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By Phil La Duke
Believe in yourself. If you find yourself bouncing around from one job to another, don’t worry. Finding something you love takes time but never give up the search. Believe in who you are. Develop the skills that drive your passion and go forth with confidence and understand that learning and growing is a never-ending endeavor.
As a part of our series about strong women leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Judy Walker. Judy Walker was born and raised in New York and later moved to New Jersey. She has been a Florida resident for 27 years. She attended Wagner College in Staten Island, New York, where she graduated with degrees in Elementary Education. While in college, she served as president of the local chapter of Alpha Delta Pi sorority.
After a short teaching career, she worked for Windows on the World and the World Trade Center Restaurants in New York City, where she eventually was promoted to Assistant Director of Sales & Marketing. After 5 years, she left that company to be a stay-at-home mom.
In 1994, she started with Anago, and in 1998 became Director of Telemarketing for Anago’s South Florida Master Franchise. In 2001, she joined Anago’s corporate office full time and was appointed Director of Franchise Marketing in 2002. In 2005, she was appointed Vice President — Marketing. She was awarded the designation of Certified Franchise Executive (CFE) in 2014 after having completed the program requirements set forth by the International Franchise Association. She is fluent in Italian and Spanish.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
I went to school to be a teacher. My entire life, I wanted to teach. However, after teaching for just one year, I realized that I didn’t like it very much. A friend of mine told me about a marketing position at the Windows of the World restaurant atop Tower 1 of the World Trade Center in New York City, and I jumped at the opportunity. 5 Five years later, I was the assistant director of sales and marketing for Windows of the World and the 22 World Trade Center restaurants. It was the opportunity of a lifetime, and I enjoyed every single moment of it. In 1983, I became pregnant with my first child — a wonderful daughter — and I chose to be a stay-at-home Mom for the next eleven years. Being a mom is the best role I’ve ever played. When the event of 9/11 unfolded, and I visited ground zero years later, my heart broke over and over again not only for the tragedy and the lives lost but for the people I worked with who were still employed at the Windows of the World restaurant on that fateful day.
In the early 1990s, I was living in Coral Springs, FL. I was looking for a part-time job to do while my kids were in school, and a friend told me about a small, two-room start-up company about a mile away from my home. They were looking for somebody to come in and help out with marketing and basic office tasks. Looking back, this was that moment in life that people define as being in the right place at the right time. That two-room start-up was the beginning of Anago. I started working with the owner, David Povlitz, and he became an incredible mentor to me. We began selling master franchises, and the next thing I knew, I was traveling around the country, training new Master Franchise Owners and their staff. That was 26 years ago, and I am still with Anago Cleaning Systems and loving every moment of it.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
At Anago, titles are somewhat arbitrary, but for the record, I entered the C-suite in February 2005. For a long time after being promoted to the C-suite, I found myself still engaged with all staff, not just my direct reports. This led me to further develop a sense of respect from those who carried a more traditional stance of leadership but focusing on the more high-level aspects of the business. I never made that transition. Instead, I simply grew into a person who could manage both elements — the high-level thinking and execution and the person who genuinely cared about the people that made the business work.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
This particular mistake came a little late in my career, but as technology started to change the way we communicated, I became increasingly nervous about cyber threats and fraudulent emails. One day, when I received one, I wanted to share with my entire team, so they knew what to look for, just in case. Well, I failed to remove the infected link from the forward, and many people thought it was an original email from me. Suffice to say, our IT department had a heck of a time cleaning up that mess, and we immediately booked time for a refresher course from the IT department on what not to do if you receive a sketchy email.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. What is it about the position of CEO or executive that most attracted you to it?
The primary responsibility I have is selling master franchises. What attracted me to it was the types of people who were leaving their traditional 9–5 jobs and taking the risk of owning their own business, creating generational wealth for their families, and becoming their own boss. It is a thrill for me to watch people grow into something they never thought was possible. This part of my job is the most rewarding and was the aspect of the business that attracted me the most. Watching a person grow, watching their families grow, and being a part of that journey with them is something I cherish and never forget. It truly is a blessing.
Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?
As an executive sitting a little lower on the food chain than the president or CEO, I share both director and collaborative roles with other department heads. Unlike a CEO who oversees all aspects with little frontline interaction, I cannot only have an impact in the C-suite but also with our department managers and staff who are the heart and soul of our business. The people who are on the frontlines of any business share in the success of any operation. In my opinion, they are just as important as every other role within a company.
What is the one thing that you enjoy most about being an executive?
What I enjoy most other than watching franchisees grow into lives they’ve only dreamed about is the opportunity to take young talent under my wing and become a mentor to them on a professional level. I’ve had the fortune of working with some fantastic people along my professional journey, and the one thing that I never forget is the bond shared between co-workers collaborating toward a common goal. I have had the privilege of mentoring some awe-inspiring, young, talented individuals who have succeeded not only during their time at Anago (and many are still here) but even those who have gone on to chase their dreams and passions. The people I encounter are always the most enjoyable aspect of my role as an executive. To me, mentorship is essential. I love working with people from different backgrounds and experiences, and I learn as much as I hope others learn from me.
What are the downsides of being an executive?
The responsibility of being an executive is probably my least favorite part of being an executive. There are individual operational tracks that stop at my desk and making sure those operations are running smoothly with all key performance indicators being met is the one aspect that can keep me up at night. The people aspect of it I love, but the tactical operations involved can be extraneous at times. The reason I say this is because I love my job, the people, and the role I have, and I wouldn’t want any of my ideas or management style to hinder the growth of a department, or negatively impact any of Anago members.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive? Can you explain what you mean?
People think that executives sit up in an ivory castle and delegate everything, and that is a huge myth. At Anago, our executive personnel is very hands-on not only with the processes and business functions but with the people involved. This is where that love of mentorship comes into play from my perspective. If you don’t garner the respect of the people you work with and who report to you, then you won’t have much effect on them as a mentor or leader.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
To me, there still is a glass ceiling for women in business. Of course, there has been tremendous progress, and there are some amazing women in business today, many of them CEOs, but I still think they are treated more as exceptions than the rule. When I started my career more than 25 years ago, there were fewer women in the workforce. Many women at that time chose to stay home to create and raise families. Today, women can still make that choice, but there are many more options to consider and professions to pursue. Women of today can engage and thrive in a professional environment. As technology amplifies our lives, gender roles are redefined, and events like COVID keep us home, there may be organic opportunities for women to have both without making a gut-wrenching, life-changing decision to have one or the other.
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
The most significant difference for me was the transition of leadership during my tenure. When I started, the owner of the business, Dave Povlitz, had a powerful management and leadership style. I learned everything from him and valued each interaction. When Dave retired and stepped down, he passed the business to his son, Adam Povlitz, who entered Anago Cleaning Services with a very different approach. Adam had a more corporate strategy and changed the environment. We are now very structured in our approach to projects and goals. The transition from one to the other was a striking difference in my job role. Though both were different styles, both were successful approaches, and I value each method along with how my role has evolved with new leadership.
Certainly, not everyone is cut out to be an executive. In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive, and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive?
A good, strong personality who is organized, passionate, and can communicate with strong articulation would excel in executive leadership roles. Compassion and the ability to mentor is another trait that isn’t a must, but it certainly separates the good executive from the great executive. On the flip side, if you are a person who looks for shortcuts in the process or thinks they can simply delegate will not be successful. If they believe they can lead without being an active participant in each aspect of the business, then it would probably become frustrating in their executive role, which would ultimately frustrate those he or she is trying to lead.
What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?
Keep communicating often and effectively with your team. Communication is key to successful leadership. Take an interest in your staff, learn about them and their families. Learn what inspires them and what bothers them. Learning their pet peeves are just as important as knowing their aspirations. The one thing I do every morning is visit my team members, say hello, and engage in a short conversation to see how they are doing. This ritual takes me about the same time it does to have my first cup of coffee, and I do both at the same time. It is my favorite cup of the day.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person to whom you are grateful for helping you get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I am eternally grateful to Dave Povlitz, the founder of Anago Cleaning Systems. As I had mentioned before, he took me in and taught me everything I know today. He provided me with a foundation of knowledge, business acumen, and hard work. The life and work lessons he taught me will never be forgotten. The second person is my mother. She came to the United States as a 17-year-old immigrant who didn’t speak the language. She assimilated, learned English better than anybody I know. She worked her way through college, paying for it all on her own, and instilled in me the values of hard work, dedication, and never losing sight of who you are even when chasing a dream.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
What I learned from my mother and Dave Povlitz has been passed down to my children. They are very active in community work and giving back, and they genuinely care about people. This is something that is very much needed in the world, not only today but always. I feel that by passing down to them what I learned and the value of those lessons, they are making the world around them the best place it can be. I get such satisfaction from watching them interact positively with the world around them, and it fills my heart in ways I could never have imagined.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- I would say you don’t know what you don’t know. When starting, I thought (or pretended to think) I knew everything or at least many things. This created situations that could have taken a much shorter time to resolve had I simply recognized my limitations at the time.
- Recognize when somebody has confidence in you and when you need to exert your confidence. Having confidence is one thing but knowing when to use it at will is another. Learn the difference and don’t abuse that power.
- The early bird does get the worm. I used to think staying late at work made me seem more involved. I learned it was the opposite. If you want to make an impression, get to work early and use that morning energy to organize your day or start a task. Staying late when needed is one thing, but do not make it a habit of staying late at work. We all need balance, and you will enjoy the mornings much better if you unplug from work in the evening.
- Bosses can be fickle. Don’t take it personally. Many people hate their boss but love their job. However, when you love your job, you are happy. When you are happy, your work and attitude show it. With that attitude, there is very little that can bring you down. If your boss affects your mood negatively, focus on the work that you love and let everything else fade away in the background.
- Believe in yourself. If you find yourself bouncing around from one job to another, don’t worry. Finding something you love takes time but never give up the search. Believe in who you are. Develop the skills that drive your passion and go forth with confidence and understand that learning and growing is a never-ending endeavor.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Based on my experiences in life — both personal and professional — the one thing that stands out to me the most is the mentoring I received and the mentoring I give. IF I could inspire a movement, it would be a sharper focus on mentoring programs that truly have the power to enrich lives and communities.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite life lesson quote is from Roy T. Bennett, The Light in the Heart. It says, “Believe in yourself. You are braver than you think, more talented than you know, and capable of more than you imagine.” Re-entering the workforce after eleven years of being a stay-at-home mom was intimidating. But I believed in myself, which is a trait I learned from my mother. This quote captures what I experienced during that first year of working again.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them
I would give anything to have lunch with Condoleezza Rice. She was a genuine groundbreaker as the first female National Security Advisor and the first African American Secretary of State. I heard her speak several years ago and was very impressed. She certainly was not intimidated that these were previously male-dominated positions. She took that leap into previously uncharted waters for women and came out a winner.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.
Phil La Duke is a popular speaker & writer with more than 400 works in print. He has contributed to Entrepreneur, Monster, Authority Magazine, Thrive Global and is published on all inhabited continents. Follow Phil on Twitter @philladuke or read his weekly blog www.philladuke.wordpress.com