Creative Collaboration with Adrienne Stevens
Jan 06, 2016 12:37PM
By Richelle Kimble
by Richelle Kimble • photography courtesy Wise Photography
"Being a leader is the most important job that I have, that anybody can have. It’s how you influence others, and it’s walking the talk and breathing it and having it be all consuming where you really care.”
Finding someone with strong ardor for all of life’s offerings creates a peculiar memory. It widens eyes, triggers momentum and fuels progress. Interacting with an individual embodying such multifarious and virtuosic skills is a rarity, and it prompts an epiphany one might not expect. Meeting Adrienne Stevens, president of Notions Marketing, is sure to create such a moment. She’s strikingly spirited and relentlessly uplifting, and it shows vividly in her accomplishments both personal and professional.
Let’s begin with the consummate skill recognition and professional successes. Stevens set four American power lifting records in her teens; and while most college freshmen spent extra time playing charades in the cafeteria, she made time to earn certification by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to become a commercial pilot and flight instructor. She has been the rare divisional woman president of a $13 billion corporation, and is now leading the world’s largest creative arts product distributor, Notions Marketing, as the corporation’s president. There’s no doubt she’s an affluent, positively astute and incredibly insightful professional. While Stevens’ personal and corporate triumphs are striking, it’s her method of mastery that those who haven’t worked with her may not realize. She’s an approachable, compassionate leader who’s inspired by risk and innovation. She utilizes cohesion and collaboration to improve both herself and others simultaneously.
Her core values mesh seamlessly with the Lantinga’s, founding family of Notions Marketing. The “can-do” company aims to be resourceful and customer-centric who prizes all contributors with upmost integrity. Stevens is proud to lead a company that impeccably meets the values presented, an often-rare feat for world-class corporations.
“…It’s each person in the business that makes sure that we’re successful. We link to each other,” Stevens said. “There’s no bureaucracy … we care about each other and support each other, and that means a lot to me.”
She passionately believes the way to succeed is by bringing out the best in others through positive interaction, personal encouragement and praise, and collaboratively creating a big picture. It’s not frequent corporation presidents are seen with “dirty” hands, but Stevens makes sure she spends time on the production floor as often as she can, for example, breaking down silos, interacting and engaging with the main workforce, and visibly witnessing production. She leads both behind the scenes and through seeable actions.
“Being a leader is the most important job that I have, that anybody can have,” she said. “It’s how you influence others, and it’s walking the talk and breathing it and having it be all-consuming where you really care.”
Being a family owned corporation means Notions Marketing operates with a family oriented approach. Stevens follows the Lantinga way, ensuring the hundreds of employees are personally engaged with the corporation’s goals. With monthly “U-Talk” meetings, company intranet with announcements and updates, quarterly meetings fit with a stage, screens and personal orchestrating, and year-round gatherings and contests, there’s always something to communicate. There’s always something to celebrate. These things, according to Stevens, are key to creating cohesion and protecting company culture.
“That’s my style—to be interactive and engaged. It’s important for me to be fair,” she said. “I’m results-oriented, so you must set people up in an environment of success and support them while also believing in self-accountability.”
Stevens and Notions Marketing makes it easy to regain trust in corporate integrity.
“Even though we are a big company, and in many times big companies lose sight of those important [unifications], they’re a part of our culture and is a part of what makes Notions Marketing a great corporation. It’s the commitment to service, to community and to giving.”
Having grown up in downtown Detroit with parents who raised her on “Lombardi time,” Stevens learned how opportunities are earned. Her successes formerly mentioned were the result of her natural passion for achievement. She’s a woman who sees a goal, and confidently takes the necessary steps to get there.
“I don’t like entitlement. That’s just not part of my psyche. I’ve always been willing to put the work in and do the right thing,” she said.
Through adolescence and for the first half of her career, aviation was the central focus of her evolving objectives. Stevens’ innate ambition combined with her talent for aviation paved an opportunity for her to capitalize on this career path that is rather unique to young women.
Stevens continued to establish skill through higher education and personal drive, including a Bachelor of Science degree from Western Michigan University in engineering technology as well as professional flying and instructing. Despite the rather swift career progress and incredible competence Stevens was developing in aerospace, she felt the need to redirect. She received disapproval from her father and others,, but pursued her interest in business; she then completed the Executive MBA program from The Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia.
“Internally, I knew there was something more for me, and I didn’t know what that was,” Stevens said. “There was this inherent desire to assume the risk to figure out what that is.” Opportunities to expand and grow with Goodrich Corporation, her then employer, became a tangible manifestation. “I took that building block of my professional flying career and I used it to help me get to the next level, which was in business,” she said.
Through her career climbing, Stevens remains the fashion-forward sports junkie she has always been. Being a mother to teenage Joely and married to Joe, her husband of 25 years, she has come as close as she can to the elusive work-life balance. She truly believes it is due to help and encouragement from those who surround her.
"I don’t like entitlement. That’s just not part of my psyche. I’ve always been willing to put the work in and do the right thing.”
Stevens was raised by supportive and encouraging parents, coached by enticing leaders, and married a man who has continued that support from day one. Joe’s successful career at Henkel mirrors her demanding lifestyle, and alongside Joely, he remains her biggest fan.
“I’ve been very fortunate in my life to have incredible influences that have shaped my perspective and helped me to become a stronger person. I couldn’t have accomplished anything without this support,” Stevens said. “Starting first with my family: My parents taught me a strong work ethic and my husband has always been my biggest champion. I had professors who took a vested interest in me, executive leadership at Goodrich and L-3 who gave me a chance, friends who build me up and now the amazing owners and people of Notions Marketing. I’ve been truly blessed.”
Professionally, Stevens is mentored at Jandernoa Entrepreneurial Mentoring (JEM) by Paul Boyer, the Vice Chairman Emeritus at Meijer. She seeks guidance for the betterment of her leadership and the corporation for which she works. “I feel like I hit the lottery by having a mentor like Paul,” she said. “JEM has been one of the most rewarding professional experiences of my career.”
Personally, she uses exercise as an outlet for stress and dedicates the morning hours when others may be sleeping to fulfill necessary personal time. She invests in herself, and that perhaps has been one of the greatest motivations in her life. Whether it’s studying weather and aerodynamics to better herself as a pilot or carving time to read about Steve Jobs, Stevens balances the duties of everyday life with personal growth and professional success.
Speaking of Steve Jobs, Stevens’ proudly displays his words in her office. If it didn’t have quote credit underneath or been part of Jobs’ legacy, one might think these words came from Stevens herself:
“Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes, the ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules and they have no respect for the status-quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things, they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.”
To learn more about Notions Marketing and to follow them as they expand and improve, visit notionsmarketing.com.
When she’s not editing for WLM and spending time with her fellow staff members, Richelle enjoys exploring, traveling, writing, reading, cooking, learning and playing. Follow her for adventure inspiration: @thekleerlife