Re-Imagineers: Mary Morgan

You left your career in the magazine publishing industry to become an entrepreneur, launching Nest New England. What was that like? Tell us some of the highs and lows of becoming a founder! Advice, please!

Well, I’m not sure I qualify as an advice-giver!  For most folks, major life transitions come after long, careful consideration and a not small dose of introspection. Mine, however, came about quite differently. My husband passed away when I was 58, and all the future plans I may have had were altered dramatically, literally overnight. As you know, I stayed in publishing for another two years, managing day-to-day demands while balancing my five-day-a-week New York life with weekends at home in Massachusetts. I knew it was time for a change. I loved the magazine business more than I can possibly describe, but change was in the air, even then, and given the realization we’ll all likely embark on new life chapters, I decided there was no reason to delay—the old “No time like the present!”  

I found the journey to be both a physical relocation and a personal metamorphosis. Having the time and space to consider the next steps, I gravitated to what I felt I knew best and enjoyed most—digging in, researching and helping brands craft stories that articulate their essence and build on that work, connecting the end-customer with authentic narratives. I was fortunate to make connections through friends and business contacts to a handful of brands operating in markets distinct from any of my prior experience, from a small manufacturing company in the Midwest to a media startup and a consumer product brand. My goal was to help them weave a tapestry that resonates—the brand ethos if you will. I loved learning about unique industries and found the process not dissimilar from strategy meetings with our magazine clients, working to create successful sales and marketing programs. I happily discovered the core tenets are the same regardless of the industry, and the work we did in branded media was uniquely translatable, the art of storytelling and connection. I can’t say I enjoyed the sole-proprietor role, what with the necessary legal docs, tax management and the like, but you just plow through and try not to let it swallow you whole.

After three years, you moved into a new role as Director of Marketing for a pet products company. What was that learning curve like as you stepped into a new industry as a client?

I was incredibly fortunate when a Nest New England client asked if I would consider a full-time role, along with the ability to work remotely. I’d already had time learning their industry, and I joined prior to the decision to expand from exclusively a B2B manufacturer to B2C as well. One definite point of clarification—I can’t imagine anyone on the manufacturing side thinking of themselves as the client. That title is reserved for retail partners. As a supplier/vendor, the wholesale distributor dynamic was certainly new to me, and I learned the varied ways those relationships are nurtured and grown for the benefit of all parties. The ability to differentiate your product offering in a commodity market is imperative, especially when price is not a usable lever. Once the consumer segment was added, ensuring the brand story went unbifurcated between segments was critical to overall success. In a very lean organization, marketing roles entail wearing many hats— customer advocate, salesman, facilitator and consensus builder. As an advocate, your goal is to function as the voice of the customer, working to align marketing strategies with customer expectations. As a salesperson, you work to promote products and drive revenue. But just as critical is the role of facilitator/consensus builder, making sure stakeholders agree on direction, language, and nuance. This affects product development, sales, and operations, aligning product features with market demands. I especially loved the ecommerce side of the business with its efficiency, reach, personalization, and adaptability, and working alongside a great digital marketing agency was an education through immersion. With a 30+ year career in traditional media, I was surprised by how rewarding I found the digital work, translating core brand attributes to the web. One of the greatest challenges is the light speed with which new platforms arrive to market, often right on the heels of you having selected an existing product to accomplish the same result. The amazing suite of tools is extraordinary.

Now you are at another major “rewire”.  As a single mother of an adult daughter who is on her own and an established artist, you have many choices as to what’s next. What is the process to get to your next life layer?

Great question. This time feels different for sure. I think you just know when the time is right, you can feel it. There’s so much wisdom in Teddy Roosevelt’s quote, “Comparison is the thief of joy,” and it really resonates with me—a reminder that happiness lies not in measuring ourselves against others but in finding fulfillment in the individual path we choose. The joy is doing work we love, with people we admire and respect. Having the ability to align work with passions brings the freedom to explore lots of interests, and if you’re in the “re-imagining” stage, you’re free to evolve beyond a predefined career trajectory. Personally, it’s the first time I’m committed to the concept of balance, something I considered unachievable earlier in my career.

Now 70, and leaving a five day a week gig, dedicating my time to work I love, in smaller doses, and adding many other things meaningful to me is the top priority. I’ve begun a course on American Government through HarvardX and the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and love it, and with the plethora of choices in remote and virtual classes, the options are limitless. I’ve also worked with an assortment of nonprofit groups in a variety of assignments. The challenge comes in deciding how to parcel out your time and achieve fulfillment. The same ambition that fueled us earlier in our careers doesn’t wane, it just morphs and expands in directions we didn’t expect. I plan on listening to my gut and making sure I never lose the ‘learner’ part of me.

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