As part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Robin Holland, COO of Purchasing Power.
Over her 20+ year career, Robin has developed and taught many consumer education workshops on financial literacy and credit. She also served as past president of the Atlanta Better Business Bureau and is a former member of the Georgia Consortium for Financial Literacy. At Purchasing Power, a voluntary benefit provider of an employee purchase program that enables workers to buy brand name products and services via payroll deduction, she is responsible for leading the company’s consumer and client operations, supply chain and customer care. Robin has also held leadership roles at Equifax and Mitsubishi Electronics.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
After graduating from college, I was accepted to law school but could not afford to go. I decided to work a few years first to earn the money and began a sales and customer service job. The corporate environment turned out to be a great fit for me. I found that I really enjoyed interacting with people, so that became my new career path that took me to leadership roles with Mitsubishi Electronics and then Equifax before I joined Purchasing Power this year.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
At my first job, my boss worked in a different state. I had spoken with him on the phone during the interview process, but we had not met in person. He came to visit three months later and arrived with an older gentleman from his office — who I wrongly assumed was my boss. When I approached the older man with effusive enthusiasm about meeting him and showing him my work, both of them thankfully started laughing and good-naturedly pointed out my error. My takeaway was to never assume anything, particularly when it comes to bosses. Looking back, it was a learning experience for a 21-year-old. In my naiveté and lack of corporate experience, I made a bad assumption that the more mature looking gentleman was my boss or the person in charge. I learned from that mistake, and more importantly it taught me that one should never assume.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
The book Servant Leadership by Robert K. Greenleaf reinforced that it isn’t about ME, it is about the people I lead. Without them, I would not be successful. I also enjoyed Marshall Goldsmith’s book What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. I have witnessed people reach a certain tenure in their career and then stop learning. In a knowledge economy, you have to focus on continuous learning and enhancing your skill set. Otherwise you run the risk of becoming stagnant or stuck in the same job for years, unable to progress.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. What is your company’s vision, purpose?
At Purchasing Power, our mission is to bring much-needed financial flexibility to hardworking employees. We strive to be the responsible alternative when cash and credit are not viable options. Our goal is to financially strengthen employees, afford them peace of mind, foster responsibility and help increase their engagement and productivity within their organization. We believe that having financial flexibility empowers people, particularly in challenging times.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
I have lost some very close family members to cancer over the years, so a key principle I keep in mind is that we are not curing cancer here. It is important to keep things in perspective through the good times and the bad. Perfection doesn’t exist, and mistakes happen that may cause a deal to be lost, or sometimes the competition prevails through no fault of your own. If I know that our team gave our best and did everything they could to win, I can push past the disappointment and remember that I am not curing cancer. I learn from it and move on, recognizing that “this too shall pass.” And when we win deals or achieve business objectives, it is also important to celebrate the win and the team.
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
Eldercare has been hard in this time of quarantining. I am responsible for my dad, who lives on the opposite side of the country from me. Not being able to be with him and check on him like I usually do has been hard, but I am thankful for the friends and family members who can help. This pandemic has enforced my feelings of gratitude for the “village” I can lean on and a heightened awareness that there are those less fortunate than me who may not have a village to lean on, or money for the extra things that come up during crisis times like these.
Can you share a few of the biggest work related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
When teams are working from home, every piece of time must be scheduled. In the past, you might have chatted with a colleague in the cafeteria or stopped by their work area (assuming they worked in the office) for a 10-minute conversation about a project. But now if you want to talk with someone or run an idea by them, you have to get on their calendar. I believe the impromptu creativity and exchange of ideas that occurred pre-COVID are more difficult now, but certainly video calls have been a big help in that regard. At Purchasing Power, all of our leaders have done a fantastic job of promoting camaraderie on their teams through video chats. In addition to conducting business via video, they play games, show off hidden talents and encourage sharing hobbies and interests. In some ways, going through these uncharted waters together has brought out a new level of trust, understanding and creativity among co-workers.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
I have told family and close friends that the secret to staying positive during this time is to focus on what you can control and minimize “sound bite” television. When you focus on what you can control and take action on those things, it gives you a sense of peace and positivity. It also reinforces that you control your life, not others.
Obviously we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?
As businesses re-open and a “new normal” begins, employers have many challenges and opportunities to consider around employee physical health and well-being. Another critical piece I would urge them to address is their employees’ financial health and recovery, because financial stress can impact an employees’ health and well-being. Prior to the pandemic, most workers already were financially stressed, and the impact of COVID-19 on employees’ financial well-being has been unprecedented.
When workers are struggling with paying for unexpected expenses in addition to basic household expenses and managing creditors, it can be tempting to choose short-term financial decisions that make matters worse, such as payday lenders with triple-digit interest rates. Employees desperately need guidance with their financial situations right now. Some forward-thinking companies have financial counseling benefits already in place. Those who do not might consider bringing in such services, even on a temporary basis.
Employers also can help by offering additional voluntary benefits or increasing communication about benefits that already are part of their overall benefits program. Employee purchase programs that allow workers to purchase consumer products and services through payroll deduction, low interest installment loans and credit, student loan repayment and automated bill payment programs are all examples of voluntary benefits that can give employees alternatives to unavailable or unaffordable financing options.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
Going forward, I think we may all have a deeper appreciation for human connection. As the pace of life has slowed a bit, I hope we have learned to pause more often and take time to think about how we can help our fellow man and woman. I know my immediate family made some new connections and created some traditions that we have committed to continue. For instance, playing board games together when we were sheltering in place. Trying a new recipe on a weekly basis for dinner was a simple, fun way to entertain ourselves that we normally did not find time for when we were rushing around in our pre-pandemic busy lives.
I also think many people will begin to reconsider their budgets and start to see their wants and needs through this new post-pandemic lens. Part of the financial literacy training that I have developed and led over my career teaches people to write down everything they spend money on each week and recognize that some of those expenditures are a choice rather than a necessity. I recommend finding small ways to cut out unnecessary spending, such as making coffee at home most days but continuing to treat yourself occasionally with the gourmet coffee you love. There is a time and a place for treats! On the other hand, it’s interesting to note that with all of the retail closures and quarantining that has happened in the past months, some people have a little more money in the bank because they’re not shopping as much. Whether it’s learning not to buy stuff we don’t truly need or finding low and no-cost ways to entertain our family like playing board games, we can all learn from this experience and manage our money better for the next rainy day.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?
Our CEO, Trey Loughran, sent out a company-wide message recently that spoke beautifully to how businesses can overcome challenges and continue growing by working together and embracing our differences. He said that when we share love and support each other, difficult times like this can reveal the best of who we are. Purchasing Power has a very diverse workforce in terms of race, gender, sexual orientation and socio-economics. The culture supports cooperation and respect, and it’s that teamwork that enables us to solve problems. That’s what I’m going to keep in mind each day as we continue on our mission. We are stronger together. Teamwork was important pre-COVID, and it is even more important now.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
Focusing on the employees and their safe return to work and the “new normal” is paramount. There will be a need to address the company culture and what teamwork looks like in what may be an increasingly remote environment. As I mentioned before, I also urge employers to consider their employees’ financial well-being along with everything else.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My parents taught me that it’s not how much you make but what you do with it that counts. It may be tempting to think that someone who lives in a big house and has multiple nice cars has a lot of money, but all we know for sure is that they spent a lot of money to obtain those things. To help us learn the importance of budgets and saving, my parents had my siblings and me take turns writing checks each month to pay the bills. They also taught us the difference between wants and needs. If you are always spending more on your wants and desires versus your needs, then there is high probability that you will carry a lot of debt or have less savings. That experience instilled my passion to help educate others about their finances. Maya Angelou said that “when we know better, we do better.” Many people didn’t grow up learning financial literacy from their parents or in school like I did, but it’s never too late to learn.
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