G-Sync: Catching up with Jennifer Jurgens

Rapid Growth’s Publisher Tommy Allen sat down with the new Salespad President Jennifer Jurgens to discuss diversity in the tech field, women in leadership, and her road to success.
There is no shortage of articles in our world today about the lack of diversity in the tech field. But locally, as we address this matter as a community across a wide array of tech platforms stretching from fields like education to for-profit and nonprofits, one firm has joined the ranks of others around the world who are advancing women in leadership.

And in our culture of now, it is easy to overlook the long path one takes to achieve and earn such success. Within this path we see thread that often unifies one's life work that brings us to this moment.

So a few weeks after Jennifer Jurgens assumed the role of president, she sat down with Rapid Growth’s Publisher Tommy Allen to discuss the path to her new role at SalesPad. To follow is that interview that has been edited for length and condensed for clarity.

Tommy Allen: In preparing for our time together, I took a stroll through your LinkedIn page, or what I call Business Wikipedia, and was quite impressed with your career path. But I have to know, how does one go from graduating from Michigan State University with a bachelor's degree in supply chain management to land in Hawaii right after?

Jennifer Jurgens: A friend of mine had gone to Calvin College and since she graduated a semester ahead of me, she had secured a teaching job on the big island of Hawaii and offered me a place to visit anytime.

I recall saying to her one day, “Hey, I’m going to be graduate in December. And while I have all these opportunities (because of my degree’s speciality) to work within the automotive, manufacturing, [or] purchasing departments, but it didn’t feel right.”

TA: But that is what one typically does with that degree, right?

JJ: Yes, those are the fields you typically would pursue. And yet, I decided to place looking on hold and take my friend up on her offer to visit Hawaii for a month. So while she taught during the day, I explored. 

And then, on one weekend, we flew over to Oahu where I saw Honolulu and then the neighborhood of Waikiki. I met so many amazing people—one of which was a contact of ours who had graduated from South Christian and was in the Navy. 

And I said, “I have this crazy idea. If I wanted to stay here, do you know any girls who are looking for roommates?” ‘

TA: I’ve heard Hawaii is tough because of the cost of living. So did you find a roommate? 

JJ: I did. Our contact recommended this complete stranger to me, Mindy, who was asking for $450 to share her apartment. I had only $500 and two suitcases so after the first month’s rent, I had $50 bucks.

TA: How did you navigate?

JJ: At first, I bounced around a lot, taking temporary work in places like an environmental consulting firm where I acted as a project manager. But when I realized I wasn’t making hardly any money at it, and that all the good money was being made by cocktail waitresses, I decided to pursue different bar owners for work. 

TA: I recall waiting tables fresh out of college, too, for this same reason, and understand what you mean. That money was so attractive because it was immediate. 

JJ: And yet, my big break in employment while in Hawaii would come after one of the club owners said, “You don’t need to be a cocktail waitress. You should write inventory systems for these nightclubs.” And so, what I ended up doing was becoming a general manager where I was able to use my knowledge of Excel Macros to author a system for measuring units of alcohol served. 

From there, we would sell this system of generating accurate inventory to other nightclubs on the island, leading me to run numbers for clubs in the morning on alcohol consumption and percentage cost of liquor, draft beer, and bottled beer sold the previous night.

TA: But looking again at your career trek, this lasted only a couple years. What happened and why did you leave such a warm paradise?

JJ: It’s very expensive to live there, which makes the prospect of owning anything really hard. Being there looks like fun, and it is when you start in it, but then you get to a point where you see what the long-term holds and you make a change.

TA: So after coming back stateside to Michigan you landed at a few for-profit firms before finally taking an Executive Director position at the Michigan chapter of the Susan G. Komen Foundation. Why the leap from for-profit world to non-profit?

JJ: I’m thinking back to 2012. It was a period of time preceded by almost nine years at Spring Lake’s MarketNet Services, where we were a very small shop, so I lived and breathed the PNL with the owner. 

And yet, in 2012, I was also about two and a half years post my own breast cancer diagnosis and surgeries. In my head, though, I’m thinking about my mom who also had breast cancer. 

During this time as I was contemplating my life, I’m thinking about how my mom was all clear, and then, at five years, she wasn’t. 

And so while working for someone else, I kept saying, “I’m going to find balance, I’m going to be happy.” I decided in the end that staying at MarketNet was not for me and finally said, “I can’t stay here and be 100 percent healthy and true and whole. I need to have more flexibility.” 

TA: This is also around the time in 2011 when you were starting to do work with the local TEDxGR folks.

JJ: I really wanted to do more TEDx Grand Rapids work. I was so motivated by their mission. 

TA: Those talks have always inspired me to think bigger, so I can only imagine what it was like to be on the inside as you and the local team helped plan the event for our community.

JJ: In 2012, I couldn’t see staying in a structured environment. And, honestly, I didn’t even care so much about the money. I just wanted enough to make it, and I wanted to be able to focus on heart. It was the year, 2012, that I began to start creating a theme for my year. It was the year of “heart over head.”

TA: Having a theme is something I recently discovered from a friend who suggested it might help me focus my energies. 

JJ: What did you come up with?

TA: A few years ago I began to organize my life around “alleviate suffering, propagate joy.” It really helped me find the balance I so needed during times of great shifts in my world.

JJ: My “heart over head” theme was a big part of my shift to work with Komen. When I was there I would see so much struggle and so many injustices and inequalities. We know from experience that nonprofit work is a labor of love, and it is not always a labor of logic either. 

So taking what I knew from my time spent in my prior positions, I knew there were things I could contribute to make things better for the organization so I performed an operational merger. I looked at the operational efficiencies and sought to take steps to make things move more smoothly.

TA: Any key examples or lessons that you wish to share?

JJ: So, reduced payroll was the first. And, for better or for worse, some people had already left the organization, due to some struggles they were having with managing independently. So it wasn’t like I had to go in and fire lots of people, which was awesome. It was already happening, so we could just sort of realign the people that were already within. 

TA: Other shifts that led to building a stronger organization?

JJ: The current territories, for one thing, made the shape of a donut when you looked at our coverage map. And yet, Barry and Ionia County sat in the middle, not covered by any. So, we fixed the donut. Our thought for bringing this all together was like, “Who’s helping those women?” 

We needed to redefine what is local. You know, what is local and where is the greatest need? Because if you really went hyper-local, then you could say, “Well, money raised in Ottawa County’s only going to help people in Ottawa County.” And my view was, “Well, people in Ottawa County may not need as much help as people in Muskegon County.” So, there was always that concept of we’re in the work of lifting, but we need to find a way to lift the whole group.

But the second part of fixing inefficiencies of the donut was to ask, “Do three organizations that are geographically close to each other need three storage units for 10 years worth of accumulated race materials?” So, consolidating these things were just pure common sense since we had triplicate of everything.

TA: I really like how you were able to tie the mission of health to both the organization as well as those you served here in Michigan.

JJ: The organization itself, nationally, was going through some bad PR. And so, to stop that decline and to reset people’s understanding of our power locally, we worked with others including Highland Group’s Jen Crowley. 

We sat down and brainstormed around what do we do, and what makes it special to this community. And, I think, probably, the second piece out of it was just redefining what Komen does. We knew internally that the money comes in and is primarily used to help local women. And yes, while a percentage of it that is sent to Komen headquarters is used for research, we never used local money for administrative costs. We’ve never paid their salaries or any of that. And nobody knew it. Nobody knew that the money that we were granting out into our community was determined by volunteers within our community. 

TA: And all these drastic changes locally were happening during a period of bad PR for Komen national. Candidly, how was that experience? 

JJ: I felt like I was slamming my head against the wall trying to get people to understand that the money we raised was going to where the community says it goes.

TA: And then after more than four years of reforms at Komen in February 2017 you left to take a position at SalesPad as their Vice President of Marketing.

JJ: For this part of my story we have to start in the fall of 2016. It was while having a beer at Brewery Vivant with former TEDxGR organizer Steve Frazee that we discussed that while I had made a role (at Komen), that I don’t fit anymore. As we discussed it, Steve suggested a couple ways that I could go about setting the necessary changes in motion.

TA: And…

JJ: What I decided to do was to be fully transparent to the Komen board of directors before I quit. I recall saying simply, “Here’s where we are going, and here’s what I’m good at. And see how those two things don’t align anymore? We need to start looking for somebody else.” And that was really scary, because they could have said on that day, “Bye.”  

Even though I didn’t feel right for the role (as ED), my passion for the need for early detection had not changed at all. And while I still volunteer on the board of Standup for the Cure as well as serve on the committee for the Wine and Wig event, it is because I found my breast cancer at stage zero that I remain incredibly diligent and pushy about the need for getting mammograms.

So instead of saying “bye,” the board decided that we would all work together to try to find a replacement and to do a smooth transition plan.

TA: So I understand that transition went smoothly so how did you land at SalesPad in 2017?

JJ: Someone shared that a friend had been interviewing here but it wasn’t a perfect fit for her. 

After learning this I remember saying to my husband Jim, “Wow. Look at this job she’s been interviewing for. That just sounds like my dream job.”

TA: What made it a dream job for you since I am guessing marketing jobs can be a dime a dozen in this city? What stood out here?

JJ: Because of my logistics background combined with the fact that SalesPad makes operational ERP (enterprise resource planning) software, and because the position offered illustrated they were ready for a marketing push—you know, everything I’ve done up to this point in my career led me to seek them out.

And so, just as I started winding down with Komen, I met up with SalesPad’s co-founder Matt Williams. I recall saying at this meeting, “I’m not ready to start anything right away. I’m still working at Susan G. Komen, but I could be available by, like, February or so, depending upon how the recruiting goes and what we wanna do there.”  And it all worked out from there.

TA: And then not even a year later you are promoted to President of SalesPad. (Note: Williams moved from President to CEO of SalesPad and other co-founder Pete Eardley, who had been CEO since 2003, shifted into the role of chairman of their recently created advisory board of directors). I realize it might be too soon, but how is it going now that you have moved from Marketing to the office of the President?

JJ: We’re at the end of the year, so we’re in the middle of not just our product roadmap for the next one- to five-year product roadmapping plan, but we’re also in the middle of a new budgeting process. So, getting everybody on the leadership team comfortable with and familiar with how that’s going to work is my immediate focus.

TA: It is interesting as we talk to hear firsthand how that same early thread of exploration, opportunity, and execution of ideas around efficiency is still a part of your core. 

JJ: I guess, if you start with what we believe in here at SalesPad, that everything can be more efficient, then it is plain and simple that we seek to make things more efficient. We do that specifically for small- to medium-sized businesses that are either manufacturing- or distribution-based, and we do it through what we call our operational ERP software.

Our software makes inventory management, purchasing, distribution, sales, and CRM easier for manufacturing and distribution companies.

TA: I find it fascinating that when we started this conversation about your work in Hawaii that we are in many ways now firmly rooted in a future landscape that I can’t help feel you grasped its importance long before many of us knew we need such efficiencies. So for the layman, is there an easy way to illustrate how your software integrates nicely with many platforms performs in the real world?

JJ: So, if you’re a distributor, and you’ve got multiple warehouses, and you’ve got a guy who’s in the warehouse trying to pick, pack, and ship orders to send ‘em out, our software’s in the warehouse, our software’s on the counter, our software might be on a handheld out on the delivery truck, our software might be in—if they have, like, a retail location—our software might be there, on a point-of-sales sense, to take the order, but it all ties back into one system that shoots the information into your accounting platform.

With our software assistance you can see, across all of your locations, your margin on a skew—where you’re selling it for too much or too little. Or your quantities. Or, if you put it into an assembly, you took multiple pieces and made it one thing—what are my actual counts here and also over here? 

It’s 100 percent visibility into some of this stuff that used to be you had to walk through the shop. Highland Group helped us come up with this ad, which was, “You see inventory, we see opportunity.” 

I just keep going back to Simon Sinek’s TED talk on “Start with why?”  So in my role I ask, “Why do we do this?” We do it because we believe that everything can be more efficient. I mean, this whole team here at SalesPad, whether it is intentionally or not, but every single person here has this deep sense of helping people. 

TA: And as President…

JJ: I’m going to be helpful, and I’m going to make it smoother, faster, more efficient, better, somehow.

SalesPad is a West Michigan software company based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Using their portfolio of operational ERP solutions, they provide according to their website, 100 percent visibility into every stage of a business' inventory lifecycle and ensure that meaningful customer data is always at their clients' fingertips. By providing powerful software solutions, SalesPad helps businesses recognize opportunities for greater profitability. SalesPad enables businesses to see the real profit of sales across one or multiple locations, and fulfill each and every order with confidence.
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