In this month’s Executive Connection, Direct Selling News Publisher and Editor in Chief John Fleming speaks with Lia Keeping, Vice President of Sales for North America at Jockey Person to Person, about leadership, growing a business and adding that personal touch with employees and the field.
DSN: What is the one thing you enjoy most about being the one of the top executives at Jockey Person to Person?
LK: Being able to give the women in North America a future in Jockey Person to Person—helping our Comfort Specialists and leaders benefit. Growing the business is my No. 1 passion. It’s personally so rewarding to see some of the incomes that these women are making. The second thing I enjoy is just working here at Jockey. The culture at Jockey is incredible. We have very open people. It’s a fabulous place to work, and it’s because of Debra and Ed [Jockey CEO Debra Waller and International President and Chief Operating Officer Ed Emma]. Some people at Jockey have been here 30 and 40 years, and their parents were here before them! Once you become part of the Jockey family, you can see why that is. It’s a very kind and gentle place to work. Friendly, open, helpful. It’s just been an amazing experience.
DSN: What has been your proudest accomplishment?
LK: One of my proudest accomplishments has been when the Executive Committee and The Board of Directors for Jockey International realized that Jockey Person to Person and direct selling was a viable business option. From 2008 to date our sales have quadrupled and we are the “fastest growing division” at Jockey International.
DSN: What do you tell Jockey Person to Person’s Comfort Specialists to lead and inspire them?
LK: I show them living examples of what is possible. We have women who in a short period of time have become very accomplished and are making amazing commissions. I tell them never to let fear stop them from being successful. And I use my own example: When I started in direct selling years ago, I did so because I needed grocery money. I was so shy and nervous, I broke out in shingles. I didn’t sell to people. I sold to shoes. I couldn’t look people in the eye. And look what happened over the years! I find generally speaking that people are good and want to help each other. I tell them that they have nothing to fear, so get out of your own way.
DSN: What is your vision for Jockey Person to Person?
LK: The top level of our compensation plan is Group Vice President. Right now we have four of them. I want to see hundreds of women at that level! It’s totally possible, and it’s starting to happen. I want Jockey Person to Person in every state. We’re not yet represented that broadly. We’re not a brand-new direct selling company, but this is still a ground-floor opportunity.
DSN: If you could relive one period of time—a year, a week, whatever—since you’ve been at Jockey Person to Person, what would it be? You could choose a great time to relive or a period where you’d change something.
LK: I think it would be when my husband and I moved from Canada to the U.S. and how wonderful we found it to be—not just at Jockey. We’ve only lived here four years, but this has really become our home and we’re very happy here. Even though companies are similar, you’re never sure whether you’re going to fit in, but we’ve loved the experience. Also, the first convention we held here. We did a small conference where we brought the Canadian team to meet the U.S. team in late October 2008. We already had emerging leaders, and they got to meet their U.S. counterparts. It was rewarding to see the two countries coming together as one company. There are no borders in how we treat the women.
DSN: What’s been the most fun?
LK: In my former position I traveled every nook and cranny in Canada. Now I’m getting to explore the U.S. and see lots of new cities—places I’ve never been before. It’s also been a lot of fun to work with the design team on the collection.
DSN: Is there one basic principle which has governed your leadership at Jockey Person to Person?
LK: No matter how big we get, I want it to feel like we’re a small company. I really believe in the personal touch. I do a lot of personally recognizing women with phone calls, emails, Facebook postings. I really believe in making every sales person feel that they matter.
DSN: What do you see as our industry’s greatest challenge?
LK: One of challenges in the party plan part of direct selling is competing for women’s time. It’s one of our biggest challenges. Women are busier now more than ever. The time crunch is a challenge, but we’re a very resilient industry, a very innovative industry, and we’re working to help women be successful through things like online ordering, virtual parties and casual parties.
DSN: In your years in direct selling, what lesson have you learned that has proved to be especially useful?
LK: My most valuable lesson—well, there are two really. First, never prejudge anybody. That’s just critical in life but also very much so in our business. I always like to say that direct selling is an equal opportunity for everyone. It doesn’t matter where you come from; you can have success in direct selling if you work the plan. Second is the value of making everyone you come in contact with feel important, that they matter.
DSN: What do you like to do when you just want to relax?
LK: I relax on the golf course. My husband and I are avid golfers. I like the sport because you can’t be a good golfer and think about anything else. In winter, it’s working out at the gym.