Although she has called Atlanta home for the last 15 years, Amy is the proud product of New York City. She received her BFA in Advertising Design from Savannah College of Art & Design and an MBA with a focus on Global Business from Georgia Institute of Technology.
Amy’s professional mantras are to lead with empathy and to pay it forward.
Convrt recently welcomed Amy to the Independent Judging Council and invited her for a sit down to learn her story.
A really hard question to start – Coffee or tea?
Coffee all day, every day.
Another tough one, favorite cereal?
Fruity Pebbles, without a doubt.
Tell us about your upbringing? What was your life like growing up?
The first part of my life I lived in the Caribbean. I was free range. I had full access to the mountains behind my house and I lived on my bike. My daily order of priority was: how long did it take me to finish what I was doing in order to get on my bike and get outside. Ten years of doing that did not prepare me to move to New York City where the idea of a backyard was maybe a postage stamp.
I was still fairly free range in the city, but the environment couldn’t have been more different. I remember my first winter, first snow, moving to New York without a proper winter jacket (which was fun), learning to walk on ice.
When I got to New York I discovered the art scene. My mom forced me into it because it was free to go to galleries on weekends. So, we’d do the art strolls in SoHo, it was grimy and grungy. I loved it. I’d wonder, “who are these people who live in these buildings that have high ceilings and big windows and create all day?”.
Back then The Village was still cheap. I think that walking into those spaces was nothing short of… you know that mind-blowing emoji? exploding sound effect That was me! I’d never seen anything like what people in those spaces were creating. It was really, really exciting. I didn’t know what they were doing. I knew they were painting, but “designers”? I’d never heard of that word. I was suddenly seeing typography for the first time and color theory. I just didn’t know it was called that. Before then, the most I’d seen in terms of ‘good design’ came out of big CPGs in the Caribbean. Everything else was either slapped together or made by hand. And while slapped together is still terrible, I didn’t yet appreciate the craft that surrounded me. But over the years, I started to appreciate the ‘hand’ in work, leaning into the things I grew up seeing. The hand carving, the artisanal quality. It took me a bit of a boomerang, but as I matured out of my snobbiness, I started to see all of the beauty that was the world I had grown up in.
What did you learn from your parents, or mentors that’s had the most impact in your life now?
All I ever wanted to be was an artist. So, I went to this art high school on the West Side back in the 90’s in what was then known as Hell’s Kitchen. That should tell you a lot! It has since been shuttered after NYC eliminated several schools about a decade or so ago – mine was essentially a school for pirates. Super creative people but also lots of crazy inner city kid problems that the schools didn’t want to deal with.
My major was photography and I’d roam the city with my camera during the school day, just taking pictures of whatever inspired me. We were a ragtag group of kids and no one would have seen us coming. We weren’t from fancy houses or neighborhoods in the city. Our photography was different. Our work was different from the other art schools in the city because we dug into themes that were grittier. They were our own life experience. This group of kids, my friends, we would show up to a competition and clean house because we were showing the judges something different. It was urban culture. I think it scared people sometimes.
When I think back on the people that influenced me, it was actually my photography teachers in high school, but particularly Ms. Jan Juracek, who helped set my course. She forced me and all of her students to look inwards. I think it’s easy to pigeonhole and say that kids have a myopic perspective “they haven’t been exposed to stuff, they haven’t seen things.” Instead, she really forced you to appreciate and lean into your own environment and bring out its beauty. Or, on the other hand, sometimes not bring out beauty and chronicle things exactly as they were. And I think there’s something really amazing about giving a child that freedom to explore without judgment.
She was incredible at providing structure through critique that made you to want to push further. Because when you’re a teenager, it’s really easy for you to shut down when someone says, “have you thought of…?” She cultivated her kids like plants. It was her gift.
What are you working on now?
I work for Costa Coffee, owned by The Coca-Cola Company, the iconic UK coffee brand that has, in recent years, expanded globally. It is everywhere in its home territory in the UK, a strong presence in China, a growing footprint in India and the Middle East, and into western Europe. Costa is Coca-Cola’s largest acquisition to date and the US a target market for us. My job is to bring it to life in the United States as the Head of US Marketing.
What’s your vision for yourself?
I think that the more I do what I do, the more I want to get involved in giving back.
Over the years, I’ve worked on brands that have incredible sustainability stories and in other cases terrible ones. Sustainability is something that I have become incredibly passionate about. When I think about the roles, the brands, and the businesses I enjoy being in, I look for brands that really embrace change. That want to be on the leading edge of things. And even if they’re not there yet, there is a passion and a drive and commitment to get there. I like to be a part of that change.
When I think about, “what does the future hold?” I want to get closer to those communities that have impacted my life and support at risk youth in the arts. The arts gave me the lifeline I needed so many times. I want to give someone else that opportunity.
I didn’t realize that I did have power. I just didn’t know it. I think it’s something that young designers and people starting off in their career don’t always realize that they do have a voice.
Can you share a mistake you’ve made that you’ve learned the most from?
My single biggest mistake was not using my voice when I should have. A long, long time ago, I was basically a newbie on a business, and I witnessed a series of events that were highly unethical and that had the potential for a disastrous impact on the business (except for anyone that was looking to make their bonus that year). I was effectively intimidated into not bringing what I knew forward, and I guess I was crippled with fear. I was the most junior person on the team, the least experienced within the industry, the brand, the business. It was a lot of new, new, new and I hadn’t yet built the credibility for someone to listen to me.
I think culturally we were at a different place today than we were back then where raising your voice didn’t have as many protections as you do now. But either way it always frustrated me that I didn’t stand up for what I believed in, that I didn’t trust my intuition enough. Long story short, this situation ended up costing the business millions of dollars, folding an entire division.
My mistake was sitting by and feeling powerless. I didn’t realize that I did have power. I just didn’t know it. I think it’s something that young designers and people starting off in their career don’t always realize that they do have a voice.
What’s the learning from this?
It influences my approach to how I manage. There are definitely company cultures that are very top down and dictatorial. Maybe that breeds loyalty if you want to call it that, but it doesn’t breed good business or a good environment. My perspective is that we have a voice, use it, think critically and raise your hand. I will always support that.
You encourage your team to speak up?
That’s ultimately what we’re here for. We’re hired to do a job. We’re hired to bring whatever our part of the business is to life in the best way possible. But if we put aside our ethics, nothing really good comes out of that in the end.
What makes a killer customer experience?
One, is that you feel it before you know it. When you experience something, it happens in your head and your heart.
I recently went to an amazing hotel in Stockholm, and it was just heaven. The best thing about that place was when I walked in the door after many hours of travel, there was someone there to bring me coffee, to take my coat, to put a warm blanket across my lap and to find the perfect spot in the garden for me to enjoy that moment. All of these little things came together in perfect harmony. I didn’t have to ask for any of it. They anticipated my needs, they thought about my position as someone who had traveled for 14 hours. What would I need at this very moment in time? What would I need later? Even as they gave me recommendations, they weren’t saying, “go to this museum” they said, “this is a place you might go to relax.” They demonstrated empathy with every word and action.
So, when I translate that to a good design experience, I’m thinking about, how does someone pull something off of a shelf, what does it feel like, what does it sound like, and does it make sense? What is “intuitive”? I think a lot of times “cool design” is preferred over the experience and I think that’s a big mistake. Because ultimately you should be both. Where are you in your journey? Have I given you exactly what you needed at his point in time? Not more, not less but what you needed to move naturally through the process. That the process is so seamless you don’t even think about it, you just experience it and find joy.
We’re hired to bring whatever our part of the business is to life in the best way possible. But if we put aside our ethics, nothing really good comes out of that in the end.
What’s the process for innovation that you go through?
If we’re talking about an incremental innovation that just requires some refinement, I think it’s quite different than when someone tells you, “I need you to blow this up and start fresh.” One, I want to understand why we need to blow this said thing up? What are the things that are so inherently broken? Or, are we actually looking to completely pivot and move into something that is far more exciting because we know there’s a solution and we just haven’t thought of it?
In other businesses, when I’ve worked on these sorts of innovation challenges, I spend time watching and learning from the user, trying to decipher or pull out those trigger moments or pivot moments. How does someone compartmentalize one part of the experience to the next? I think that we all create natural buckets in our head as we move through a process. Where does one begin and where does one end? Can you combine? Sometimes when you combine you can ruin an experience, but other times you are opening it up.
But if you look at it just from the perspective of “well that’s cool!” you can make some really costly mistakes.
Should everyone in business understand design?
I went to Georgia Tech’s Scheller College of Business for B-School. In my last week of class, they taught a class called Design Thinking – It was the first time I had ever taken a class like this, and I was tickled pink! As it turns out, most of my class was wondering, “What is this? How is this going to help us, we’re in business school”. Coming out of the class, these same people were saying, “This is amazing” and “I’d never thought about things this way.” It was just a day-long workshop, but what it did was expose these decision makers to a different way to approach a problem. It allowed them to put themselves in the position of the creatives in the room for even a few hours and it was mind blowing for them. I was the only one with a fine art degree in my entire program and so, there was always this sort of interesting tension (good tension) when I shared my perspective in class because I was approaching a challenge through a different lens.
In my role today, I am a creative just as much as I am a business person, so I have to toe that line all the time. But I lean on that creative process in absolutely everything that I do. As a matter of fact, I think that design thinking and even just a sensitivity to the elements around you will improve your business outputs every single day.
Do designers make the best leaders?
I think they can absolutely make incredible leaders. Part of that journey is understanding your stakeholders, their language, their values, what they want to achieve, so you can take your design up a notch, meet them where they are and want to be. That’s how you can create holistic value.
I think where Designers often struggle is they may not feel competent being around a bunch of business people. The language is different. Similarly, business people don’t always feel competent around designers. So, they can’t talk to each other because language is literally a barrier and when they fail to communicate, they move on, excluding each other from the conversation instead of finding a common language. Big mistake.
I lean on that creative process in absolutely everything that I do. As a matter of fact, I think that design thinking and even just a sensitivity to the elements around you will improve your business outputs every single day.
What advice do you have for others?
I’d say to be curious. Never let the curiosity go away. Sometimes I would land on the craziest projects – the hot potato of a project that no one wanted and that I had zero interest in, but I found ways to make them interesting. You’ve gotta make lemonade out of lemons. And at the end of the day, you can always learn something and then you take that with you – that’s your gift to your future self. If you lead from a place of curiosity and then actively choose to take those learnings with you and then find ways of applying them somewhere else – you’ve won. When you lead with a mindset of curiosity, even the most benign of things can be interesting.
Why does the world need Convrt – why do we need to recognize design and technology innovation in the retail space?
I think there’s an opportunity to hero those people that are breaking ground. There aren’t enough opportunities for that. The award space world is littered with ways of celebrating those who are at the pinnacle of their career, but realistically there’s a lot that goes into getting there. I think that we need to encourage that journey, but also reward people for breaking things. That’s such an exciting space. If you think about the brands and companies that are shaping future-state, they are the ones who broke things. The innovators of the world are the ones who are creating change. Could there be a better reason to celebrate them?