Prior to landing a sweet gig as the head of her family’s chocolate business in 1994, Karen Flavelle worked in marketing at General Mills, Cara Operations, and Product Development Partnership.
The CEO of Purdys Chocolatier explains what it’s like to take over the family business and why she actually enjoys job interviews.
My first job was serving at a restaurant near where I lived, in high school. Of course, the ad asked for experience, and I was worried because I didn’t have any yet. My mother said, ‘Well, you’ve served food at your grandmother’s parties,’ so I used that and got the job.
My best boss was a lead consultant at a small firm in London, U.K., where I was a junior consultant. I greatly admired his intellect and the confidence that he could give clients. He was very good at coaching me as well. Even though I quickly discovered I didn’t like consulting, I enjoyed getting to know him very much.
BEST JOB INTERVIEW
When I came back from England, I targeted a number of retail companies that I thought I wanted to work for. I knew I wanted to be involved in everything a customer would experience. What I found was that when I was interviewing with the presidents of companies, that’s how they would describe their jobs. In talking to them I got to learn about the industry from insiders, and each interview helped me to ask more knowledgeable questions for the next. Of course I was excited when I actually landed a role, but I was sad because I enjoyed the process so much.
I don’t feel I’ve had any really bad bosses, but one would take a paragraph to say what could be said in a sentence, so conversations tended to be one-sided and boring. He ate up a lot of my time when I was already working long hours.
That would be convincing my father [longtime Purdys owner and current board chair Charles Flavelle] that I should take over from him and buy the company. He had discouraged us from joining the business when we were in high school, and he had said no when I asked him once before, so this was me asking him the third time. He had the right skills at the right time when he bought Purdys—he took it from being four stores and a tiny factory to 44 stores and a 57,000-square-foot factory. So for him to see me, as his daughter, as the right person for the role at the right time just amazes me.
I’ve had two wonderful mentors. One is my father. I admire his way of listening to everyone—and I mean really listening—and he managed by consensus. When I joined Purdys, I was meant to have another mentor, but I enjoyed learning from him more than anyone else. The second is Ken Hallat. Recently, I started an advisory board and Ken is the chair. He has an amazing way of making me feel comfortable asking for help and advice. Before, I would just soldier on and figure things out by myself.