Ladybrillemag.com BIG reveal for this month’s Ladybrille Woman of the Month is finally here! The highly coveted spot goes to Joanna Riley-Weidenmiller. Ladybrille’s Niama Sandy reports.
****What makes a woman brilliant?
“A brilliant person…interests everyone, she executes, she is witty, and she is observes. She is never scared of asking questions, she takes chances and asks the tough questions.”
This month’s Ladybrille Woman of the Month judges her own brilliance by those around her. By how well she can apply the lessons she’s learned. Meet Joanna Riley: a daughter; a friend; a California girl; a former competitive rower; a risk-taker; and above all a human being who endeavors to learn and grow from every experience. Riley managed sales and acted in upper echelon sales positions for some of the largest and most successful companies in the world and still has yet to turn 30 years-old. She is a woman who lives and breathes passion and progress. Many equate business and sales in particular with cutthroat practices and warrior-like scuffles but this woman found a way to be successful and grow in her humanity all at once. She recollected a story about an experience she had . . . :
“One of my paradigm shifting moments happened when I was in Chicago training someone. We had done well for the day but were tired or whining about something. We walked into a school and we were shown to the decision maker, who was in the back office, with what I thought was a 4-year old child laying next to her. We set her up with an account. (Afterward) We came to learn that the girl lying next to her was her daughter who was 37 years-old. She had a very rare disease and had been told from the day she was born that she would die, and that they should not keep her, but they did.
The woman went on to tell me all the things she had learned from her daughter, how beautiful she was and how talented. The daughter had never walked, never fed herself, never run, never fell in love. I realized that there and then the blessing I had, that I had the ability to do whatever I wanted and to never ever forget that. I remember everything about that day, and I think I always will.”
Many of us would not have taken a moment to find out if there was more than met the eye with that client. Joanna Riley went that extra mile. In The Beginning Joanna was born in San Francisco to parents who taught her that the world is a place of endless possibilities – in all things from her abilities to cuisine.
Riley said: “I was born and raised in the city of San Francisco. My parents are to this day, the coolest people I know. I was raised being told that anything is possible and to tastes all foods, try all sports, love a lot, cry, play hard, win and loose with grace, and never give up!”
Her parents were business owners, and as a child she witnessed firsthand how easily fortunes could change. Watching their businesses flourish and ebb very likely had an effect on her own desire to be a businesswoman.
“Both [of] my parents were business owners. I saw wealth and struggle numerous times, and I learned that it is part of the wave of life, and not what determines happiness, and that times and situations will always change,” she explained.
Her parents also instilled a love of sports. Joanna became an especially skilled rower; so much so that Joanna was on the U.S. Women’s Junior National Rowing Team and eventually was awarded full scholarship to attend the University of Virginia because of it. Riley credits rowing with teaching her lessons about life that had application is a multitude of areas.
“Rowing taught me life lessons, on a personal level; discipline, (and) team work. I learned not only to accept pain but love it, learn from it and get stronger. I found strength within me that I didn’t know existed. I never won a race alone; there were seven other girls and our coxswain. The beauty of rowing is that it is the most painful sport and yet looks so elegant, so effortless, and to me that is the secret of life. In rowing like life you learn to love and heal from the struggle, to be stronger, to use the energy around you. There are days when things don’t go right, you have a bad row, loose a race. . . but you learn to put it all behind you and make it all work tomorrow. My determination stems from sports; from knowing I had the ability to make it happen – nobody else; that I was in control of my circumstances. It depended on ‘who wants it more.’”
While an undergraduate student at the University of Virginia, Joanna studied Foreign Affairs and was tapped for a prestigious internship with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Though she spent four years of her life preparing for a career in foreign service, she quickly realized that she needed to be in an environ that valued not just the number of years she had been working but instead the caliber of her output. Hitting Her Stride Upon graduating from the UVA in 2004, Riley eschewed her internship and went to work for Venture Marketing Solutions. Lo and behold, she found her niche in the world of sales and marketing.
“I loved it! I found my passion which was closing deals for good clients with the best products. I loved sales as it allowed me to see things I never thought possible, meet more people then I can count, and learn to relate to everyone. I had 20 seconds to win someone over before they booted me from their door, so it had to be good. I learned how to sell, which I believe is the most important part of business,” she mused.
Before she could blink, Riley was Vice President of the firm, and opening offices in Chicago, and New York City for Staples/Quills Corporation. She was relatively fresh in the business world running sales operations for several Fortune 500 companies. Through all of the success and interactions with so many people from different walks of life, she was still the same daughter her parents raised. “I have so many memories in the field – from driving fire trucks to eating at the best (and worst) restaurants in America. Our customers were from every kind of business. So I saw, tried, sat and experienced a lot.”
New Chapter Joanna’s drive and openness propelled her upward, but also threatened to stop her momentum all together. Like many successful people, Riley’s had a major problem with balance.
“As a business owner, since I was 22, I have always struggled at turning off. At the end of the day there is no clock, no boss, nothing but your self, your determination and drive and passion for success. I had a great wake up call on my 24th birthday, which gave me perspective of how much we are not in control. I had a very serious situation happen that landed me in the hospital for a month and a half, 100% due to stress.
I had to stop working as my doctor clearly gave me two options: life or death? They knew as well as I did that I was incapable of balancing work with life, and should I have chosen to stay working I would not have survived. It was the hardest thing I had to do up to that point – leaving everything I had built and loved, but it totally changed the rest of my life,” she said.
With the help of her friends and family she has been striven to learn how to manage her time and her commitments. After walking away from everything, something unexpected happened. One night at the San Francisco Ritz-Carlton, Joanna Riley met a man. Six weeks later she was engaged and living half-way around the world in Beijing, China with the same man.
About China she said: “This is the most exciting place I have been, and I have to say I am quite the connoisseur of cities and countries around the world. I am never shy of lessons, hilarious moments, unbelievable situations, the craziest foods, the coolest people. Yes it is uncomfortable… it is tough, tougher than anyone thinks, but that is why those of us here are survivors, building some of the greatest things.”
A total whirlwind romance but this is classic Joanna Riley- stepping into the unknown, and seizing it as though she had owned it forever.