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Marketing Executive Barbara Yolles on the Power of Mentorship for Women in Business

Photo: Courtesy of Ludwig+

About two years ago, marketing agency veteran Barbara Yolles was chief strategy officer of The Money Source, or TMS, a national mortgage lender. 

When business began thriving, suitors cropped up, and when Yolles was faced with a portion of the company being sold off, and potential layoffs thereafter, she had an idea: Why not take the skills she’d garnered in marketing roles at big brands like McDonald’s, where she was a senior director of marketing, and at the advertising agencies McCann North America and Campbell Ewald, where at both places she was chief marketing officer — and then launch a new department focused on business growth within TMS itself?

The owners bit. Yolles worked with her husband, former CCO and CEO of Campbell Ewald, to spin the department off into her own agency, called LUDWIG+, TMS became a client, and the rest is history. LUDWIG+ describes itself as “A full-service, woman-owned, brand transformation and business-acceleration company.”

“We were able to open the doors with multiple clients,” Yolles said. “And it was really borne out of the idea that I wanted to take care of our people, No. 1. But I also saw an opportunity, right?”

In essence, Yolles took the knowledge she garnered from the corporate world and her 30-plus years of marketing experience to “create a company where it was the perfect marriage of transforming brands and transforming businesses,” she explained. 

Over the years, Yolles has realized how critical agility and the ability to pivot when needed are. She said her success would not have been possible without the leadership and guidance of other women throughout her career.

Fostering a positive culture

At LUDWIG+, Yolles set off to create a culture that mirrored the goals for its clients, which is one of the lessons she learned in past jobs.

“I was fortunate to be in two companies where culture was incredibly strong,” Yolles said. “When you can build a brand where it’s not just about marketing and marketing messaging, but where you can create a culture that ignites people, then those people deliver on that value proposition. 

“So we were very intentional about ‘if we’re going to create this company, we’re going to create it with the greatest culture in mind, celebrate our own people, and teach them the power of what a transformative brand is for ourselves, so that we can deliver that for our clients.’”

She added that this formula has been one for success, even amidst the challenging economic climate brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Having a people-first attitude

To create a positive culture, leaders have to know what it’s like at each level of their company first. Yolles realized this while working as senior director of marketing for the east division of McDonald’s. While Yolles was in that role, her boss would take her to different McDonald’s restaurants and they’d dine in, check out the bathrooms, and even work at the cash register and in the kitchen for firsthand experience.

“What I learned from her was you’ve got to really get inside and understand what’s really happening,” said Yolles, who added that this approach can be useful regardless of industry, whether it’s chain fast-food restaurants or a mortgage lending company. “If I didn’t go and shadow what was going on right on the frontline and inside the company, I never really was going to fully understand what it meant to drive that business and understand the pressures of every position in the company. For me, that was a really defining part of my personal success.”

Mentoring and being mentored

For women, mentorship is uniquely crucial, Yolles argued. 

“There is a lot that women face when it comes to balancing their professional and personal lives,” said Yolles, who added that she has four children and four stepchildren. “My family comes first, and I have managed to be able to do both.

“I think women who are looking to have children need some mentorship there to learn how to be able to have a very fulfilling life.”

Over coffee, Yolles and her coworkers at LUDWIG+ have workshops called Strength Finders where they help one another hone in on what they’re good at and what needs improvement in their jobs.

“Everybody has strengths and weaknesses, and you find those people in your world who help you grow and fortify areas that you’re strong in, and help you accelerate those areas that maybe are opportunity areas for you,” she said, adding that she continues to have female and male mentors alike. “I think it’s critical to have mentors and it’s critical to be a mentor, because I think that’s part of your own personal growth.”

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