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Blending vs. Juggling

Last week I attended a women's networking luncheon, in support of JUF (the Jewish United Fund), and the guest speaker was one of the most inspirational women I've ever had the pleasure of meeting. Laurie Ann Goldman is the CEO of Spanx, but she's also a wife and mom of three boys. Yep, she runs a $350 million-dollar company that she grew exponentially in just eight years, while running a household in Atlanta, where Spanx is based.

It got me thinking about "the juggle" I write about so much. Or, rather, my struggle with the juggle. Frankly, it also got me thinking about the jiggle – please tell me you’ve heard of Spanx? Best undergarment invention EVER. They even make Mama Spanx for pregnant women, by the way – and they’re surprisingly comfortable (there's a lot of extra material for that growing belly). Did you know that Spanx only had one product when it launched in 2000, and now it has more than 200 products in 23 countries, and only 100 employees working there? Much of their success is because of Goldman.

Clearly the company's success far outweighs its size. And it's not like Spanx needed to do much in the way of advertising, especially with the caliber of its celebrity clientele. What really grabbed me about Goldman though, is A) how sharp she is – I love strong, smart women who don't feel they need to sacrifice their girliness to make it in the business world. She's feminine and headstrong. B) She epitomizes everything I aspire to be: Every bit as happy in my home life as I am successful in my career. (Success being relative, obviously.) And C) Goldman had an impressive 10-year run at the Coca-Cola Company before joining Spanx, as the leader of its worldwide licensing division. A job where she worked with mostly men (um, hello) that also required a ton of global travel, often taking her on trips away from her family. She had three kids while she worked at Coke, yet never put a single picture of them on her desk at work, nor did she ever talk about carpool with her co-workers, or dirty diapers for that matter. There wasn't a place for it in her formerly male-dominated company, so she did what any strong-minded woman would: She quit to spend more time with her family...with no other job opportunities in sight at the time.

But, she knew she had to do something with her insatiable drive. So when she was approached by the COO of Spanx, while shopping for fishnet Spanx in the hosiery department of Saks, to come on as CEO – she couldn't say no to the opportunity. As the story goes, she was complaining to the sales associate about how she couldn’t find the fishnet Spanx in her size; Goldman went off about how they could really use someone to help with product replenishment (after Oprah's early endorsement, they had a hard time keeping Spanx on store shelves). That's what the COO overheard, prompting him to approach Goldman, and eventually offering her the job of CEO…and the rest is history.

Talk about being in the right place at the right time. What also impressed me about Goldman was the brave decision she made to walk away from her highly lucrative job at Coca-Cola, with no other job on the horizon. She spoke of an epiphany she had at the airport, upon leaving for yet another business trip while she was pregnant with her third child – she had forgotten her passport, so her husband had to fetch it for her and bring it to the airport, with their two young kids in tow. As she sees them running through the airport to catch her before her flight, she had one of those life-changing moments where suddenly you see things from the outside looking in; it was then that she knew she had to leave her job, a job she loved. She was running at such a fast pace, and spending too much time away from her family. So she quit. Just like that.

Granted, it's a lot easier to make a decision like that when you can afford to quit your job. But it was a tough decision, I'm sure, nonetheless.

At lunch last week, Goldman also talked about the juggle – or, rather, the blend. She doesn't believe in balance; she believes you have to blend your lives and interests, because if you try balancing them you're going to eventually tip over when things become imbalanced. She also talked about how Spanx, as a company, encourages personal lives outside of work. She makes all her employees agree to this idea of blending – she wants everyone to work their schedules around their family’s needs. For example, if anyone on her staff needs to drive carpool one morning, Goldman expects them to manipulate their work schedule to make that possible. Last year alone, there were seven babies born to Spanxters (Spanx employees) within two months of each other. And the founder, Sara Blakely, recently became a mom too.

Though Playboy is male dominated, and I've talked a bit about how hard my work schedule is sometimes with a new baby at home – my bosses at Playboy have been incredibly supportive and understanding, especially last week when Preston had the stomach flu and I had to take a little time off and miss some important meetings. Similarly, when I was pregnant last year, my boss told me I could work from home if I had to, whatever would make me more comfortable as I got closer to the delivery date. I didn't really take him up on the offer (I'm a bit of a workaholic myself) but I appreciated it nonetheless. Overall, as much as the hours can be hard at times, I have it pretty damn good here.

Does your company allow a flexible work schedule? Do you have a CEO like Goldman, who encourages family and personal lives outside of work? I'd also love to know: Were you able to go part-time when you became a mom, and under what terms (20 percent pay cut, etc.)? And how did you broach the topic with your boss, knowing that just merely bringing it up could possibly backfire?