2023 Women in Print and Promo: Jodie Schillinger, MAS, Maple Ridge Farms
JODIE SCHILLINGER, MAS
Executive Vice President
Maple Ridge Farms, Mosinee, Wisconsin
On the surface, Jodie Schillinger presents as a confident, ambitious woman. In fact, her nominator praises her ability to “challenge herself and others to go beyond their comfort zone both professionally and personally.” It’s her mission to make Maple Ridge Farms the industry’s premier gourmet gift company serving the promotional products industry. She’s doing it, but “scared as hell,” as she told Bobby Lehew, chief content officer at commonsku, in a SKUCON 2022 interview.
From a young age, Schillinger believed the world was a magical place. Though her family was poor, she and her four siblings were rich in laughter and imagination. When she entered fifth grade, the magic dulled. Her parents divorced, and Virginia Lemmer, her mother who Schillinger describes as a strong, feminist disinterested in excuses, moved her children to a rental unit above an old strip joint.
As Schillinger tells it, all five kids shared bath water twice a week that had to be boiled because the water wasn’t hot enough. She wore the same “magnificent” Crayola white button-up shirt twice a week. And her glaring red ticket tipped off her classmates that she qualified for free lunch on Tuesdays. Schillinger felt “embarrassed, ashamed, and, most of all, uncomfortable,” she says. Other kids had a two-parent household, clean clothes every day, and money for lunches. What made her different, she wondered.
Schillinger longed for the comfort of following as a way to ignore the discomfort of feeling like an outcast. By now the magic within herself was gone, until she realized the trade-off for constant comfort was zero growth. During this time, Schillinger’s mom went back to school to gain her base skills and find employment. She worked with Tom Riordan, founder of Maple Ridge Farms, and Schillinger happily tagged along as a cleaner. After moving six times over a three-year period, Lemmer’s job enabled her to purchase the family’s perfect home.
Schillinger recalls being in awe of the unique, niche products Lemmer would bring back from industry trade shows. She even got to attend an end-buyer show in high school. “I remember smiling at [my mom] … because I saw this beautiful, confident woman coming out of her, as she refined this new skill set of Queendom within herself,” Schillinger says. “For me, the promo industry was a new way to look at merch and branding as a means of communicating with the rest of the world.”
In late high school, Schillinger took on extra responsibilities, like helping in the art department and being a receptionist. She attended college, while working in sales, and remembers her mom being tough on her in “a fantastic way.”
She paused her education and moved to Washington state for a year to hike and drink coffee, working odd jobs here and there. She returned to Wisconsin (with a couple of new piercings) and requested a meeting with Riordan. She shared her vision for the company culture, along with her personal dream of changing the world, and not much later than that conversation, directly worked for him. Riordan was traveling a lot, which meant Schillinger learned many aspects of the company, filtering the work he needed done. Fast forward a bit, and Schillinger found herself as a customer service manager, office manager, team trainer, and, in 2018, executive vice president — all at Maple Ridge Farms.
Her magic is back. It’s in seeing the unseen goals; other times, it’s in hearing the needs expressed by customers. Most of all, it’s in raising her two children.
Today, she has a new perspective about her upbringing that, she says, shaped her as a person and her approach to life. “Our lives were real, filled with joy, love, and pain,” she beams with pride.
Her Proudest Career Achievement
My day feels complete when I see someone on my team grow — when you can see that team member bloom. It is more like seeing that vibe shift in their eyes and their confidence when they learn how to swim on their own. I love watching it happen! I feel a sense of achievement when a customer says that they have connected with their customers, through the power of #FoodGiftLove. I am lit from within, and my sun rises when I am able to participate in moments where others evolve and flourish.
How Failure Taught Her Resiliency
Oh goodness, I fail daily. (At least in the sense that most people recognize the word “fail.”) The word "fail" is a tough one for me. I never really embraced the word "failure.” In his book, “The Rose That Grew from Concrete,” Tupac Shakur shared, “I never lose, I either win or I learn.”
Although I never used to embrace failure, I understand not meeting a goal, budget, timeline, etc. These are all opportunities to first, quickly stop the bleeding, then, evaluate where we must seek improvement, and communicate transformation from there. One example is learning macro photography. I am a determined learner — even a little bullish in a way. I try continuously to learn this camera, the lens, the settings, the light, and the subject. Each time I think I have the process nailed, I look at the photos, shake my head, and laugh a little. I enjoy gaining new perspectives in this learning process. Grit, gratitude, and compassion are all I know now. I love the balance of these scales. They are my compass, and they guide me to rise, each time, every time.
Her Most Significant Barrier as a Female Leader
I once asked a woman to mentor me. She was the chief operating officer of one the largest banks in our region. I was sweating with fear and excitement simultaneously. She smiled and said “yes.” She shared with me that as women, many times we believe that we are not ready for the next step, so we simply do not try. She challenged me to always step forward and not ask myself if I am ready.
As I continue to share stories here, I believe I am extremely fortunate to have had so very many profound people enter my life and provide their authentic perspective to me. I try to continue to grow humble, and yet, sometimes, like all humans, my ego gets in the way. Many people that I encounter are beautiful souls that remain authentic to a growth mindset for humanity, not just themselves. Humility can be our barrier or our strength. It is up to us to know when to lead with it, which is why I genuinely believe that we are our own barriers. We agree with society norms by living our lives, within these judgements, because of fear or the desire to remain comfortable. Comfortable is easy — I was in a warm, snuggly blanket this morning before I pushed myself out of bed to hit the elliptical. When we get too comfortable, we cease growth within ourselves. When we stop growing, we are essentially dying. This lack of a growth mindset can be lethal, as we then essentially halt the growth of our people, our teams, communities, and humanity.
How She Thinks Companies Can Attract and Retain Female Talent
We are in the creative industry. In the past five years, we have gotten extremely creative with our hiring processes, packages, approaches, and how we invite and retain some of our team members. “Empower” is not just a word that is handed to an employee; it is something that a leader must feel and bleed from their core. Empowerment is not static, it is a movement.
Her Job Advice to Women
Be genuinely, authentically you, and embrace it. Confidence in our own worth can lift and build an entire community of strong women. Grab your lipstick, pour yourself an exquisite bourbon, and take your space.
Her Upcoming Goals
Professionally, I desire to execute all five goals that our leadership team strategized to achieve in developing and building an infrastructure of sustainable growth for our employees, customers, and our community. Personally, I’d like to bake more for the celebration group that I had previously baked for. To hike the Porcupine Mountains in Wisconsin and backcountry camp at Lake of the Clouds. To figure out that damned macro lens. To tackle disciplining myself to dedicate more time in developing my writing to support my blog and selling some of my macro photography. To write intentional letters of gratitude to those who have impacted me.
How She Recharges
Over the past year, I have created several small daily habits as gifts to myself. These are wonderful moments for just me to vibe with coffee, a book, reading, writing, planning a new travel opportunity, and listening to new music. However, recharging requires some form of exercise with a deep breath of awareness (dance, hike, walk, elliptical, lift weights, floor workout — however I can move energy throughout my body). Exercise is almost as thoughtless as mowing or vacuuming. I can approach it with deep passion and precision without thinking, because I know the movements and how to achieve maximum performance. It is a mind dump and feels delightful. Next, would be to smile and connect with loved ones.