Women in Print and Promo: Keri Soukup, O'Brien Corporation
Senior Account Specialist
O’Brien Corporation, St. Charles, Ill.
Years of experience: 9
How she got her start: I started at the ground level in the industry in high school. I cleaned my dad’s office on Sundays and would often help with fulfillment projects for various hospital clients’ pre-assembled medical charts. During my college years, I worked in the warehouse over the summers, picking and packing weekly medical form shipments to the different hospitals O’Brien Corporation serviced.
I grew up hearing all about the print industry at the dinner table, but wanted to pursue my initial dreams of being a chef. Therefore, I went to culinary school and worked as a sous-chef for two years post-culinary school. After missing nearly every holiday with my family and regularly working 65 hours a week, I decided to try out print and promotional product sales for my father’s company, O’Brien Corporation. My interview wasn’t like most others: We sat on the back deck of my dad’s house, and he asked if I was sure I really wanted to commit to the family company. My dad had followed his father’s footsteps (owner of the original O’Brien Budd), and I was proud to do the same.
I went to my first industry trade show a week before I started with O’Brien Corporation, and I knew I was hooked. I loved the idea of being able to sell so many different product lines and the opportunity to partner with such a wide variety of people.
What she loves most about the industry: My favorite thing about working in the print and promotional industry is that every day is always different and exciting. There are so many different products to learn in both print and promo, and we truly have an opportunity to make a difference for our clients. I enjoy having our weekly staff and vendor meetings, which allow the members of O’Brien Corporation to keep up with the latest advancements in the industry and, in turn, share them with our customers. Our universal goal is to service clients with program-driven solutions, rather than selling on an order-by-order basis, and that can’t happen without staying on top of what is trending. We rely heavily on our preferred vendor partners to keep us up to speed. With such a vast array of products and so many fantastic manufacturer partners in our industry, there is always something new to learn and subsequently share with our clients.
An average day: I wake up and get on the treadmill most days of the week before my husband and son wake up. I try to set my mind during that “me” time to do something great that day. I make goals each morning to do something good for my customers, good for my family and good for myself. When I arrive at the office or step into my first meeting of the day, I am caught up with emails and then try to focus on checking in with colleagues or customers. I keep a running to-do list and project status on my white board and review that daily. I try to make time outside of the daily tasks of taking orders and researching ideas to work on our internal business plans, reaching out to existing customers, and prospecting new client opportunities. My brother, Devin O’Brien, and I are in a succession plan to take over the company in the next couple of years. We meet with our director of operations, Tracy Freeman, for an organizational “pulse check” every Monday morning to make sure we are staying on track of open projects and continuing to push forward on our business goals.
Her proudest career achievements: When I began handling our top account, I felt a great sense of pride and accomplishment. The trust that was bestowed upon me to handle over a million dollars in business with one account really left a mark in my career as a top moment. Joining the Chicago Metro AHRMM (Association of Healthcare Resource and Materials Management) Board is another great joy in my career. Balancing my career and motherhood also is something I consider an accomplishment every day.
On working in a traditionally male-dominated industry: I had experience in dealing with a male-dominated industry from my days as a chef in an all-male kitchen. The print and promo industry isn’t as male-dominated in my experience as cooking, but I have still certainly felt the impact of being the only woman in large groups of men quite often. When I shadowed other male sales reps to meet with male clients, there were often conversations in which I was not included. Often, those conversations were about golf, as that seems to be the popular pastime for many of our clients. In the same way that women can get together and dominate a conversation, men can do it as well, so I learned that you just need to jump in where appropriate and make a mark. Male or female, we all get to know each other by talking about things we enjoy and relate to, and learning to play golf certainly hasn’t hurt my conversational efforts.
Her job advice to women: My advice to anyone starting out is to not be intimidated by this industry. Learn as much as you can from others in the industry, don’t be afraid to ask questions and always be available for your customers. While there is a lot of education and training available, a good part of your knowledge will be gained by partnering with great vendors and by simply listening to the needs of your clients and doing everything in your power to offer the best solutions.
Who she turns to for career advice: I have such a great support system when it comes to my career. I have my dad, Brian O’Brien, to go to for questions from a business owner’s perspective. He started working in the print industry when he was 17 years old, so I truly value his experience. I have my brother, Devin, to look to when making decisions for the future of our company. Devin and I always try to support each other with honest advice when we need a voice of reason. We have a team of loyal, hardworking and very talented individuals who support me through the entire sales process. I attribute most of my career success to this fantastic team.
When she’s off the clock: I love to cook. I enjoy making new dishes, especially focusing on using fresh, local and healthy ingredients. I like yoga, but it often leaves me feeling uncoordinated. I am a lifelong Chicago Cubs and Green Bay Packers fan, so it has been a great year for me on the sports watching front. In those rare moments when I get a little downtime, I have been known to enjoy sneaking in an hour or two of TV that doesn’t include cartoon characters. I attend a monthly book and wine club, and I’m better at participating in one of those purposes than the other. However, my favorite moments are spent with my husband, Nick, and my son, Hunter (4), as well as our family and friends. We like to take hikes in different forest preserves and just be outside as much as possible.
(The following profile appeared in Print+Promo’s “These Women Mean Business” cover story in the May 2017 issue.)
Elise Hacking Carr is editor-in-chief/content director for Print+Promo magazine.