Meet Bridget Verdun, Vice President, Global Industry Leader for Services at Aquent.
#WomenInStaffing Q+A With ClearEdge Marketing CEO Leslie Vickrey
One of the biggest perks of my job is all of the fantastic people I’ve met and gotten to know throughout the industry. Staffing is after all, a people-first business, and relationships are at the core of what we do.
I recently got to spend some time with Bridget Verdun, Vice President, Global Industry Leader for Services at Aquent, and was fascinated by her career journey, optimistic outlook on work and life, and unrivaled passion for art that resulted in a successful art gallery and greeting card business. A self-described “connector,” Bridget’s ability to forge relationships with people has led her to success in the unexpected combination of staffing and art.
In 2004, Bridget and her husband Tad opened their art gallery and retail space, just b., in Three Oaks, Michigan, and in 2009, she began her “Occasionally Speaking” line of greeting cards. Inspired by famous quotations, each card is beautifully designed, simple and elegant, and hand-assembled with care. When Bridget first showed me a sampling of her cards, I knew I had seen them before – and that’s because she has partnered with Whole Foods, Paper Source and a myriad of retailers who distribute her cards nationally. I thought to myself: Let me get this straight. You’re a staffing industry executive AND you own an art gallery AND you have a successful greeting card company? I need to learn more and share your story!
Bridget’s impressive career highlights don’t end there. I also loved hearing about her experience trying out for Shark Tank, and why she brought her daughter and mother to her callback audition – it’s truly inspiring.
I’m thrilled to be sharing her story on our blog with an insightful Q+A on some of her biggest career lessons, how art has shaped her path, and how she gets it all done.
Q: How does your role at Aquent and as a leader in staffing relate to you starting your own company?
A: My dream job was always to own an art gallery. When I got into staffing, I was busy hitting the pavement and selling, but I also decided to write a business plan for an art gallery and combine both of my passions. I needed money to make it happen, so I socked away all my commission checks and worked hard over the years until I was finally able to open my own space in Three Oaks, Michigan. I knew I didn’t want to limit my potential or live with regret, so I took on both responsibilities – owning a gallery and selling creative, marketing and digital staffing services.
A card from Bridget Verdun’s greeting line, Occasionally Speaking.
Over the years, it’s been interesting when I talk to people about what I do. I might leave out the cards, or only talk about being a mom and owning a gallery. When I did tell people all four things — mom, art gallery and greeting card business owner, and staffing industry leader — it would seem at times to be overwhelming or hard for some to grasp.
For me, it’s the norm I’ve created, and I’m proud of what I’ve designed for my life. I do work a lot and I have a great support network. I am continuously grateful for the opportunity to do all of this.
So, when I came back to Aquent this past June (I had worked there previously in my career), I made a conscious decision that I was going to show up as my full authentic self and not hide certain facets of my life. I used to feel that if I talked about my side business it may be perceived as a distraction from my professional career, but in reality, it’s been the opposite. Bringing my “whole self to work” has been inspiring to other women on my team and helped make the case for my recent promotion. It’s paid off in huge ways!
Q: How do you manage your greeting card business and day-to-day responsibilities?
A: The biggest takeaway for me, having been in staffing for 17 years, is it’s truly an opportunity for me to continue to learn every day from a business perspective, and also to really be able to lead and empower others.
I’m incredibly lucky to have my family involved in my personal businesses, especially my mom. She has managed the art gallery for me in Michigan for 15 years while I continue to work and live in Chicago with my husband and two children. She also folds and packages every greeting card order by hand. The luxurious experience of our cards is our top priority, and I take great care with the selection of the paper, the ink and the overall brand experience. My mom then brings the vision to life. For many years she has empowered me by giving me roots to build the foundation of the business on and in turn I’ve empowered her with wings to make us fly!
Q: What was your biggest takeaway from your Shark Tank experience?
A: My daughter actually encouraged me to apply when I read about Shark Tank seeking minority-owned, Chicago-based businesses in our community e-newsletter. I applied on a whim and didn’t expect anything to come of it, then received a notification that they wanted me to pitch my idea in just two days. It was so quick!
Bridget Verdun and her daughter at her Shark Tank audition.
It was interesting because the greeting card business has always been a passion project, while staffing has been at the forefront of my career path. The Shark Tank experience made me put my head down and think about the P&L and finances; get into the weeds, which was a worthwhile experience.
I’ve been pitching business in staffing for almost 20 years, but it was a very different feel to get up there to talk about my own work. I practiced in front of my staffing team and they coached me. I felt proud to get up and talk about something that I created from nothing that has its own special place in the world. I brought my daughter with me for the first audition, and then I didn’t hear back from the Shark Tank team for about a year. I received a call back this spring, and this time I brought both my mom and daughter with me, which was really fun and special. While I haven’t heard anything just yet, having my daughter witness me get up there was pretty powerful. The experience of pitching for Shark Tank brought to light insights about the business. The scalability of the card business and ability to grow online has balanced the limitations of the gallery being a brick and mortar in a seasonal small town. This experience has helped to shape our plans for 2020 which will bring about exciting change!
Q: If you had to share one piece of advice to fellow women in our industry what would it be?
A: My advice to women in our industry is to stay curious, be open to change and to always keep learning. As technology continues to shape the way we work, we must be able to absorb information at faster rates and pivot quickly. It’s more important now than ever to be open to change; change in the way that we craft solutions for our clients; change in the way that we lead our teams; and change in the ways in which we communicate overall. The root of our business as staffing professionals is in connecting people, and often, women are natural connectors. When we leverage our innate ability to connect and pair that with our strengths to adapt quickly to change, opportunities unfold and possibilities become infinite.
On a closing note: Whether it’s on ClearEdge’s TheEdge Podcast or speaking at industry events, I talk a lot about being your own career champion. Something that stood out to me when talking to Bridget was her story of first being offered her latest promotion.
Despite getting called upon to step into an elevated role, she was told she didn’t have enough experience yet to get the full SVP title. She recognized the organization’s hesitation and reiterated that she’s actually a CEO. An entrepreneur. A dreamer who can also connect people and sell like no one else.
Putting yourself out there is important, and building trust and loyalty with an employer is equally as important. Being a little uncomfortable and being focused on your own advancement is something many women struggle with when it comes to being confident.
In getting comfortable with being uncomfortable, Bridget was able to communicate her value to the organization, which landed her in the elevated position where she continues to learn and lead every day. I hope others hear Bridget’s story and it inspires them to stand out and speak up.
Thank you, Bridget, for sharing your story with me and the ClearEdge audience!