I wrote a post many months ago about the incredibly rich talent pool created by folks who take a career break and want to get back in the game. I proposed that companies create an "Executive in Residence" program to maximize this under-appreciated human resource, and simultaneously give these professionals a quick updating in the technologies that they may have missed.
A few months after that post, we created our first "for-real" Executive in Residence position, for Lara Simon. (Anyone at Grommet knows I am not so keen on idle chatter or speculation. I deeply value brainstorming and fresh ideas, but I value concrete action even more. We had to really DO this EIR program, and not just talk about it.) It's been a huge success.
Lara came to us with a very rich background. She'd worked directly with the Seth Godin at YoYodyne, the first online direct marketing business. Seth created the idea of Permission Marketing, and Lara was part of the team that gave it shape. She went on to become a Director of E-commerce at Yahoo!, slipped in a JD degree from Boston University, and practiced law long enough to know it was not for her. She then took a career break to focus on her adorable three children (see them--and Lara--here in this Grommet video). After two years at home, she started to miss the crazy startup vibe.
Fast forward to today. Lara's been working in the Grommet creators/supplier side of our business since September. She spearheaded a massive effort to convert our business model to a drop-ship one, from the previous incarnation as a mixed model of affiliate and drop-ship. Her efforts have directly contributed to a steep climb in our revenues, as we now have full control over the customer order process. The economic justification is clear.
Beyond this, Lara is at just the ideal point in her career to make a meaningful difference at Daily Grommet. She's energetic, wise, thoughtful, and experienced. Having completed the drop-ship conversion part of our business, she picked up a new raft of responsibilities relating to our supplier base and customer service.
On her side, Lara got to "try us on." Grommet is not for everybody. The pace and demands of our business are relentless, considering we are creating a daily news event, delivering a decent commerce experience, and working with a very active Citizen Commerce community. We think she's a "keeper" and I'm delighted she is happy to make a more permanent home at Daily Grommet.
I asked Lara about her EIR experience and she responded:
It's an ingenious program that meets both the needs of the person re-entering the workforce and the business looking for someone seasoned to spearhead a specific project. In quick-changing industries like the Internet where the technology can change cataclysmically in the course of a single year, lack of recent experience can be the death knell to a mom in the process of relaunching her career. EIR allowed me to not only gain valuable knowledge and experience from incredible women but also experiment with structuring my own work/life balance - how to still keep the household trains running on time with pursuing a satisfying career. I would do it again without a second thought and would enthusiastically recommend the program to other women and businesses.
One key thing: Lara entered the EIR role with no expectations of a permanent position. At the time, we had no such possibility. For an Executive in Residence to work, that has to be the deal. Otherwise the company will, by necessity, forced to bring in people who are "sure bets" and that does not give the career break person a fair shot. Beyond this, how great would it be for several people to cycle through this role, and therefore be re-launched for their next career move? It's a win-win for the individuals, and for our flagging economy.