Women in Business Q&A: Carole Coleman, SVP, Karlitz & Company

As SVP/General Manager of Karlitz & Company, Carole Coleman's responsibilities include providing strategic direction, managing client and partner relationships, supervising staff, and new business development.

Karlitz & Company have been called "lifestyle" influencers and "taste-makers, and their" access into the worlds of culinary, celebrity chefs, wine, entertainment and fashion is well known.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
Before entering the corporate world, I had envisioned a career in the theater -- not on stage, but rather behind the scenes. I enjoyed working on props, production, etc. during high school and college. In that world, while there is a hierarchy, every role is essential. I loved contributing behind the scenes to create a great show (one of my first was a high school production of "Anything Goes" for which I served as the Producer.) It's very similar to what we do in the world of events -- months of planning and then there is the high of opening night. I don't care much for the limelight, and I hope that has allowed our team members to get the kudos they so often deserve.

How has your previous employment experience aided your position as SVP/General Manager of Karlitz & Company?
My early career was in Marketing Research, and I love spreadsheets and numbers. These are essential tools in this industry. I also spent 7 years at American Express, which was an amazing learning experience. I feel it helps me appreciate how our corporate clients think, what they are looking for, and what they need from us in order to satisfy their "higher-ups." Sometimes, it's more about packaging an idea than the idea itself. American Express is also a 25-year client of Karlitz & Company, so it doesn't hurt that I have some personal knowledge of their culture.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure as SVP/General Manager of Karlitz & Company?
Karlitz & Company is a very entrepreneurial environment, driven by Herb Karlitz, who is a "big idea" guy. The highlights for me center around turning ideas into reality. One of my favorite assignments was during my first few years at the agency, where we played a pivotal role with the U.S. Postal Service in the launch of the Bugs Bunny stamp. I am a real Looney Tunes fan, and while I am generally not star-struck, it was a thrill to meet illustrator/director Chuck Jones. A more recent example is the launch of the Flavor! Napa Valley food and wine festival, which I helped bring to life, and then managed for the past 4 years.

Tell us about any new projects that you are working on.
Currently, the agency is getting ready to kick off the first Harlem EatUp! Festival in May, which we are creating in partnership with Marcus Samuelsson Group. The festival will celebrate all that Harlem has to offer from its great food, to the art, music, dance and style. I am looking forward to the collaborations between the talented Harlem chefs and renowned local and national chefs.

What advice can you offer women who are seeking to get to the top of their respective industries?
Be patient! I have seen young women just out of school who want to skip the heavy-lifting that happens early in your career (and actually doesn't ever seem to go away.) They want to go straight to the glamour, particularly in our industry. I have no patience for people who don't want to get their hands dirty. They risk missing out on gaining essential skills, as well as the respect of their colleagues.

Another piece of advice would be to be present and jump in wherever you can. Early in my career I remember staying late even when my own work had been completed for the day. This gave me the opportunity to be around when the bosses started talking strategy, which usually didn't happen until we were sitting for dinner of sushi and cocktails -- it was the '80s, after all.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
With great difficulty! Our work requires managing a tremendous number of details, relationships, vendors, etc. It's very time-consuming. Recently, I moved out of the City after 35 years. Now that I am running to catch the 6:12train, it forces me to be very focused during the day. While I may work on the train, I am actually getting home in time for dinner most days, which hasn't always been the case.

I also try not to be tied to my smartphone evenings and weekends. I'll check it, but not obsessively. I spend time outdoors on weekends as much as possible which also really helps me feel balanced.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
Our industry seems to be dominated by women, so perhaps it's less challenging for women than some other industries. Our agency is and always has been at least 75% women, and this reflects the pool of candidates, too. The challenge for all of us seems to be maintaining work/life balance, because it's far from offering a 9 to 5 lifestyle. It's particularly challenging for those with children, since travel is required for most event producers. Recently, we had a new mother serving a key role on a multi-day event off-site, so she brought both her newborn and her mother-in-law along on the trip. We made sure she had a large suite to accommodate this.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I was fortunate to have a mentor, or perhaps more of an advocate, during the early part of my career. She was such a champion of my work that it really boosted my confidence level. She was willing to put me in more senior settings early on, which was a great learning experience.

Currently, one of the great pleasures of working with Karlitz & Company is the opportunity to work alongside our junior team members. We have an outstanding group of young women who never cease to amaze me with their maturity and passion (not to mention their social media skills!)

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
The leaders I admire are not household names - they are the women behind the scenes of the events we produce. Our agency is blessed with strong female leaders, both among our employees and our extended network of freelance talent. These women are passionate, highly-skilled, and willing to go above and beyond for their clients, their projects, and for their teammates. They will all jump in and do whatever it takes. Again, they are willing to get their hands dirty.

What do you want to personally and professionally accomplish in the next year?
I want to continue to work on achieving greater work-life balance, and to help our hard-working team do the same.