Boss Lady is a series that shares personal insights from creative women in business. This week we talk to Jillian Ryan. Jillian is the owner of Marie Mae Company, a professional gift company that features ethically-made products and provides business training opportunities to entrepreneurs around the world.
1. Tell us a bit about yourself and your career.
Hello! I originally started my career off in DC as a geopolitical risk analyst and loved every minute of it. My job was to help Fortune100 companies do business – and do business well – in emerging markets around the world. Throughout the 10 years I worked in geopolitical risk, I would see time and time again local groups doing amazing things, but simply lacking in some basic business skills to help scale their companies. I started Marie Mae Company as a side business just to fund a business boot camp I wanted to hold in Rwanda with a local sewing cooperative – and it took off way more than I expected! Today we provide professional gifts that give back. All of our products are ethically sourced both here in the US and with artisan groups around the world, and for each gift box sold, we provide an hour of business training for underserved women. Currently, we are working with trafficking survivors here in the Dallas area.
2. What prompted you to start Marie Mae Company?
Funding the business boot camp I mentioned above was the impetus to start Marie Mae, but what kept it going was the desire to provide an avenue for companies to provide branded “swag” that people actually love and will use and not simply throw away, and give companies an opportunity to give back with money they were already spending.
3. Why is creating a positive social impact using sustainable materials important to you?
Beyond the fact that I have a strong desire to only do good with my business and promote that it is possible to do good in your business, it just makes sense! In the day and age where small businesses are competing with less expensive products that can be delivered to you in an instant, our target market values the high quality of our products and knowing that their products are made ethically AND provide amazing social impact.
4. What inspires you and fuels your creativity?
Working on our business school classes and with the students, we are able to work with. We take so much for granted in the opportunities we were afforded in school. Being able to provide a little of that to those that want it fuels everything we do at Marie Mae.
5. Who is your ideal student for the Marie Mae Business School?
Our business school is still evolving and we evaluate each group we work with and tweak our classes accordingly to what they need. Currently, we are working with trafficking survivors in Dallas, and what they really need at this moment is help on the basics – how do you prepare for a job interview, how do you search for a job, how do you pull together a resume, what kind of careers are out there? In 2020, together with the non-profit, we are working with, we are focusing largely on developing a leadership track for these women and helping to expose them to the types of career opportunities that are out there.
6. You were part of Ellen’s Holiday 2019 Be Kind Subscription Box!! Congrats, that’s so exciting! What behind-the-scenes action went into creating that opportunity?
Thanks so much! It was a dream to work with Ellen’s team. They really do embody the message of the box. We actually were introduced to her team by someone we had never met that thought we would be a good fit! You never know where opportunities will come from, so we always say do your best to create all the opportunities you can – and run with them once they come along.
7. What do you see for Marie Mae Company’s future? Any upcoming projects you can tell us about?
Ah, I wish! We’ve got so much coming up in 2020 that we can’t wait to share!
8. Who is a Boss Lady who inspires you and why?
I know this is one who is mentioned a lot, but the tenacity and honesty of Sara Blakely always inspire me! In the days of social media and photoshopped photos, it’s so easy to believe all is rosy for the businesses and leaders we admire. I think it’s important to show the day to day as well.
Just for fun!
My go-to cocktail: Moscow Mule
The one dish I’m known for making: Chicken enchiladas
Current guilty pleasure Netflix show: Jane the Virgin
If you could have dinner with 3 famous (writers, actors, artists, singers) people, dead or alive, who would they be: Sara Blakely, Reese Witherspoon, and Justin Timberlake