July 22, 2014
I’m just back from Chicago, where I spent a week at the ASI Show, the Counselor Best Places to Work conference and squatting at my BFF Sharon Biernat’s house, an oasis of cool in the middle of the city that I never want to leave. Sharon, a distributor sales rep with Skokie-based Creative Promos, and her fabulous husband Bob (All Hail Bob!) open their home to me and the parade of industry crazies I invite over every year and they do it with grace, hospitality and style. Sharon’s house is the best unofficial B&B in Chicago and I thank her for letting me treat it as my home-base — with limitless gourmet snacks and never a pesky “last call” with which to contend.
One of the highlights for me last week was the privilege of presenting Brown & Bigelow’s Cindy Jorgenson with the 2014 Counselor Woman of Distinction Award. And hoo boy, does she deserve it. Read below for the full text of what I wrote about Cindy for the upcoming issue of Counselor. And I’d just like to add that in addition to being one of the most talented people in the industry, Cindy proves one thing: For those who say that nothing good ever happens at God-awful Shenanigans (yeah, it’s a hellhole, but it’s OUR hellhole…), know that Cindy and I first met there 13 years ago have been each other’s industry girl crush ever since.
And now, without further delay, the many reasons why Miss Cindy Jorgenson is this year’s Woman of Distinction…
You would think — considering that she’s climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, swam with whales, cage-dived with great white sharks and repelled through cavernous waterfalls – Cindy Jorgenson, what with her penchant for putting herself in precarious positions, is a charter member of the Justice League. In fact, as an 18-year industry vet and the current vice president of sales for Counselor Top 40 distributor Brown & Bigelow, she’s intent on tackling a Herculean challenge closer to home – completely upending the industry’s reputation as one of an old boy’s club.
“If you look at the management teams and boards of directors across the industry they’re still very male dominated,” Jorgenson says. “But on the sales side it’s very female dominated. In general, women don’t take as many risks and can lack assertiveness … We tend to play it safe. However, our attention to detail, ability to multitask and to emotionally connect with people give us an edge that can’t be ignored. My goal is to continue to motivate women into this industry and once here, help them move beyond support positions into sales and management.”
Bill Smith Jr., president of Brown & Bigelow and Jorgenson’s boss, concurs. “Cindy has been a role model for many people at Brown & Bigelow, especially women. She has mentored sales assistants in their transition into sales, new sales people learning our industry as well as experienced sales people making the transition to selling national accounts. Credibility is her greatest strength. Sales people respect her because she’s actually done what she recommends.”
And it’s this kind of commitment to mentorship that Jorgenson, who’s a past president of UPMAPP, is quite familiar. “I worked for a small distributor prior to joining B&B,” she recalls. “I started, at age 21, as an assistant to the owner who was also the largest producing salesperson. I held this position for 18 months before moving into sales, and I now know – without question – that first 18 months is why I’m in management today. Not only could I see the sales process, but I had the opportunity to view and come to respect the management side of the business as well. The owner/salesperson I worked for in the beginning told me that when I become successful, I must reach back and take someone’s hand, just as he took mine. Serving on the UMAPP board allowed me to do that; my position at Brown & Bigelow now allows me to do that every day by coaching sales partners on prospecting, time management, generating leads and proving a return on investment.”
“Talk about a go-getter – if you can keep up with Cindy, good luck,” says Rena Ashfeld, national sales manager for MN-based supplier Advance Corporation. “I’ve had the privilege of being on UMAPP Board with her, being one of her suppliers and her best friend … to see her at work is amazing. She mentors and cares deeply about this industry. This girl can multitask during the day for her clients, spin around like Wonder Woman and network at night like a rock star. She’s truly a force to be reckoned with.”
Jorgenson advises that the best course of action for younger sales professionals is to start on the inside. “The learning curve is enormous in this industry,” she cautions. “My advice would be to learn on the company’s dime. Collect a salary, learn the business, make mistakes and get some product knowledge under your belt. When you have that, then transition into sales. You’ll go with more confidence and less costly mistakes.”
Speaking of those, Jorgenson points to a doozy of a faux pas she made early on in her career: “I took too long to realize the importance of the supplier-distributor relationship,” she admits. “That first distributor I worked for had the mentality of ‘we are the suppliers’ customer and they must do what we say.’ That couldn’t be more wrong. Our suppliers are just as important, if not more so, than our clients. Without them, we have nothing to sell, and without their processes, procedures and quality control measures nothing would ever get delivered. If you’re still beating up your suppliers stop and start partnering with them – I promise your business will grow.”
For Jorgenson, the woman who never met a goal or challenge she didn’t like – all while wearing heels as high as carjacks – her love of the industry remains constant. “It’s the products, the people, the independence, the fact that salespeople define their own lives and income, the creativeness, the constant change you must make in yourself to stay competitive, the crazy, chaotic deadlines, the pull-your-hair-out, must-have-a-freaking-cocktail-right-now pressure,” she says. “I love it all.”