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Breaking Glass

A Q&A about communication, success and being a woman in a man's world

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Leave it to a woman to not only reinvent her business multiple times, but also grow it into one of 1997's 500 Fastest Growing companies, according to Inc. Magazine.

After building up and selling her innovative temporary staffing firm, Susan Ascher has become a prolific author and expert on multigenerational workplaces while creating her new career in leadership development and executive coaching.

Her many accomplishments include winning awards such as the Top 25 Leading NJ Women Entrepreneur Award in 2011, a Garden State Woman of the Year nomination in 2009, NJBIZ’s Best 50 Women in Business award in 2007 and an Executive Women of NJ Salute to the Policy Makers award in 2004.

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Today, Ascher travels the country raising the bar on communication for the five generations in the workplace through seminars, presentations, keynotes, workshops and customized training programs. She has appeared on numerous media segments, including Bloomberg Television’s “Small Business Report,” CNBC’s “Power Lunch,” Fox 5’s “Good Day New York,” and WABC Channel 7’s “ABC World Business News This Morning.”

Please enjoy this Q&A with Susan Ascher, president and CEO of The Ascher Group in Short Hills and founder of The Sphere of Excellence in Communication.

NJBIZ: What is your current job position, and what do you love most about it?

Susan Ascher: I am the president and CEO of The Ascher Group — an award-winning executive coaching firm — and founder of The Sphere of Excellence in Communication, which coaches individuals and teams in differentiation strategy, effective writing and speaking, protocol awareness, and business development.

I’ve coached individuals and teams for clients ranging from the Fortune 50 to emerging growth companies, as well as accounting and legal firms, health care organizations, nonprofits and numerous nationally ranked colleges and universities.

My first book, Dude, Seriously, It’s NOT All About You!, is a humorous rant on how protocol and communication has changed the landscape of business and personal relationships in the New Millennium. The second, Dude, Seriously, Get Your ASK in Gear!, is all about what we have to ask ourselves to stay relevant and lead in the VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) world, regardless of whether we are a parent, an executive or an employee.

NJBIZ: Where have you worked previously, and why did you choose to leave?

SA: I worked for a financial recruiting firm who continually promised to promote me. When it did not happen within the timeframe they had promised, I left and started my own executive search firm in 1981.

When the economy downsized in the late ’80s/early ’90s, I re-engineered the company to that of an interim executive firm. Everyone thought I was crazy — until many of the former full-time positions people held became extinct, and clients embraced the idea of a flexible workforce.

NJBIZ: Where did you receive your education, and what was your focus?

SA: I graduated in the first class of women at Lehigh University with a Bachelor of Science in Quantitative Analysis and Market Research.

NJBIZ: What was the most important thing you learned during your education?

SA: That I was a person first. … Since I was the only woman in almost all of my classes, my closest friends were men. Many of the projects we worked on required collaboration, and I never played the woman card; I simply played on the team. Lehigh University taught me to think like a man (in business), act like a lady (get the job done with polish and aplomb) and work like a dog, doing whatever it took to succeed.

NJBIZ: What advice would you give to a woman in college now?

SA: In a society with tremendous pressure on women to be beautiful on the outside, I would encourage them to develop the confidence and composure on the inside that, unlike looks, is deep, lasting and meaningful.

NJBIZ: What were the attitudes toward women in your industry when you first started?

SA: Just awful. There were probably only a handful of women executive recruiters at the time.

I was interviewed six times for the first job I got in the business. I felt like every time I came back, they were expecting to see two heads on my shoulder. They had a very hard time understanding why I would want to embrace the demands of the position, but to their credit, they finally caved and made me an offer.

NJBIZ: How have they changed since?

SA: I actually think there may be more women recruiters than men now. Women have the ability to navigate candidates through the process because of their innate ability to care about the outcome from a personal standpoint, as opposed to just closing the deal.

NJBIZ: What has been your worst experience as a woman at work?

SA: I was 23 years old and the only woman in the firm. One guy taunted me and told me to go home and make babies. I went home, cried my eyes out, and woke up the next morning deciding I wouldn’t get mad or even — I would just work on becoming the best recruiter in the business and start my own firm when I was ready.

NJBIZ: Your best experience?

SA: When my publicist, Amy Delman, came into my office and announced that we had made a spot on The Inc. 500.

NJBIZ: What would you say are the top five things that successful women always do well?

SA: 1. Dress like a pro — it’s the first thing we communicate and it has to be polished.

2. Communicate with clarity and confidence — we check the emotional dialogue at the door.

3. Find a mentor or coach — it’s tough going it alone, and the voice of experience is invaluable.

4. Build trust with our superiors, team, and clients — we say what we mean and mean what we say.

5. Lead by example — if we want someone to do it, we show them how it’s done.

NJBIZ: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

SA: Anticipate your clients’ needs before they even know what they are.

NJBIZ: The worst advice?

SA: Let my clients beat me at golf.

NJBIZ: What advice would you give to young working women?

SA: Dress up; speak up; listen up; show up; stand up; lighten up; and, most importantly, follow up!

NJBIZ: Break up your average 24 hour weekday into a pie chart — what percentage do you devote to work?

SA: Somewhere between 0 and 100 percent depending on the demands of the day.

NJBIZ: What is the best advice you can give regarding work/life balance?

SA: Life is short and then we die. Someday is today. Do one fun thing for yourself everyday.

NJBIZ: What’s one item you can’t live without, and why?

SA: It’s a tossup between lipstick and sunglasses. As Christy Brinkley once said, “They are the only makeup a woman ever needs.”

NJBIZ: What are the top three most important things to you in your life?

SA: My family and friends; random acts of kindness; and making people laugh.

NJBIZ: What are your hobbies and interests outside of work?

SA: I am passionate about golf, fly fishing, cooking and baking. Travel also makes me re-create myself by experiencing new people and places. I also love volunteering for many causes, including The Kids’ Care Golf Tournament, which I founded 20 years ago for the Metro YMCA of the Oranges.

NJBIZ: What is your family life like?

SA: We are a small, close-knit family. I drive everyone nuts celebrating holidays and birthdays, because I always include friends whose families are far away. Christmas and Easter are mine to host — I cook, set the table and entertain like (you will forgive me) Martha Stewart.

NJBIZ: Do aspects of your job carry into your personal interests and hobbies?

SA: Without a doubt! I started Course Connections so that women (and men) could learn to play the game that builds relationships in a fun-filled, low-pressure setting. You can find me on the golf course at least once a week entertaining or being entertained.

NJBIZ: What is your favorite thing to do when you’re not working?

SA: Reading — I am a voracious reader of The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Fortune, Entrepreneur, and many online business publications, including NJBIZ — and Vogue keeps the fashionista in me alive.


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