Women in Business Q&A: Pamela Gelsomini, President & Partner, OrthoLite

Women in Business Q&A: Pamela Gelsomini, President & Partner, OrthoLite
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Pamela Gelsomini, a 25-year veteran of the footwear industry, serves as President and Partner of OrthoLite. She manages sales and marketing and maintains strong relationships with OrthoLite's brand partners. Gelsomini joined OrthoLite at the company's inception and is the driving force behind the company's rapid growth and adoption by leading brands.

Gelsomini began her footwear career at Jones & Vining, a shoe component manufacturing company. Initially a designer, Gelsomini was soon promoted into sales and marketing. In 1997, she joined Onshore Productions, a shoe sourcing company based in Amherst, MA, to help create and manage the OrthoLite division. She assumed her current position as President of OrthoLite in 2005 when she and the original founding partners repurchased the brand.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
Earning your stripes in the footwear industry is a long, but rewarding process. I have been very fortunate to work with some amazing mentors who taught me about the nuances of dealing with all kinds of people, managing all kids of talent, and selling and marketing product to varying brands and customers. I started in design, working closely with sales people and craftsmen which allowed me to learn all aspects of the shoe business from initial product creation to selling and marketing the finished product. When we started OrthoLite I was well prepared to bring this new product to the footwear space and worked hard to create a brand that is now well trusted and respected by nearly every major footwear brand. Patience, perseverance, and listening to the needs of our customers has been paramount in getting me and the OrthoLite brand to where we are today.

How has your previous employment experience aided your position at OrthoLite?
I started in footwear at Jones & Vining as a designer of components, mainly outsoles and insoles. I learned how shoes were made and developed a keen understanding of what elements brought value, comfort, and performance to all different types of footwear. I traveled with the sales team and worked with the product developers and designers at the brands during their creation process and learned the differences in creating footwear in different categories (casual, work, athletic, dress, etc...). I was then moved into sales where I gained experience working with the brands and marketing new products. Going even further back, I find my early years as a waitress, bartender, and freelance designer helped hone my selling skills and my ability to work with all kinds of people and embrace the rewards of creating a true connection with your customers.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at OrthoLite?
Growing OrthoLite has been an incredible 17 year ride! Some of the biggest challenges in the beginning of the business were creating a following and trust from the brands for this new product that had not yet been proven. We were fortunate to make inroads early on with companies like Nike, Ascis, and adidas who tested the OrthoLite material and vetted it, creating credibility in the industry as their usage grew. We sold the company to ATP in 2004 and I went with it and continued to run the business. We had some challenges during that time mainly due to financing, but continued to grow rapidly. We bought the company back in 2007 and our growth has been tremendous ever since. Our challenges after buying the business back were keeping up with the rapid growth and opening wholly owned manufacturing in China, Vietnam and now a joint venture in Indonesia. The highlights are easy - our great success and watching the growth of the OrthoLite brand. We still have those customers that vetted us in the beginning and have taken on most of the other major footwear brands today. We have expanded our product line through constant innovation and created valued partnerships by working on customizing our technology for each brands specific comfort and performance needs.

Tell us about OrthoLite.
OrthoLite is the world's leading supplier of open cell foam insoles. We are found in more than 140 million pairs of shoes, including many of the top footwear brands including Nike, Adidas, Merrell, Asics, New Balance, Clarks, Timberland and countless other brands. Our insoles provide superior support, comfort and performance, and with OrthoLite, you can be assured that you will have high-quality and comfortable shoes to help elevate overall performance. We stand behind the performances properties of our insoles, including breathability, moisture control and anti-microbial benefits.

OrthoLite was founded in 1997, and for almost two decades, we've been working with the world's leading footwear brands to customize our insoles to fit their needs. We started as an insole in the running category, and over time, leveraged our leadership positioning as a superior athletic foam insole and material to open doors into new footwear categories. As our reputation has grown, we've expanded beyond athletic performance footwear into work, casual, outdoor, and even dress shoes. Our foam can also be used in clothing, sporting equipment, backpacks and more.

In 2010, due to consumer demand, we were thrilled to offer an opportunity to purchase our insoles online, so those who didn't already have OrthoLite in their shoes are now able to buy them. In the same year, we became the founding sponsor of the Level Field Fund, a grant giving program that strives to bridge the gap in funding to uniquely talented athletes. In addition to financial support, for every pair of OrthoLite insoles sold, $1 is donated directly to the Level Field Fund. By combining our efforts, we are able to ensure that talented athletes across the country are able to reach their potential. In fact, many of the athletes who have benefited from the Level Field Fund have gone to the Olympics, nationals, world championships, and more - it's been exciting to see!

What advice can you offer women who want to follow a similar career path?
There are many amazing opportunities in the footwear space for women these today. My advice Is simple; work hard , ask a lot of questions, challenge yourself, and always maintain a high level of integrity. Learning the business from the ground up is also so important to have a full understanding of your product including the limitations and the possibilities. Be true to yourself and don't be afraid to take big risks as you will either find big reward or an incredible lesson that will ultimately take you farther as a result. Be aggressive, but be open minded and always be creative or surround yourself with creative people.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
Like so many women who have careers and are raising a family, I find every day to be a bit of a balancing act. Prioritizing the roles of business owner, mom, wife, friend, etc... can create some unique challenges. The key to success is to prioritize what is important and don't sweat the small stuff. It is impossible to be everything to everyone, so find the places where you can offer the most and focus on perfecting those areas for both work and family. Work hard and be efficient. Don't get caught up in the minutia. Family first always, but even they must make some sacrifices to achieve success.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
The biggest challenge today for women in the workplace is by far creating a balance between work and family. So many women today continue on with their careers after getting married and having children compared with almost 30 years ago when I started my career. This creates the challenges that require a lot of strategic maneuvering and savvy. Knowing when and where to give emphasis is critical and not always easy. Striking a good balance is a daily (sometimes hourly!) battle, but one that can be conquered through love of family and commitment to success in business.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I recently had dinner with two of my mentors who brought me into this business over 25 years ago. I thanked them for taking the time to teach me and to help to mold me into the successful business owner I am today. They said they could not take any of that credit and I told them they have no idea how much their knowledge, experience, time, and passion helped me learn and grow in the most critical beginning days of my career. They taught me the basic foundational information about product and shoe making, but they also taught me about the importance of relationships, integrity, and dedication. I hope that I can now impart that same passion to my team and offer them the occasional pearl of wisdom.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
The female leaders that I most admire are the unsung heroes that inspired me as I grew up. I learned how important balancing work and time with family and friends is to having a fulfilling life and successful business. My grandmother, my mother, my aunt, and my girlfriends have all played critical roles in forming the woman that I am today. I am inspired by their strength, intelligence, and perseverance. They encouraged me to reach new goals and take chances.

What are your hopes for the future of OrthoLite?
We are one of the most recognized brands in the industry, and we are excited to watch our reputation for providing the best comfort and performance foams grow. We are also adding new technologies that will help increase footwear performance and offer the brands even more options to customize the comfort in their shoes. We are excited to see what the future holds for our brand as we execute new partnerships and identify new growth opportunities such as a retail offering and continuing to expand our manufacturing globally to meet the needs of our brand partners wherever they are making products.

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