Women in Business: Erin Sarofsky, Principal and Owner, Sarofsky Corp.

03/30/2015 05:13 am ET | Updated May 30, 2015

Erin Sarofsky graduated from the Rochester Institute of Technology with a BFA in graphic design and an MFA in computer graphics, both with a strong photography influence. Initially, she rode the dot com wave before deciding to pursue what she loved most: motion graphics and all forms of production. In the blink of an eye, she was hired by Digital Kitchen as a designer to help launch the company's Chicago office. Over the course of six years, she rose from Designer to Creative Director and led many high profile projects for Coca-Cola, McDonald's, AT&T, PBS and Budweiser, and worked on main title designs for Touchstone Pictures, Spyglass Productions, Paramount Pictures and Dreamworks. In 2006, Erin was nominated for a Primetime Emmy for her work on the "Ghost Whisperer" main title sequence. Later that same year, Erin was hired by Superfad as Creative Director for the firm's newly formed New York office, where she led projects for X-Games, McGraw-Hill, and American Express, to name but a few.

In January of 2009, Erin established her own company, which specializes in design-driven production and works with a broad range of clients in the advertising, broadcast, network, film and entertainment industries across the U.S. and Europe. Sarofsky's artists use animation, visual effects, computer graphics and live-action to collaborate with clients, from concept to delivery, producing work that is visceral, innovative and diverse. Sarofsky produces work that crosses all platforms, including commercials, television and film main title sequences and web efforts.

Erin's featured entertainment pieces are the main titles for Marvel's two latest films, "Guardians of the Galaxy" and "Captain America: The Winter Soldier." These projects came to fruition thanks to the longstanding relationship between Erin and directors Joe and Anthony Russo, with whom she collaborated on Community, Happy Endings and Animal Practice.

Erin is also especially proud of the opening sequence and interstitials she and her team created for Oscar-nominated filmmaker Richard Robbins' "Girl Rising," for which she has co-director credit.

On the commercial side, Erin is responsible for creating a new look for Verizon FiOS and seeing that through over 20 spots. They have also produced a consistent flow of CenturyLink commercials throughout the year, and are very excited about their entirely CG spot for Tic Tac, which uses actual Tic Tacs to take viewers on a magical journey inspired by flavor.

Erin and her talented crew of artists, designers and producers at Sarofsky Corp. are excited to continue to bring a whole new level of design and concept to major brands spanning the advertising and entertainment industries.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I started my career as a designer and have had to work with a number of different creative directors, business owners and producers along the way. As a designer, I was always very sensitive to what I was being asked for and the role I played in the process. Now that the roles are reversed and I'm now an executive creative director and business owner, I am still very sensitive to the needs of both my employees and clients.

I make it a rule to always treat people the way I'd like to be treated. For most, it's always easy to do that when the feedback is positive and glowing. But it's also important to do that when your input is less than satisfactory. I find it's not what you say, but how you say it. In general, I'm fair and honest with people and focus more on ways to improve instead of just being negative. I find that provides a road map for progression and a paradigm for success.

I like to stay positive about things and never underestimate the power of a good laugh when things don't go exactly as planned. And even in the most chaotic situations, I strive to be the calmest person in the room. I do that by focusing more on solutions instead of replaying the drama of the problem over and over. In that way, I lead by example. It helps keep the finger pointing to a minimum and the problem solving to a maximum.

I also always try to promote from within and grow the team in a way that allows people to develop their careers and make them feel fulfilled. It makes the team more supportive of each other and creates an environment that is more inclusive.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at Sarofsky?
I've worked at two of the most successful studios in the world before starting my own company: Digital Kitchen and Superfad. What's fascinating is that while they both produced stunning work, the process at each was completely different. So when I built my company, I took what I liked about those places and forged my own path from there.

The most significant difference is that I believe clients not only pay for the product, they also pay for the process. That means we engage the clients in a more meaningful way throughout the production. We treat our deadlines as firm... even our review schedule. We allow ample time in our schedules for feedback. We work really hard to stay on budget. And if there is an overage situation looming, we notify our clients in advance and over-communicate with them, which allows them to help us stay on budget.

As a creative, I obviously have a high regard for the creative process and, of course, the people that do the work. But at Sarofsky, I've made it a point to hire creative producers so they can be a part of the conversation throughout the whole production process. Having producers with a sophisticated taste level, a strong opinion and deep understanding of the creative process helps us manage both internal and external wants and mandates.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Sarofsky?
For me personally, the challenge has been evolving my own career as an artist. I've been so busy developing the business and infrastructure that it's hard to balance those needs with actually doing some work. At first, it was about letting go of some of the responsibilities, letting the other artists grow and take on the challenges. But now that the company is well on track and our senior management team is in place, I can step firmly back into the actual work. Luckily, there is so much work that it's just too much for one creative director, so I get to continue to delegate and actually put pencil to paper.

There is also my new role as a figurehead. I know it's my name on the door and I should have expected this, but now that we are really starting to gain notoriety, I am being asked to become a part of the dialogue, in both business and entrepreneurship as well as design and production. While having a strong point of view has never been a problem for me, it's having enough self-awareness to say things in an appropriate way and not just off-the-cuff. I have to get used to the idea that people are actually listening to what I have to say now. Being at that level is, of course, an honor.

Another highlight is the actual work. Seeing how we have grown over the last six years has been just exciting beyond words. Not only the quality, but the access to great work. There are only so many amazing projects available... and to be consistently in the running for them now is deeply satisfying and something I believe I will never get used to.

What advice can you offer to women who want a career in design?
Be prepared to work with a lot of men. The artists in production companies are mostly males. In some cases, it's like stepping into a fraternity. But it depends on the tonality of the company and how that culture is manifested.

I suggest interning and freelancing around at different companies to see which place is best for you. Have high standards... and don't be afraid to ask for what you're worth (men certainly aren't).

What is the most important lesson you've learned in your career to date?
You get out what you put in.

In order to become great at this, you have to put in the time. You need to work on countless jobs before you even know what you don't know. Do the work. Listen to the feedback you get (and encourage it). And be around other really talented people doing it, so you can absorb by osmosis and have work to live up to.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
Honestly, I don't. I have only one life so I don't try to separate the two. It helps that I love what I do... and whom I do it with.

Though, sometimes a Sunday on the couch, with the NYT, the dogs at my side, the phone uncharged and a bottomless cup of coffee is all I need to recharge.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
Ironically, I think the biggest challenge comes from outside relationships. I think in general, women are depended on for more than just a salary and to kill spiders. Balancing relationships, family, kids and running a household along with building a career is somewhat unrealistic. Typically, I see that women are the ones who have to compromise with the time they spend on/at work. As a result, their work stops developing and they stall out.

I'm in an industry that is constantly evolving, both creatively and technologically. To become stagnant is a career killer.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I've never been mentored, but I do put a lot of time into helping others develop their careers. It's just as important to teach as to learn. As a result, the people I have helped to evolve their careers I have seen start to do the same with other people. It parallels the Montessori theory. Be taught, and then teach. It's in teaching that you cement your own learning.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
I love female comedians... I think they have crazy big balls! The more bawdy and outrageous, the better... Like Joan Rivers and Margret Cho. To put oneself out there in that way is incredibly brave. In a way, I don't see them as comedians... I see them as modern day philosophers. Most of the time, they use themselves as the butt of the joke so that they can say something insightful about society without it coming off as bitchy and mean-spirited.

There are some female filmmakers that inspire me, as well... like Kathryn Bigelow and Alexandra Pelosi.

And I'd like to start putting out the vibes now for Tina Fey to get her own talk show. None of this daytime stuff or late late night - let's get her in there right at 9pm! That's a glass ceiling that can use smashing.

I also really dig Jane Curtin. Her work cracks me up.

What do you want Sarofsky to accomplish in the next year?
In the next year, I hope that we to continue to do more of the same... Produce beautiful, effective work for great clients. I personally want to see that my team continues to evolve and that the right hires are made to accommodate the workload at the same quality level.