Women in Business: Michelle Van Slyke, Vice President of Marketing, The UPS Store

MICHELLE VAN SLYKE joined The UPS Store, Inc., in November 2010 as vice president of marketing. Van Slyke spent the first 15 years of her career at Ford Motor Company, holding positions such as corporate advertising manager, global process and strategy manager and vice president of marketing for Jaguar. Past positions include vice president of marketing at Mercedes-Benz and Hyundai Motor America. More recently, Van Slyke was chief marketing officer at Jacuzzi Group Worldwide and Raley's. Van Slyke holds a bachelor's degree from University of Southern California and a master's degree in business administration from University of Notre Dame.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
Growing up, I knew that in order to build the career I wanted and become the successful person I wanted to be, I not only needed to go to college, but I needed to go to a great one. After attending the University of Southern California for my undergraduate degree and going on to Notre Dame for my master's degree, I began my marketing career at Ford Motor Company.

Ford had exactly what I needed to start my career--training, and an opportunity for growth into senior-level sales and marketing positions. My second day on the job, I was stationed in the call center speaking to customers. Ford believed it was important for their sales and marketing teams to connect directly with customers. Today, I look back and realize that a major reason my career has been as successful is because I learned early on to care about the customer.

It's important to understand how critical experience is. People tend to want to jump into management positions, but nothing prepares you better for a leadership role than working your way up.

How has your previous employment experience aided your position at The UPS Store?
I've been in the world of franchising most of my business career and virtually my entire life. Growing up, my parents owned a franchise, so I got to see the both the rewards and the difficult challenges of franchise ownership firsthand. Ultimately, working alongside my parents is what contributed to my understanding of franchisee ownership and prepared me for my career.

Later, during my years at Ford, I was working in the field directly with local dealership owners and managers on how to improve business. This experience also provided me with firsthand knowledge and an appreciation for the basics of franchising and gave me a greater understanding of what it means to work with an independent business owner.

Today, I use these experiences to help coach my team. I strongly urge everyone in the our department to work in a The UPS Store center for at least five days each year to gain experience working directly with small business customers, store employees and franchisees. That firsthand knowledge is what makes you a better marketer.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at The UPS Store?
As my career revved up, I developed a strong desire to do two things: work with one of our nation's leading brands, and be a part of a strong leadership team. When the opportunity became available at The UPS Store, that's exactly what I found. But I also realized there was a lot to be done.

When I started with the company, my first priority was developing a comprehensive marketing strategy. Once established it helped me outline a list of things that could be improved upon. Four years later, I'm proud to say my greatest success has been checking items off that list. For example we've completely redesigned the website, added online print capabilities, better defined our key target market (the small business customer), and diversified our portfolio of services to better serve those customers. With each passing year, we make greater, quantifiable strides in marketing.

In addition one recent project I had a ton of fun with was the launch of 3D print. Although there was some internal resistance in the beginning, we did the research and helped our team to see the big picture. We took something that was initially regarded as something of a "niche" service and turned it into something that's shifting not only the culture of our brand and stores, but the expectations of the entire industry.

What advice can you offer women who are looking for a career in marketing?
You need to start with the basics and gain a strong education in marketing. I believe that marketing is as much of a discipline as finance or information technology, and a strong educational foundation is essential. After that, it's just a matter of keeping up with current marketing trends and how they are impacting your industry.

I also strongly advise women looking to succeed in this industry to seek out a mentor and connect with other women in marketing. The best way to learn basic marketing principles is by listening to others. If you don't know something, join an online community, find someone who does, and simply ask. Connecting with others is the easiest way to learn more and hone your skills.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
For the first 20 years of my career, I admit I had absolutely no balance in my personal and professional lives. After leaving Hyundai, I took almost a year off work and used that time to step back and reflect on my career. I decided that when I returned to the business world, I would have to find that balance between work and my personal life. I made a conscious decision to no longer just "live to work". I met my husband about a year after making that decision and I couldn't be happier! Better managing my workload and having different expectations for myself has made all the difference.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
One of the greatest challenges that women in the workplace continue to face is that most business leaders are still men, and the fact that men and women communicate differently. As a working woman helping to lead marketing at major corporations, I have personally struggled to find the right balance between being assertive and working well with others. For women, there's always a fine line between being assertive and coming across as "mean". This has been a balancing act in nearly every position I've held. As a matter of fact, I send members of my team to assertiveness training to help them become more confident and able to present a strong argument in the most effective way.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
Under mentors, you have the ability to learn from their life experiences, both in and out of the workplace. I have my mentors to thank for teaching me how to work smarter and accomplish more.

Toward the beginning of my career, a senior leader told me "If it is to be, it's up to me." Rather than point fingers or assign blame, a good leader will get involved. Today, if I notice someone is off strategy, I know it's my job to help them turn things around.

Over time, my mentors also taught me that individuals who overload themselves are the ones who struggle the most and go home stressed. Going back to what I was saying about retaining my work/life balance, this has made a huge impact on my personal life and I'm more careful and realistic about what I'll say "yes" to.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
I really admire Hillary Clinton--just look at her Twitter account and you should see why. She has one of the most brilliant accounts that pairs all she has accomplished with a great deal of humor. "Hair icon, pantsuit aficionado" - how can you not admire how this woman describes herself? But seriously, Hillary possesses elements of tenaciousness and perseverance that instantly ignite my admiration. In addition to that, she's accomplished so much as a wife, a mother and in her political career, and she's still pushing for more.

I also admire the Oprah's and Martha's of the world--the women who have great lives and have seen so much success, while overcoming significant challenges along the way. To know how these women struggled and continued to persevere through very tough times and then go on to lead happy lives and achieve so much is truly admirable.

What do you want The UPS Store to accomplish in the next year?
Looking forward, one major goal will be expanding our ecommerce capabilities. Online print was our first significant step in ecommerce and we're currently looking for ways to further develop that part of our business.

That being said, my ultimate goal five years from now is to transform the stores themselves and to expand our digital and online presence as culture and technology dictate. But there's always more on the horizon for The UPS Store--I'm not done checking things off of that list, yet!