Prominent females speak on campus


Natalie Tyler

Left to Right: Speakers Jennifer Smith and Amy Langer answer questions after a Women’s Excellence in Entrepreneurship and Leadership presentation hosted by the Winona State College of Business on Thursday, Nov. 1 in Science Laboratory Center 120.

Erin Jones, Copy Editor

Winona State University’s College of Business hosted two speakers, Jennifer Smith and Amy L. Langer, for a Women’s Excellence in Entrepreneurship and Leadership presentation on Thursday, Nov. 1 in Stark Hall 103.

During the presentation, Smith, the founder and CEO of Innovative Office Solutions, and Langer, a co-founder and managing partner of Salo LLC., talked to students, faculty and staff about their companies and how they got to where they are today.

Langer spoke about her journey first, which started after she got her degree in accounting at Michigan State University and her first job at Klynveld, Peat, Marwick and Goerdeler (KPMG).

“I loved working for KPMG a ton,” Langer said. “I just loved the values of the organization. They cared a ton about education and the relationships that they built not only with their alumni, but also into the business community and the things that they do.”

Langer’s journey to leadership continued when she took her Certified Public Accountant Exam (CPA), which she failed on her first and second attempts.

But after her third take of the exam, Langer passed and decided she wanted to try something new.

“I went to an organization that does more temporary staffing and I was in sales for the first time,” Langer said. “The work was fast and furious, I did very well and I ended up in a national director role at the age of 25 and it was like nothing I’ve ever experienced before.”

Though Langer loved her work and the opportunities it gave to her, she still felt the company did not align with her personal values.

Langer said that because of the way the organization responded to the 9/11 attacks, she gave her notice the next day.

“Some people say, ‘How did Salo get created?’ Salo was really created as a place where I could do the work that I love and have the values that align with how I feel personally,” Langer said.

In 2002, Langer and her co-founder developed Salo LLC., with the goal of building strong relationships and valuing those over business transactions.

“Our vision [is] to create these meaningful experiences and for us a meaningful experience is when a business has a need, but we’re also expanding people’s careers,” Langer said. “A lot of times for us it is the employee who matters first.”

Langer said her company’s values finally match her own.

One of those values is drive and determination.

Langer’s company tested its values and defined determined as “inherent ambition to achieve” and asked Salo employees if they live by that definition.

“Our employees said, ‘We don’t do [what we do] to achieve. That’s not why we exist. We do [what we do] because we want the best outcome for our employees, we want the best outcome for our clients.’ And so that’s how much these values matter to us,” Langer said.      

Smith spoke about her success next. Like Langer, she emphasized to students the importance of aligning personal values with one’s career, but also the importance of working for a company with purpose.

“When you’re doing your research, you really do want to align your values with the company that you’re working for and [also] a purpose is really important,” Smith said.

Smith, who double majored in business management and psychology in college, has had three other companies, but started Innovative Office Solutions in 2001.

However, it was back in college when she realized her entrepreneurial spirit.

“When I was a freshman in college, everyone I knew was going on spring break to Cancun,” Smith said. “I had absolutely no money and I was like, ‘How am I going to get to Cancun? And if I do get to Cancun, I’m going to need to get a tan before I go.’”

Despite not knowing how she was going to get to Mexico, Smith went to the tanning salon anyway.

“I walked into the tanning salon and there’s a sign and it said, ‘Rent this tanning bed for a week, only need a deposit of $100,” Smith said.

Smith said she paid the deposit and had the tanning bed delivered to her dorm room. She ended up earning enough money for herself and her friends to take their spring break trip to Mexico.

“I paid for three people to go to Cancun, I had so much spending money it was insane, and I never got caught, so it was awesome,” Smith said. “That was the start of knowing that I was an entrepreneur at heart.”

Smith said that though she recognized her business-oriented spirit early on, her values developed throughout her career.

“One of my guiding principles is relationships matter,” Smith said. “Relationships have helped in good times, in bad times and in whatever business I’m in and so it’s one of our guiding principles today at Innovative.”

Smith added that strong relationships in business are not only crucial with customers, but with employees and vendors as well.

Smith also emphasized the importance of values. She said companies often hire and fire based on one’s values.

One of Smith’s favorite values is to inspire smiles, especially when hiring company drivers.

“[Drivers are] kind of the face of the brand and the company and they see my customers every single day. We were having a little trouble getting the right kind of drivers,” Smith said. “Once we changed our motto and we hired to our core values we do the normal hiring process and then we ask, ‘Do you remember the last time you inspired smiles?’”

Since her company started asking that question, Smith said its made the hiring process easier.

“We have a retention rate in the high 90s now in that whole department since we changed that one question,” Smith said.

In addition to the speaker presentation, a break-out session with Langer and Smith was held afterward in Somsen Hall’s Engagement Center.

McKenzie Koepp, a junior marketing major, helped host the speakers and attended both events.

Koepp talked about what she learned about leadership and entrepreneurship during both portions of the event.

“A lot of people asked about entrepreneurship and about if you’re going to do a business or if you have an idea and just running with it,” Koepp said. “I think it was Jennifer [Smith] who gave the example of the tanning bed and I think that actually resonated with a lot of people and the idea of that [entrepreneurial] spirit and putting your passion toward it and learning to let it grow.”