2021 Women in Print and Promo: Elaine Litster, SAFEChecks
SAFEChecks, Simi Valley, Calif.
Elaine Litster loves variety. She holds degrees in interpersonal communications, economics and urban planning. University admissions counselor, private school instructor and professional musician are among some of the job titles she’s held. But there’s a unifying theme here. Litster makes choices that enrich those around her, even when she’s brainstorming check security solutions with her husband, Greg Litster, and former confidence trickster Frank Abagnale (yes, the same Frank Abagnale who inspired Steven Spielberg’s 2002 film, “Catch Me If You Can”).
One could argue that the highlight of her résumé is SAFEChecks co-owner—a role that’s earned her praise from staff for being an “outstanding and creative leader.” Ironically, print was never part of Litster’s many trades. That was more of Greg’s area, she recalled.
“Greg worked in the banking industry for 20 years, and in senior management at a Los Angeles-based bank where he was charged with reducing check fraud losses,” Litster said. “With check fraud expert Frank Abagnale, Greg developed banking products (checks and software) that significantly reduced losses ($3.2 million attempts/$400K in losses fell to $90,000 attempts/$26K in losses within three years).”
His success led the couple to acquire that business from the bank and start their own company of which Litster is the majority shareholder. “One might say I fell into this position, but starting this together with my husband, taking risks, bouncing ideas off each other, and working together has allowed for the continued success of SAFEChecks,” she said.
Litster’s responsibilities keep things exciting. In addition to having weathered two recessions, she oversees human resources, manages the billing department, weighs in on equipment investments and guides advertising directions. Owing to her diverse professional agenda, Litster has found the satisfaction most dream of in a career path—and she has no plans to stop innovating and engaging.
What Brings Her Joy Professionally and Personally
My family brings me joy (I am the oldest of 13 children.) Greg and I have five children, two grandchildren and two more on the way. It is that same sense of family that brings me joy at SAFEChecks. Our employees have become family. We have very little turnover, and we are looking to hire more in 2021. We work together and we care for each other. Knowing that each employee is concerned for the success and happiness of their coworkers makes this a successful, rewarding enterprise.
Her Proudest Career Achievement
I am probably most proud of helping start a company from scratch (knowing absolutely nothing about printing) and building it into a force in a check printing niche, exclusively focused on preventing check fraud losses. Our understanding of check printing from the banking and fraud prevention perspectives has placed us on the cutting edge of negotiable instrument printing. We have never had one of our checks replicated in 25 years.
On Working in a Traditionally Male-Dominated Industry
Ironically, being in partnership with my husband has meant we have always had a two-pronged approach to business development. If a “good ol’ boy” contact is needed, my husband will take the lead. If [a] minority, cutting-edge, woman-owned perspective is needed, I take the lead. One of the best hiring decisions I made was to hire Gina Colquhoun, who is now our production manager. She began as a press operator for Deluxe many years ago. At the time, she was always proving herself in a male-dominated environment. But she absolutely held her own at Deluxe, and because she knows the press operations so intimately, her knowledge and experience ha[ve] been invaluable to us in the order processing, printing and customer service arenas. I am still in awe of her knowledge of the presses and printing set up. She can talk shop with the best of them! And her deep knowledge has absolutely earned her the respect from our press operators, service people and many others in the industry.
Her Job Advice to Women
Education and knowledge combined with hands-on experience is invaluable. Don’t be afraid to take any job that will get your foot in the door (shipping, quality control, filing, whatever.) Taking an entry-level position and striving to do your best every day will always be parlayed into positions of greater responsibility. Every exposure is invaluable in building your career and knowledge base. Be willing to take the extra assignments, give your attention to every detail, and the opportunities to progress will present themselves.
Who Inspires Her
Maggie Kestly, a long-time resident of Simi Valley. As a young, single mom, she started working in a small clerical position. She studied nights and pushed herself to earn a variety of real estate and broker licenses. She now manages millions of square feet of commercial space, she is a highly regarded commercial broker and she is highly respected in our community. Maggie served as a Ventura County Planning commissioner (the only female on that commission) and has founded meaningful charities. Today, she regularly posts on social media thoughts about seizing the moment, appreciating every opportunity, and maintaining a positive outlook in times of uncertainty or despair. We need much more of that in our lives!
How She Motivates Team Members
People need to know how much you care before they care about what you know. Before you can motivate team members, they first need to know you truly care about them. And second, people need to know you will never ask them to do something you yourself are not willing to do.
What She Learned About Herself in 2020
I learned that I am resilient and unafraid to change directions based upon better information. I learned that I was very absorbed in my career and personal interests, and that I felt more peace and happiness as I spent more time and energy with my family and loved ones.
Her Upcoming Goals
In 2021, I want to help guide SAFEChecks through a sales growth spurt. At this moment, we are developing with Frank Abagnale a new check product that will be in very strong demand. We’re already taking steps to be effective in this growth, with marketing, staffing, equipment and product delivery.
In our Simi Valley Community, I want to be instrumental in guiding economic recovery and growth. I am an elected Simi Valley City Council Member and have opportunities to be part of decisions that will have a lasting impact upon my community.
What She Wants People to Know About Her
People that know me, know that I care. I truly want the best for others. I strive to be genuine and want others to know that I value their contributions. I make an effort to be sure others feel listened to. At the end of the day, I want to make things better for others, whether that is providing check products that keep the crooks at bay, or making decisions on the City Council dais that make my community a better and safer place to live, work and recreate.
How She Recharges
In one word: music. You may notice from my headshot that I have a harp in the background. I love playing music (I’m a professional harpist and pianist.) When I need to escape, I will sit at the piano or at my harp and play to amuse myself. Some of my most fulfilling moments have been sitting within an orchestra, or playing music at events with fellow musicians.
The Best Book She’s Recently Read
My favorite often seems to be the last book I’ve read, from self-help to high adventure. My son recently gave me “The Return” by Nicholas Sparks, and I quite enjoyed that. It’s funny though, the book I always refer to as a favorite was “The Wolves of Willoughby Chase” by Joan Aiken, which I read multiple times as a child.
Being based in California during this pandemic that has caused so much suffering, it was gratifying to be working in an area that was deemed “essential.” We continued to print checks that supported payroll and commerce. But it grieves me that not all the printing industry was deemed essential. Significantly, I believe every job is essential.
Elise Hacking Carr is editor-in-chief/content director for Print+Promo magazine.