The Colgate Scene
November 2003

People on the go

Diane Danielson '89
[Photo by Josh Reynolds]
Desk diners no more

"Women and men do business differently," Diane Danielson '89 said to herself a few years back. "Why should we network the same way?"

Many women dislike networking, Danielson said, citing that it is a competitive arena they do not understand, have time for, or know how to begin doing, nor do they like the idea of self-promotion -- that it sounds too "sales-like."

But Danielson knew that a lack of networking stifled a woman's business and career plans. In the dog-eat-dog world of business, how could women successfully hold their own?

Instead of perusing books for answers to her questions, Danielson took matters into her own hands. She wrote Table Talk: The Savvy Girl's Alternative to Networking.

An English major at Colgate, Danielson attended Boston College Law School after graduation. After three years of practicing law, Danielson realized she was more intrigued by the fundamentals of running a business than their legal troubles. She also realized she missed writing. She eventually switched to a career in marketing, where she could combine her interests in writing and business.

It was as vice president of business development at Spaulding and Slye Colliers in Boston that she witnessed women's inability to network as effectively as men. In response, Danielson and six other women launched the Downtown Women's Club (DWC) in Boston in 1998, a social group of professional women who could talk business and network in a low-key environment. New DWC chapters have since opened in various cities.

Danielson, who is president of DWC Services Inc., a business development consulting firm in Boston, did not stop with the creation of DWC. She took a hiatus from the business world and channeled her energy into Table Talk. For Danielson, the book was an opportunity to focus on her writing, as well as encourage businesswomen to "break through their glass ceilings" and excel in the business world.

"You are not competing on equal grounds if you aren't getting vital information," said Danielson.

In Table Talk, Danielson and co-author Rachel Solar-Tuttle sought to depart from the traditional, more masculine aggressive style of networking and explore the alternatives. Danielson and Solar-Tuttle urge women to think of the business world as an ongoing dinner party, where socializing, building relationships, and networking happen at a friendlier level. Without this sense of competition, Danielson believes women can overcome their aversion to networking.

The core of networking, Danielson explains, is interaction, conversation, and the liberal exchange of ideas. Refined gossip at its best. "Table talk," Danielson explained, is "the mutual sharing of information and support through collaboration. [With networking], building relationships and achieving personal and professional goals gets comfortable" and thus more appealing to women.

Danielson explains that networking becomes fun by "tailoring it to activities and people you enjoy." She suggests developing a strategy: having a clear view of professional and personal goals, using the "dinner party" formula and cultivating meaningful relationships that will ensure networking success. Instead of spending lunchtime at one's desk (being a "desk diner") Danielson suggests using that time to "table talk" and share ideas with colleagues. Danielson also encourages women to look at friends and family as possible business connections, not just as dinner companions. Forming "buzz clubs," or small groups who meet regularly to impart business advice and support, is another way to creatively network.

Danielson and Solar-Tuttle are currently working on a second book geared for lawyers titled Bar Talk: The Savvy Attorney's Guide to Networking and Rainmaking. Other books will likely follow. Danielson is also trying to syndicate a column about her work and her life, which is found on her website (www.TableTalkBooks. com). She is considering compiling those for another book.

"Make yourself visible and your aspirations known by unburying yourself from the task at hand and getting out from behind your desk once in a while," Danielson writes. "If your head is always buried in your work, you'll never learn or communicate vital information. By hiding behind her computer, the desk diner gains no quality time with colleagues, clients, or bosses, and misses out on key insights that may eventually crack her glass ceiling. So, desk diner, we beg you: Stand up, wipe the crumbs off your pants, and get thee to a table, stat!" — Jess Buchsbaum '03

Not your average salesman

Will Keller '84 may seem like an average businessman: he sells a mélange of products, from fruitcakes and marinades to books, soaps, even a habanero hot sauce that's "as hot as anything." His clientele span the country. So do his manufacturers.

But Monastery Greetings, his Cleveland Heights, Ohio-based business, isn't typical, nor is the unpresumptuous Keller. Monastery Greetings is the only mail-order catalog of products made by relig-ious communities, monasteries, and hermitages from around the world.

Keller majored in both art history and philosophy and religion. Though he did not grow up in a religious environment, his course of study in the Chenango Valley "started [me] on the path of spiritual exploration," said Keller, who particularly mentioned classes with John Ross Carter, Peter Ochs, and Don and Wanda Warren Berry.

"Courses like Carter's bridged the gap between the academic and the practical. One of the earliest connections I had with monastic spirituality was with the monks that he brought to class," Keller said.

After graduation, Keller worked in Boston for six years and managed several different divinity school bookstores. He discovered that many monasteries, hermitages, and religious communities manufactured a variety of products, and had the idea to catalog the goods and sell them to the public. Though he moved to Cleveland to pursue a graduate degree in business, that notion of selling monastery products never left him. He began researching his idea and discovered that his catalog would be the only one of its kind.

Monastery Greetings went from concept to fruition in 1999, when Keller circulated a small, 32-page catalog containing a hodgepodge of different food and gift items made by monks. Word-of-mouth helped the business grow.

Many religious communities live according to a rule that maintains they must make only enough money to live. The communities are not interested in making a profit off of their goods. But there are many expenses, such as health insurance and maintenance of the buildings. Selling their goods is a means of breaking even.

Keller's business, which is also online, now sells more than 300 items from nearly 50 different religious communities from around the world through a 96-page catalog. About half of sales are from food, including a popular line of preserves from Trappist monks in Massachusetts, nine different kinds of fruitcakes ("There's a huge fruitcake loving audience out there!"), and a new line of dressings and marinades. The other half of sales comes from items including compact discs, natural soap and body care products, icons, incense, books by popular monastic authors, and Christmas cards.

Aside from Keller, Monastery Greetings has two full-time employees and one part-timer who help him manage a 1,000-square-foot warehouse. Keller runs the marketing and accounting ends of the business out of his home office. Order entry and packing occur in the warehouse.

Keller converses with each community via phone and e-mail to project the season's needs and sales. He typically visits one community per year.

"I work with the communities to anticipate demand," he said. "Many haven't sold [their products] wholesale or nationally. I walk them through the process to help educate them. You have to understand where they are coming from. You have to have what I call a pastoral touch."

Monastery Greetings is on a steady upward trajectory. Keller continues to research products from other religious communities. He is hoping to expand his product line to include cheese, bread, and Belgian ale.

"The communities are facing a lot of challenges. Very few people are joining monasteries. At the same time, the populations are getting older. It'll be interesting to see how they will cope with the change and that will, in a sense, determine the course of my business," said Keller. — Jess Buchsbaum '03

Xan Parker
[Photo by Darryl Bautista]
The privileged one

A chance meeting with a childhood friend a few years ago proved to be crucial to the creation of Xan Parker's first film.

As Parker, a 1992 Colgate graduate, walked out of a Manhattan subway station, she bumped into Elizabeth Holder, whom she has known since she was in first grade.

"I literally walked out of the subway stop and banged right into her," Parker said. "There was Elizabeth, and she looked exactly like she did in fifth grade."

The two old friends promised to stay in contact with each other, and some time later Holder called Parker to share an idea she had.

"She said, `I just met this amazing woman. You're working in documentaries; do you think this could be a film?'" Parker recalled.

The woman Holder met was floor trader Louise Jones, who was a particularly compelling subject, said Parker, because of her experiences away from Wall Street.

"When she was 23, she learned she had been adopted. When she finally asked her adoptive parents to tell her the truth about how they adopted her, they told her she had been abandoned in a phone booth at 88th and Columbus when she was two days old," said Parker. "So, she comes from nowhere, and her parents raised her in the projects. At age 17, she graduated from high school and talked her way into a job down in the financial district. After working at a string of jobs, she eventually became president of her own firm and got a seat on the New York Stock Exchange."

Parker and Holder decided to form their own production company, Roland Park Pictures, and their first film, Risk/Reward, debuted earlier this year. Risk/Reward chronicles four women -- a research analyst, a foreign exchange sales trader, a floor trader, and an MBA student who hopes to become an investment banker -- in the frenetic, high-pressure, and overwhelmingly male-dominated world of high finance on Wall Street.

"Wall Street is a place where women have not been welcome because it's all about money, power, wealth, success, and competition," she said. "These are not things we usually associate with femininity, so if women are there they have to really want to be there."

The English major began thinking about a film career during her junior year.

"Someone advised me that I needed to be in a career where I could be creative, and one of the things they suggested was filmmaking," said Parker. "I just thought films fell out of the sky at that point. I never really thought about how they are made."

After a brief stint as an assistant producer for Maryland Public Television after graduation, the Baltimore native moved to New York City to work in an advertising agency's production department. After a few months, Parker landed a job as a production assistant at Maysles Films, a production company founded by the renowned documentary filmmakers Albert and David Maysles, whose films include Gimme Shelter, Salesman, Grey Gardens, and the Academy Award-nominated Lalee's Kin: The Legacy of Cotton.

"Working for the Maysles is what I did instead of going to film school," she said. "That's where I learned about documentaries, how to make them, and how to run a business making them."

During her time at Maysles, Parker said her primary influence was Susan Froemke, who directed Lalee's Kin.

"She [Froemke] just figures it out," said Parker. "She's so attuned to dealing with real people and their stories. I dream of one day having that level of experience to work from."

After serving as associate producer of Lalee's Kin, Parker decided it was time to make her own film and soon after formed Roland Park Pictures.

"When we finished Risk/Reward I thought, `Oh, we'll be lucky if we can get into one film festival,'" she said.

As it turned out, Parker and Holder were very lucky; Risk/Reward has been screened at several festivals, including New York's Tribeca Film Festival, Maryland Film Festival, and Toronto's Hot Docs International Film Festival. Parker -- who lives in Manhattan with her husband, Marwan Khuri '92 -- feels gratified by the positive critical response to the film, which includes an upbeat review in Variety.

"We're absolutely thrilled with the Variety review. You work your heart out on a film and it's terrific when you get such a strong response," she said.

These days, Parker and Holder are juggling several new projects, including a screenplay based on Jones' experiences.

"I think it's a great privilege to be a documentary filmmaker," she said, "I go out into the field and meet people, talk about their lives, and learn their stories. In the end, it's fulfilling that people get something out of the film. Maybe it's not the best career one can choose as far as financial rewards, but it's amazingly rewarding in every other way." — GEF

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