“A really important thing that I learned from this book was not to break careers down in terms of titles, like ‘I’m a lawyer.’ But in terms of thinking, like ‘I’m very good at analyzing.’ So, it gets you below the label, to the underlying skills that you transfer. And that’s why it was so always so denigrating to hear Moms described as homemakers. That label is so restraining! Because it doesn’t speak to our skills of managing, multitasking, budgeting and conflict management,” said Ann-Marie Stephens, Chemical Engineer turned Entrepreneur.
After Covid forced everyone to reexamine everything, professional loyalties changed. Workers are quitting their jobs in record numbers. And despite Covid’s devastating impact on small businesses, there was a sharp increase in start-ups last year. The corporate ladder is particularly slippery for women. Stubborn wage and leadership gaps persist. So, female entrepreneurship was trending up pre-pandemic. Particularly for Black women.
After decades in corporate roles, Ann-Marie changed her path. Although many aspire to new fields or business ownership, we often resist the disruption, financial risk or doubt our big ideas. But there are ways to make this professional leap of faith easier.
Think of Now as the Perfect Time
Although the job market is heating up, over a million Mothers haven’t returned to the workforce. Many of whom need childcare but also, better and more flexible, career options. Anne-Marie said, “I’m generalizing broadly but when Moms go into the workforce, we’re often more efficient. And not as easily rattled by uncertainty. We can be more resilient in the face of unexpected events.” Yes!
She added, “So, that is how I got into diabetes management. Because I was able to transfer those skills and forget the language but not the competencies, of chemical engineering.” Career transitions can be scary. And our perfectionistic culture leads many of us to question our ability to shift.
And Expect an Iterative Path for Any Career Change
Moving from corporate research and development, into building a business from the start, is a huge change. Ann-Marie said, “When I left Procter & Gamble, I left as a senior executive. So, I had already started moving more into leadership. And from there, I did my MBA in entrepreneurial business management, because this was something I had always wanted to do.” Before returning to school, she took roles in business development and consulting, to broaden her experience. She said, “And while I found that it was very lucrative, I felt less satisfied by moving people inches. When I wanted to move people yards!” In her personal life, she and her husband began helping family members who had been diagnosed with diabetes. “As we were coaching them, we focused a lot on nutrition. Or on the side effects of meds and how meds they took interacted with their body chemistry.”
Bring Your Unique Gifts to an Interesting Problem
Ann-Marie said, “My husband and I both love science and that’s the underpinning! We had these core competencies. And we have family members with diabetes.” After years of working together as chemical engineers, their interest in this field grew. She said, “It’s all chemistry. The chemistry of nutrition and the chemistry of the meds and the chemistry of diabetes. So, that really allowed a seamless transition into treating this, like the kind of projects we tackled, working at Procter and Gamble.”
Many people believe Entrepreneurship starts here, with the first idea. But it’s often an evolution from this point to develop an effective business plan and strategy. Ann-Marie began to ask people with diabetes a lot of questions about their challenges around food.
And Listen for What the Market Needs
Ann-Marie said, “Many people with diabetes were overeating. And the way they proportioned their food was not optimal. The feedback we heard, was that they felt isolated, because the rest of their family could eat differently. So, we began to focus on inclusion.” The first line of products was for the home. Dinnerware designed to make portion control easier and more visual.
Although many medical conditions are hereditary, Ann-Marie discovered that people weren’t thinking about this. She explained, “If my Mom has low bone density, odds are that I’m going to have low bone density too. But we don’t always connect the dots and try to keep them in these little bubbles. I’d often hear, ‘well my Mom or my Dad has that. Or my grandmother died from that.’ And the DNA connections were not evident because we’re not taught to think about it that way.” She realized that changing their eating habits would benefit the whole family. Not only the person with the diabetes diagnosis. Which led to the big ‘a ha’ moment.
Until That ‘Light Bulb’ Moment
“When we realized, ‘oh, this isn’t a portion control thing. This is a flavor thing! We pivoted our product focus,” said Ann-Marie. How did she discover this? She spent a lot of time listening to customers. And experimenting with different ways to sell the products. She said, “We used to sell on military bases. And learned that many of the men, were resisting their partners’ influence, over what they ate. One woman told us, ‘Guys look at you and see that you’re standing between them and a beer or a steak. And it makes them feel like we aren’t on their side. That we’re the problem.’ When I shared this insight with one of my mentors, she said, ‘the underlying issue is that people love great food. So, if you can educate them on how to make great tasting vegetables, then the resistance to eating healthier wouldn’t be there. It’s not to the food. They don’t know how to make it taste great.’” This helped Ann-Marie revisit the product focus. And reconnect to her roots.
Then, Tap Into What You’ve Always Known
Ann-Marie said, “So, in Trinidad where I grew up, long before I had my chemical engineering degree, we cooked every day of the week. We were always cooking and growing things in the backyard. And making food taste great is totally a part of my DNA! I know how to do that.”
So, she began to focus on developing ways to educate people about flavors and preparation. She explained how this enhanced the business focus. She said, “It’s about making the enjoyment of healthy food, very flavorful and very fun. We would tell people, to add some of our coconut curry spice blend to eggs. And they’d say, ‘I didn’t know I could do that!’ Originally, we gave people the physical tools we thought they needed to eat better. But we didn’t realize they didn’t have the knowledge to make their food taste great without using products with salt and additives.”
And Tune Into Your Body for Self-Care
Entrepreneurship is often considered more flexible, than corporate life, because you choose the priorities. But, even with guardrails, it consumes a lot of energy and focus. And finding space for self-care can become more challenging. Ann-Marie said, “For many years running the business, I was able to get in my daily workout. But right now, I’m not doing that. I made the decision that I needed more sleep, before more exercise. I was too sleep deprived to be effective for the whole day. So, for years and years I’ve been able to function on 4 to 6 hours of sleep. And then suddenly, it was like OK, I cannot do that anymore.” Poor sleep is often an unforeseen barrier to creative thinking. Which is essential for business innovation. She added, “So, even though I have compromised on fitness, I feel better about my sleep, clarity and brain function.”
And Like All Things, Test & Learn
Ann-Marie admits, “It’s always a reprioritization of the things that are important for my health. And now that sleep has inserted itself, where it never used to be, I just have to accept that. And find a way to build yoga and journaling back in again. I also love reading but find that I need to shut my eyes down. And it doesn’t matter whether it’s a screen or a book.” Throughout our careers, one of the greatest challenges is knowing when to run and when to rest. Time to reset requires intention for most of us. She added, “Listen to your body. Because it will tell you, ‘No that old formula, that’s not working anymore.’ So, I’ve retained my ability to hear my body talk to me and I try to be responsive.”
Ann-Marie smiled and explained how her business came together when she leaned into her unique combination of gifts. She said, “You think you’re using all these are very advanced skills. And then your Mom will say, ‘But don’t you remember, you used to do that all the time?’ So I started this journey earlier than I had thought! There’s this moment of self discovery, where you realize you’re using a little bit of everything you learned in kindergarten but didn’t remember.”
Share your pandemic experiences! How are the latest changes affecting your life? It’s quick and the results from this study are used to advocate better support for parents.
Employers, let us help you transform your workplace into an environment where caregivers thrive. Learn about Allies @ Work.
Many thanks to the talented Ann-Marie Stephens!
Ann-Marie Stephens is the Co-founder and CEO of Precise Portions Nutrition
Learning Systems. Ann-Marie has transformed the diet and nutrition portion control industry with cutting edge, innovative products that make the world a happier and healthy place, one lost pound at a time! Her mission is to add quality and value to people’s lives through positive diet and nutrition. Driven by her passion to improve
the lives of those suffering from diseases associated with obesity, Ms. Stephens works tirelessly
to create products and systems that are easy to understand, effortlessly implemented and create
successful results—hence, PrecisePortions.com was born!
Ms. Stephens’ career is truly a remarkable story of dedication and discipline with an impressive
roll of honors to validate Ann-Marie’s excellence in everything she does. With a degree in
Chemical Engineering and an MBA from the prestigious Wharton School, Ms. Stephens’ stellar
academic achievements positioned her to become one of the most enterprising entrepreneurs and
acclaimed product creators of our time! Her brainchild, Precise Portions Nutrition Learning
Systems and its products are being used by many major healthcare organizations with
phenomenal success. Years of research, planning and marketing with such esteemed companies
as Procter & Gamble and Frito-Lay have paid off magnificently and the world is the blessed
beneficiary of Ms. Stephens’ incomparable work!