Ask Charlene Soelter how she got her start in the experiential/face-to-face space and she chuckles about her first job interview after re-entering the workforce with three young children. It started with a cold call to a design company to set up an interview for a friend with impeccable credentials. As it turned out, the friend reneged on the interview at the last minute and she ended up going in her place. Knowing she wasn’t qualified for the job, she quickly fessed up during the interview and admitted, “I’m not Lorraine.” Impressed by her chutzpah, the interviewer ended up hiring Charlene for another position in operations, and later sales, and she never went back into design.
The prospect of solving problems and coming up with business solutions for clients attracted her to the experiential arena, and she soon found herself being one of the few women in business development in a male dominated industry. In fact, during one of her early events job with Exhibitgroup ( now GES ), Charlene attended a national sales conference where there were fewer than 10 women – and she was the only person of Asian descent – period. In the early days of her career, working late hours on the show floor at night felt a little dangerous and unsafe, and she has since learned how to make adjustments without feeling like she was showing weakness. The best advice she ever received was from a sales manager mentor who advised, “Don’t be afraid of crying because it’s better than screaming, which is what many of the men in your position would do.” Over the years, passion, excitement for working in customer-facing environments, flexibility and a can–do attitude in an atmosphere of constant change and technological advancements propelled her career to new heights.
During the kids’ formative years, an egalitarian marriage and flexible work hours made it possible for Charlene to focus on her career – as she would get home and spend time with the family between 6-9 p.m. Then when everyone was asleep, she resumed her second night shift, tending to the overflow of work she brought home and needing just 5 hours of sleep. After a trip away from the family, she made it a point to invest in quality time with the kids who often played hooky from school so they could reconnect and have some down time as a family.
Fast forward 20 years, and 18 months ago, Soelter joined Group Delphi as director of client strategy. In the months that followed, Group Delphi also hired her two sons – now grown – who joined the company in both creative and production positions. Her youngest son, Kyle, currently works as a graphic designer, and Nick works as a team leader in the shop. Before Soelter joined the company, her eldest son, Ryan, worked part-time as a graphics producer (and later designer) and moved on to Microsoft. Even her husband, Michael, worked as a project director. Collectively, the Soelters have proven themselves to be family makers of wonder, awe and connection. And that’s no small feat.
Looking ahead, Charlene says, “Mentoring the next generation of client strategists sounds uber rewarding, and that’s one job for which I am now actually qualified.”