As a continued part of our focus on Women’s History Month, we’re happy to bring you a quick interview with Lulu’s very own Chief Operations Officer and President Kathy Hensgen!
The Q & A
1. What unique challenges have you faced as Lulu’s Chief Operations Officer (COO)?
Undoubtedly, the most unique challenge came in 2020 when we launched a complete re-write of our Lulu.com platform while in parallel reacting to the impacts of COVID on our employees, our customer base, and our partners.
Another unique challenge that I still recall is from 2014 involving the transition of the Lulu Junior business (formerly Easy Student Publishing) from a Denver warehouse to a Raleigh operation. I was fortunate to have Leon [Lulu’s head of Print and Fulfillment] accompany me as we closed down the entire kitting and fulfillment facility, moved out all the products and assets, and secured new office space for a few remaining employees – all over a period of a few days. It was a wild ride. But look at Lulu Junior now!
2. Tell us a little about Lulu and what your day-to-day looks like.
The one constant at Lulu is that no day looks the same, except for the volume of emails and conversations. I’ve always adopted a ‘manage by walking around’ style but COVID has put a bit of a damper on that…
I typically check in with my direct reports to see if there’s anything of note that needs my input, review revenue reports, and daily metrics for possible trends, and discuss roadmap features and what’s in the development queue. Understanding our print network performance and support case turn-around time are also items I monitor. Contracts, legal items, and most recently, the building move [the Lulu Team is moving down the road to a new facility in Morrisville NC!] are sometimes daily or weekly topics as well. We have a number of people-related items in play now so keeping current with Erin [Lulu’s VP of People& Culture] on the progress is an important daily to-do.
3. What’s the last book you read?
Mindless book? Marley and Me.
Most Embarrassing to Admit? Fifty Shades of Grey (solely due to the fact that Lulu published this before it got picked up by Random House).
4. When you’re not leading the best indie publishing company ever, what do you like to do?
Easy question – almost anything outdoors. I’m an avid hiker and if you haven’t explored western NC, you’re really missing out. Being in nature helps me re-charge. I also run and recently returned to a favorite sport, tennis. My grandkids always have some activity going on so they keep me and my partner constantly moving in some direction.
5. How has your position given you the opportunity to support other women in business?
I’ve tried hard to be a mentor and role model to women who’ve worked with me or been on my teams. Being in various management roles for 25+ years, I’ve had opportunities to champion women who’ve had great instincts, a strong work ethic, and good decision-making skills yet were unsure of themselves.
Giving encouragement and communicating confidence in them resulted in career moves that had positive outcomes. I find this very rewarding.
6. Lulu seeks to eliminate the barriers to traditional publishing and offer everyone the opportunity to share their story. Why is this important to you?
This sounds rather simplistic, but why shouldn’t anyone and everyone have an opportunity to share their story, whether privately, to an audience of one or to an audience of millions? I love what Lulu’s business model and brand represent and the fact that we give a voice to all creators. The written word moves us, and the world is a better place with the inspiration, motivation, encouragement, knowledge, humor, art, and more that our Lulu platform enables.
7. What advice do you have for other women who are interested in filling leadership positions?
Seek out a solid mentor that you respect for their leadership style—let that person know of your interest so they can help ‘coach’ you. Look for ways/projects in the company to ‘lead’ but not necessarily with a ‘manager’ title as this will help you build relationships and trust, foster cooperation, and possibly motivate others. Also, effective leaders are very good listeners and communicators. Ask your colleagues or manager for feedback in these areas.
8. What advice do you have for young women just starting their professional careers?
Generally, keep in mind that a career spans many, many years unless you get really lucky along the way and can retire early. Be dependable, build solid business relationships, take initiative, show a positive attitude, and be a strong team member by supporting others.
This may sound trite, but practice it every day.
For those looking to pursue professions in typically male-dominated industries, my advice is to be resilient and relentless if you’re pursuing a career that you love. Know that you’ll have obstacles but seek out a mentor. Learn the industry and the business that you join (the competition, customer-base, organization, how it generates revenue, etc.) and understand how your role fits into the company’s goals. As Marques Ogden [a recent virtual guest speaker at Lulu] told us, you are responsible for your brand and embrace that enthusiastically.
9. How important is it for women to lift each other up and what does that mean to you?
Women should definitely strive to ‘lift up’ one another, through voice and action. We make multiple daily choices that build up or tear down. Our interactions should applaud, encourage, praise, inspire, and refrain from ‘cutting’ comments that belittle or compare women against unrealistic standards.
Celebrate our uniqueness and be advocates for one another. And be courageous to the point that it’s sometimes uncomfortable—take the opportunity to speak up for women who don’t have the experience or confidence to do so themselves. The world needs us as role models for daughters, granddaughters, younger sisters, and more. I’ve come to understand this even more in the last 10 years or so seeing the positive impacts that my partner and I have on my granddaughter and in the role I serve at Lulu.
10. Describe three characteristics about yourself that you believe led to your success in business?
I was fortunate to have a remarkable high school English teacher who drove home the importance of communication skills (listening, writing, and speaking). Her impact has undoubtedly been an asset in all my jobs.
My work ethic is strong and attributed to seeing my mother raise six children pretty much by herself.
Lastly, I’ve learned to leave my ego at the door while surrounding myself with people that are smarter than me. This practice has enabled me to build very effective teams.