“In the morning, my feet don’t hit the ground until I’ve set an intention and prayed for all my people.”

Rachel was nominated to be featured by one of her business partners. She was on my list, but her partner’s nomination bumped the timeline. As I was reading through his impassioned application, I was nodding in agreement and thinking: “Of course!” I was thrilled to receive a nomination from a professional man lifting up a professional woman who inspires him. More of that, would be amazing.

If you ever get the privilege to meet Rachel, one of the first things you’ll discover is her contagious laugh. As soon as I heard her laugh, I immediately started laughing. It reminds me of a girlfriend from my hometown who had what I always called a “trigger laugh.” She could be across the classroom, bust out laughing and instantly I would start laughing, having no idea what she was even laughing about. There was just something about her laughter that made me want to join in the fun and ask what we’re laughing about later. I had the same reaction to Rachel’s laugh.

She not only laughs a lot, she likes to make other people laugh. Her childhood dream was to be a cast member on Saturday Night Live. She earned her performing chops as the opening act for her dad’s gospel band. Always the performer, she thought she was destined for comedy television. Unfortunately, her parents crushed that dream. They didn’t think being on SNL was practical. They would always tell her to go to college, get a real job and make money. They also thought the big city of NYC would eat her up and spit her out. They thought she was too innocent and naive to make it in the big city. They were probably right, but they underestimated the warrior and survivor they raised.

Instead of comedy, she found the next best thing, advertising, which can be pretty comical. As a young person, she was consumed with ads and found herself constantly critiquing them. So, when she attended Moorhead State University, she majored in it. 

Her first job out of college was at Blackdot Agency, working on the Herberger’s account. Herberger’s corporate headquarters is located in St. Cloud, Minnesota which at the time was a minor detail she didn’t pay much attention to. It wasn’t until she met her current husband that she started to connect the dots of their paths and how they almost crossed so many times. 

She continued working up the professional ladder in advertising, making her way to executive leadership. In the mid-2000’s she started to look around and no longer recognized the appeal of that artificial world. “What am I doing?” she asked herself. Realizing that she was out of alignment with who she thought she was and who she was serving, she went on a journey of discovery. She was looking for something different and something that felt more in line with her values. 

She moved around to different agencies, tried corporate and nothing really felt completely right, until she discovered technology. Finally, an industry that excited her again because of the ability to solve real problems that affected how people do their work. 

Rachel worked in consulting for several years, still feeling that pull of something else. That “something else” was entrepreneurship. It makes sense that she has an entrepreneurial tendency because it ran in her family. In addition to full time jobs, her parents flipped houses by working evenings and weekends. They were doing this in the ‘80’s before this model for additional income became popular. Her grandfather, who was a preacher, started over 400 churches! So, you can see how Rachel could easily evaluate the risk of starting her own business.

Last year she took the leap and founded Covalent North, a business and technology consulting firm, with her two business partners “They complete me!” 

What is your most treasured memory?
November 2, 2017 is the day my husband adopted my kids, Charli and Cooper. It was the end of a period of heightened alert for me. It was the first time I was in front of a judge without the fear of the unknown. Prior to this day, my ex-husband continued to bring me to court in retaliation of my decision to leave him because of domestic violence. On November 2, 2017, I witnessed my current husband step up and expose his heart. It’s one of the gifts he’s given me that I will always anchor to.

Is there something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?
Besides being on SNL? It’s never going to die! I want to be on a stage motivating people to be their best selves. I haven’t done it yet because I needed to live through some of these experiences and get to a place where I can feel authentic on stage. I believe I’m closer to that place and am able to harness my stories for good. Being on stage isn’t the goal, it’s the part after when I get to connect with an audience one-on-one. Seeing hope in someones eyes is the most satisfying feeling you can be part of.

What do you value most in a friendship?
Time 

If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be?
Sharing the gift of seeing people for who they are, not what they are. I already know how to do this, I’m deeply intuitive. I wish I could show more people how. My son Cooper for example, he’s autistic, and he’s so awesome! I wish people could see beyond the autism label because it would open a lot of eyes. 

Name three things you and your partner appear to have in common.
We both grew up in rural Minnesota. We’re both total jokesters and very outgoing.

When did you last sing to yourself? 
This morning, alone in the car! It was some random song on the radio. I always sing in the car.

Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?
Alive or dead? I would want to have dinner with the founder of Fraser, Louise Whitbeck Fraser. She was a pioneer and could see the special.

If you were able to live to the age of 90 and retain either the mind or body of a 30-year-old for the last 60 years of your life, which would you want?
Rachel and I debated this for a good 10 minutes. There’s no easy answer, but she finally committed to the mind.

Before making a telephone call, do you ever rehearse what you are going to say? Why?
Sometimes, but rarely. I’m an improvisational person, I go with my heart and gut. If I practice, it feels artificial.

Complete this sentence: “I wish I had someone with whom I could share…
Interesting because I’m an open book. So then I think, is it an activity? Nachos is honestly what popped into my head.

How can I be of service?

Have you ever found yourself in a state of perpetual hunger for the next thing? For me, it always centers on “achieving.” It’s the next promotion, next big-name client, next design award, next, next, next. Focusing on next, fools me into believing that I’m moving forward, improving, winning, achieving. The problem is, I keep moving the goal line, so I’m always on to the next. What I’ve noticed is that I’m never really present and few things ever live up to my expectations once I get there. Get “where” exactly?

This insatiable need for the next thing has served me well in my career because that is what people hire me to do. I think of the possibilities and then bring them to life. I get paid well, I work with impressive people on impressive projects. Check, check. However, this mindset, unmanaged, has not served me well in my personal life. 

I recently found myself unable to see past “next.” All the “next’s” didn’t seem interesting, fun or worth it. It shut down my ability to be creative, which is debilitating and leads to all sorts of other problems. This wasn’t the first time I experienced this, it was just the most eye-opening. It forced me to ask different questions and find new methods for how I set my goals so I could enjoy the journey, rather than feel exhausted in a never-ending marathon. Instead of focusing so much on myself, I switched the questions I was asking. “How can I be of service?” instead of “How does this fulfill what I think is expected of me?”

That simple shift from self to service eliminated the creative block. Ideas started flowing again and I could see possibilities. Life didn’t seem hard, it felt easy. Opportunities presented themselves, I didn’t chase them. 

One of those opportunities was a position on the board of directors with an organization serving women entrepreneurs in Minnesota, WeMN.org. It was serendipitous how it all fell into place so I wanted to record this moment because I know I’ll need a reminder, now and again, that my mindset and what I truly value is the key to finding my joy and discovering all the possibilities.

“I found a way to help others while working in marketing.”

As a young girl, Amanda was always drawn to TV, design and advertising. Her mom would say that when the family was watching a TV show, Amanda would pay closer attention to the commercials than the show. Amanda thought that was charming until she had her own daughter and realized that all kids are captured by TV advertising.

In high school, while determining her career pursuit, she always felt an internal conflict between her calling to help people, based in her strong faith, and her desire to work in advertising. She entertained the idea of joing the Peace Corp to fulfill her goal of working in service of others. It wasn’t until she had a conversation with a teacher about her career goals and how she viewed advertising vs. helping people as an either/or decision. She was 17 and the teacher told her that “Good people need to be in marketing to make it better.” 

The teacher helped her realize that we all have the ability to do good and we have to spread ourselves across industries to make it happen. We can’t put the responsibility solely on nonprofits. 

So, off she went to pursue her degree in Mass Communications at Winona State University, where she was very active in peer ministry and worked 20 years per week. Graduating in 3 years and debt free is a source of pride for her because it shows what a hard worker she was and is.

After college, she worked at several ad agencies, Fallon being one of them, in various account roles rising to leadership very quickly. I first heard of her in 2009 when she was recognized on the 40 under 40 list in the Minneapolis Business Journal. At that time, she was the VP of Creative Services at UHG where she built their internal agency, Carrot. I remember reading about her work in that issue of the Journal and thinking that I wanted to know this woman.

Whether she knew it or not, she was building her path as a successful intrapreneur. An intrapreneur is someone with entrepreneurial spirit who is able to position themselves within large organizations to bring their ideas to life. It’s a unique funding strategy and quite smart really, if you can manage the constant push back on your ideas, as well as the politics in a large company.

Her most recent work of art, I’m sure you’re familiar with, is the Small Business Revolution. Amanda has brought this series to life on Hulu, Amazon Prime and .com, working as the Chief Brand Officer at Deluxe Corporation. From where I sit, this is where all the good stuff comes together.

Amanda leads by the principle of “doing well by doing good.” You’ll hear her say it all the time, in conversations, articles and speeches. It’s not just another pithy mission statement from an executive. She really lives it. She lives it so authentically that she often can’t describe it when asked about her leadership style. It’s so innate and comes from her core. It’s like asking Monet: “How did you paint the Water Lillies?” I doubt he’d be able to explain the detail people yearn for because sometimes things just come from inside a person. I see Amanda’s work in the same way.

If you haven’t watched Small Business Revolution, you’re missing out. Her team at Deluxe is revitalizing small businesses in small towns across the country. America gets a say on which town by voting on the submitted nominations. The winning town gets awarded a $500,000 boost to revitalize businesses and Deluxe documents the transformation by creating a touching series of small business stories for us to enjoy.

Let me take moment and tell you why this work is so truly aligned with Amanda’s mission to “do well by doing good.” Small business ownership ain’t sexy. Nobody has the same love affair with small businesses like they do with the “start-up” culture based in Silicon Valley. Especially not in small towns.

In a small business, you earn every single penny. When employees don’t show up for work, the owner will put on a uniform because someone has to cover the hours. When the small business owner can’t make payroll, she’ll forgo her salary to ensure that her employees are paid. Sexy, right?

Small business owners typically start their companies for altruistic reasons. They want to create a lifestyle for their families so one parent can stay home. Or, they see a problem they can solve to help people. It may simply be that they want to open a coffee shop on main street because even small towns should have good coffee and a place to meet with friends. The beginning of the idea is rarely about money, which is contrary to the start-up fantasies we read about today.

All of these wonderful stories and nobody was paying attention, at scale, until Amanda came along. Through her vision and commitment to helping others, she has shown a light on a community of people that rarely get the spotlight, even though they are a huge economic force in this country. Small businesses create about 50% of the non-farming gross domestic product (GDP), or roughly $6 trillion every year. Since the small business revolution program launched in 2015, it has achieved over 9 billion impressions in social and earned media. Nearly 4,000 articles have been written about it. It was named by Inc Magazine as one of the top show entrepreneurs should be watching. It is the #1 unscripted show on Hulu, outperforming network competitors by 5 times. And finally, it has been discussed on the floor of Congress, twice.

That is quite a spotlight.

What’s truly exciting, is that I believe Amanda is only getting started. We haven’t really seen anything yet. She shared with me that her experience with the Small Business Revolution has been incredibly fulfilling and has also exposed hints to her about her next mission to help people. Her experiences in these small towns across the country have opened her eyes to opportunities around the topics of diversity and inclusion. Being a woman of faith and her commitment to working in service of others, I’m confident she’ll find clarity around those topics and what’s she’s supposed to do next. Let’s just say that I’ll be waiting, watching and cheering her on.

Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?
Ellen or Oprah. They both use their platform for doing good. I don’t think they have fame for nice houses and cars. I think they have answered a higher calling.

Would you like to be famous? In what way?
I would not mind being famous if there was a greater purpose for it. Any notoriety I may already have is because I’m destined to do something good. As I continue to earn more visibility because of my platform with Deluxe, I’m still discovering what I’m supposed to do and where I need to lend my voice. Through my work on the Small Business Revolution, diversity, inclusion and love are topics that are trending for me to have a voice around.

What would constitute a “perfect” day for you?
Sleeping in only to get up and be active right away so it’s done for the day. Giving a speech and connecting with people afterward. Then, going out with my family to have good beer and good food.

When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else?
This morning. I play Pandora when I’m getting ready. I sing in the car. I sing anywhere people aren’t listening.

Do you have a secret hunch about how you will die?
I’ll be hit by a bus because I always have my head down, on my phone, not paying attention to where I’m going.

Name three things you and your partner appear to have in common.
We both love craft beer and traveling. We also appreciate our midwestern roots. Being raised in the midwest, we learned a good work ethic and how to be frugal. “Save before you spend,” is one of our mantras.

For what in your life do you feel most grateful?
I know I’m supposed to say my daughter. Motherhood is an important part of my life, but I wasn’t put on earth solely to be a mother. I wouldn’t change it, I like being a mom, but I’m most grateful for my ability to look at life and appreciate the serendipity of it all. I rest in this space of believing that life is one part hustle and one part the universe doing it’s work. I can control the hustle by showing up everday and doing the work. The universe part, I can’t control, but I believe in it and that mindset gives me perspective. 

What is your most terrible memory?
One time I said something mean to someone in Sunday school and I replay it all the time in my head. I was trying to be funny and it didn’t land right. I didn’t realize the impact until the teacher told me how it came across. I was devastated because my love language is Words of Affirmation and if that is reversed, it’s painful. It was just a joke that went wrong, but I ruminate on it to this day.

What does friendship mean to you?
It means encouragement. Being that support system when needed. I see my role in friendship as being a cheerleader for my friends. 

Is there something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?
I’ve dreamed of taking a year off, traveling around the world and homeschooling my daughter. We haven’t done it for all the same reasons everyone else hasn’t. It’s expensive and I fear not being able to get a job when I return. I have the same worries as everyone else.