Women in Business Q&A: Stephanie Teuwen President and Co-Founder, Teuwen Communications

04/14/2015 07:08 am ET | Updated Jun 14, 2015

Stephanie Teuwen, who has over 20 years of international public relations, branding and marketing experience, is the President and Co-Founder of Teuwen Communications. Having grown up in her parents' restaurant in Provence, France, she has intimate knowledge of the food and wine industries. Stephanie moved to Manhattan in 1991, becoming an international manager at Creamer Dickson Basford/EURO RSCG. She founded Teuwen three years later, combining big-company strategies with the hands-on, personalized work of a boutique agency. Stephanie has led successful campaigns for restaurants, fine-food products, wine brands and regions.

She serves as the chairwoman of the wine committee of the New York Women's Culinary Alliance. Stephanie is trilingual in French, English and Italian.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
My parents owned a restaurant and I was given tasks and responsibilities at a very early age. As the eldest of three, I was also supposed to be a role model for my siblings, and I took that mission very seriously (my apologies to them, I might have made some questionable decisions but we certainly all learned from them!)

Throughout my career, I developed a leadership style organically, based on what I thought worked best by observing positive and negative behaviors from former bosses and colleagues. Of course, nothing is static and my leadership skills keep evolving.

How has your previous employment experience influenced your position at Teuwen Communications?
On a cultural point of view, growing up and working in France taught me about quality of life and respect for traditions, whereas New York showed me how to be efficient, result-oriented and innovative. Working in my family's restaurant and then traveling to different countries, allowed me to better understand and read people as I interacted with various personalities and cultures.

My past PR agency experience taught me to be creative, nimble and how to excel at multi-tasking. I learned to plan and develop successful long-term strategy during my years "in-house" at a large international company.

I meld all these experiences together to foster a positive working atmosphere at my agency and build solid relationships with my clients and industry connections.

What have the highlights and challenges been since opening Teuwen Communications?
The highlights are being able to choose my clients and therefore have a portfolio of people and brands I truly respect and enjoy working with. I also relish being surrounded by a team of passionate and dedicated colleagues: it's a pleasure to see them every morning. Last but not least, sharing an office with my husband, who is the co-founder of Teuwen Communications and a talented photographer. We've been a 24/7 couple since we put our name on the door, and it has been a fantastic experience.

When the economy takes a downturn, it can be challenging and difficult. And it's always hard to lose an important client or staff member, but in the 19+ years we've been in business - we always manage to bounce back.

What advice can you offer to women who want a career in your industry?
I would give the same advice to anyone wanting a career in food and wine PR: learn everything you can about the industry and keep educating yourself. Join an industry association or a charitable cause within this industry and network. Be curious, eager and reliable; invest fully in your job because you love it, not because it's an obligation.

What is the most important lesson you've learned in your career to date?
It's all about people. Nurture relationships at all levels and everything else will fall into place. And the flipside to that lesson is, don't hesitate to severe bad relationships, they drain your precious time and energy.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I don't obsess about it. What is important to me is to feel fulfilled. My version of balance may be to work madly for weeks in a row, then take some down time. It also helps that I spend most weekends in the country where the ratio of animals to humans is certainly in their favor! They don't email, call, or have deadlines. It's very calming.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
Don't focus on your gender. Instead be knowledgeable, positive, hard-working, smart, trustworthy and fun to work with as this type of person is appreciated by all and will lead to a satisfying career.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
Professionally, I credit most of my past bosses and clients for pushing me to strive for excellence. Sometimes, my mentors have been a young colleague who motivated me to be a better boss or a friend who helped me with a difficult problem. My most important supporter though is my husband, who is a pillar in my life and keeps me sane.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
I admire Madeleine Albright for saying "there is a special place in Hell for women who don't help other women." I always keep that in mind.

All the Veuves (widows) who made Champagne; I raise a glass to them regularly.

I'm inspired by my peer Melanie Young, the author of Fearless Fabulous You, who transformed breast cancer into a positive-take on life.

Michelle Obama, for having the guts to plant an organic vegetable garden at the White House, and for fighting for healthy eating.

What do you want Teuwen Communications to accomplish in the next year?
To continue our steady, healthy growth and keep winning clients that complete our portfolio. I'd love to add an American fine wine brand from Oregon or Sonoma in particular; it's on our to-do list!