WIN Spotlight: Agathe Blanchon-Ehrsam
Welcome back to “WIN Spotlight”, our ongoing series that celebrates inspirational women in our community. Each interview features a member of WIN who is championing innovation at her organization. We dig into the diverse perspectives, influencers, missions, drivers, and dreams of these leaders, and of course share practical tips.
We’re honored to feature our friend Agathe Blanchon-Ehrsam, Partner and the Chief Marketing Officer at Vivaldi, and an innovation veteran that has truly helped shape our industry. Agathe serves as Vivaldi’s WIN Ambassador, and recently led our innovation workshop in partnership with The Syria Fund. We met up for coffee and a catch up at Balthazar, and strolled around SoHo on a gorgeous Fall morning.
Who are you and what do you do?
I’m a Partner and the Chief Marketing Officer of Vivaldi, a growth strategy consultancy. I lead some of our client delivery, in particular innovation projects, and am also in charge of marketing and communications for the firm, and involved in most of the business development. That’s a mouthful and a lot on a day-to-day basis, but the range of responsibilities is exciting and empowering because I get to see the impact of our work every day. Outside of work, I’m a wife and the mother of two teenagers.
What are the life moments that most influenced who/where you are today?
Growing up as a French girl outside of France, and later choosing to continue to live abroad, was without a doubt the most defining influence on who I am today. Anyone growing up as a foreigner probably shares a few similar traits: independence, a wary comfort with ambiguity and a mentality of forging ahead, simply because sitting still isn’t an option. But it’s the 6 years in Japan, from the age of 9 to 15, and later the summer I spent working there as a business school intern, that had the most profound impact on me. Elements of Japanese culture still resonate deeply, for example the quest for excellence, or the appreciation for the beauty of disparate elements working together to form a harmonious whole.
What is the best advice someone has given you?
When I moved to New York City, it was to join a management consulting firm, 18 years ago. I learned most of what I know about consulting from the excellent teams I worked with then. And so advice handed down by generations of consultants became life lessons. One of the mantras that was passed along is to continually ask “so what?” About client data, about findings, and about any recommendation you were about to present to a client. You can be so much more powerful when you think through implications ahead of time. It’s definitely true in client situations, but it’s also true of life in general. It helps keep your head level and not let yourself get overrun by emotions, whether fear or excitement.
What is your creative ritual?
I wish I had a more defined ritual! When I’m in need of inspiration, I usually walk around. I’ll mentally graze on anything that is within eyesight, letting unstructured thoughts seep in. And then I sit down, pipe a Spotify playlist into my headphones and start organizing. It’s easier for me to react to something, even if it doesn’t feel right, and pull it in whichever direction it needs to go, than to start from scratch. So having anything on paper (or on screen!) is always a plus.
Do you have any rituals or routines?
Yes, my first cup of the day – either chai tea or coffee, depending on how relaxed or stressed I am. After that, every day is different, so very little in the way of routines. But the first sip and last gulp of that first cup are the bookends to precious morning time at the breakfast table with my family. I won’t get up until it’s finished. It’s my favorite moment and it grounds me for the rest of the day.
What do you never leave the house without and why?
Last week I would have answered without hesitation that I never leave the house without my phone, but I forgot it at home the other day and found it extremely liberating to spend an entire day in the office untethered from the constant barrage of emails, slack, texts and the news. So here’s a new ritual to consider for the future: the once-a-week phone-free day?
What is your favorite app and why?
I recently discovered Star Chart, an app that uses your phone's compass to locate planets and stars in the sky above you. It identifies exactly what you can find in the sky on any given day or night. All you have to do is point your phone to an area of the sky and watch the app calibrate. Really useful if you’re not completely sure it’s the Big Dipper that you're looking at ;-)
What recent book made you think the most? Why?
The book I’m reading right now was given to me by a former colleague, brilliant innovation strategist and WIN member, so very appropriate to this group! It’s called Sapiens, A Brief History of Humankind and was written by Yuval Noah Harari, a history professor whose university courses must be oversubscribed with students eager to learn from him. He’s the kind of storyteller who makes you rethink everything you thought you know about geography, politics, religion and culture through his exploration of the history of Homo sapiens from the Stone Age to today. The impact our species is having on the world today suddenly makes a lot of sense when you put it into historic perspective.
Name a fundamental human truth you recently realized.
It seems obvious, but I’ve come to appreciate the huge divide between activities that give me energy and those that deplete my energy. We’re all trained to focus on areas of strength and development goals, but it’s not the only way to evaluate where to spend time. It can be worthwhile to redirect ourselves away from things we’re good at but deplete us, and enjoy the things that provide energy, even if simply to provide momentum. And recognizing that people on a team derive energy from different things can keep everyone sane and greatly improves team dynamics!
What product, service, or industry do you think is most ripe for innovation? Why?
Healthcare! Everything in the patient experience – from the handling and ownership of personal medical information, to the personalization of care, to patient advocacy – screams of inefficiency at the system level and creates anxiety at the personal level. Technological advancements and rising expectations from consumers still need to be matched by appropriate regulatory changes so that new data and insights can revolutionize diagnostic capabilities and personalize care without jeopardizing individuals’ privacy and access to care.
What is your favorite quotation?
Anais Nin, a French-American writer, once wrote that “Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.” Seems like a tight description of the small but powerful control we have on what we make of our lives.
Photos & interview done by Katie Burwick
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