidence, better defend my thoughts and ideas – despite the naysayers – and overcome my negative self-talk.
What advice would you give to other women entrepreneurs?
Lead with courage and confidence. People will come with their presumptions and judgments about your capabilities, work ethic and success. Leave those comments behind. If you don’t believe in yourself and your decisions, then why should they?
What three traits define you?
Innovative, strong-willed and funny. As a business leader, you have to continually keep your brain thinking of ways to improve your business. You often have to work hard to get ideas pushed through to actualization—this particularly rings true in my early years at Jelmar. And in the end of the day, you have to know how to take it easy sometimes, have a sense of humor and laugh at yourself.
What women inspire you?
In 2018, there are too many to name. I think that all of the women who were brave enough to come forward and talk about issues of harassment are inspirational. While I may not have experienced harassment at the same level, I think it is so important to speak about, and teach our girls about. Being the single mom of two girls, one in her tweens, the message is important now more than ever.
What are the biggest obstacles you see for young female entrepreneurs?
As the third generation, but first female president of a company, I had tremendous support from my family, but I remember seeing few female role models in business up until then. Young women who may or may not have the support system I did need to see more women carving out a place for themselves in the business world. Simply showing young women the many options they have and empowering them to explore them whether it be through organizations, schools, or mentoring opportunities is a critical first step.
What do you love about being a business owner?
What I love about being a business owner is kind of particular to Jelmar and its strong family values. Everyday I work to honor the company’s past while continuing to build its future. I love and enjoy helping to foster our warm, familial company culture. This culture is evident in our staff of 15 employees, many with longstanding loyalty and over 10 years at the company.
How do you define success?
This year I defined success for our company not only in financial terms, but in how our employees worked, solved problems, and created opportunities as a team. Success isn’t always the numbers on the balance sheet, sometimes you have to look at other KPI’s as a yard stick. For 2018, I am hopeful that our success will not only be financial, but will also include some of the innovations we are developing. To me success can be fluid, and change from year to year.
What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve ever received?
Don’t be afraid to fail. It may not seem like it at first, but it can help lead to so many great things like opportunities for self evaluation, realization for growth and learning or even simply learning what will or will not work when it comes to what you were trying to make successful.
What’s your favorite career moment?
Being named Entrepreneur of the Year by EY for family owned businesses in 2017. It was an honor to represent our company and our accomplishments during our 50 year history.
If you didn’t have to sleep, what would you do with the extra time?
I would hope my kids, Michaela an Eli, didn’t have to sleep either. Then I would use that extra time for even more quality time with them. I work my schedule so I am able to be home with them for dinner, to attend their special events and set aside individual quality time with each of them to doing activities they enjoy. I truly cherish this time, so the more of it, the better.
What are you reading or listening to now?
I have just started to listen to podcasts (I know a little late to the game), I really like the podcasts from NPR, and the NY Times. They both have really great human interest stories that I would be unlikely to hear or read about on a daily basis.
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Truly, what I aspired to be when I was young is certainly along the lines of exactly what I am doing today. I felt inspired watching the innovation of my grandfather and father running Jelmar when I was young. It was also pretty evident this was my path back then by my pure excitement of a seventh grade project around developing a product and creating a marketing campaign around it.
Fill in the blank:
When I face a challenge, I... dig in.
If I could go back in time, I would tell myself... have more fun, don’t be such a goody two shoes.
The one thing I couldn’t live without is... well two, obviously my kids…And chocolate.
By this time next year, I will be... 50.
The best thing that happened to me last week was... my 8 year old daughter snuck into my bed and slept with me. Usually my older one sneaks in, it was a treat for me to have my younger one want to snuggle.
To get my creative juices flowing, I... listen to music.