10/18/2014 09:46 am ET Updated Dec 18, 2014

Women in Business: Heather Andrus, Senior Vice President of Product Development for Euro-Pro

Heather Andrus is the Senior Vice President of Product Development for Euro-Pro, since her appointment in September of 2013. On a daily basis she strives to create compelling products for consumers by understanding the world that they live in, as well as their needs, motivations and desires. Andrus's overarching goals are to create products in which every aspect is relevant and resonates for all types of consumers. Before moving to Euro-Pro, Andrus worked at Altitude, Inc. from 2001 until 2013. During that time, she held the positions of engineering manager, director of engineering, general manager and chief innovation officer. Andrus also held the position of senior mechanical engineer at 3Com from September 1999 to March 2001, mechanical engineer at IDEO from July 1997 to September 1999, and software engineer at Oracle from September 1991 to June 1994.

Andrus received her Master's in mechanical engineering with a focus on product design from Stanford University and her Bachelor's degree in computer science with a minor in cognitive science from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Outside of work, Andrus enjoys renovating houses, raising two fantastic children and supports local hospices.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I was raised in a rural, poor and male-dominated area where women were viewed as second-class citizens. They were seen as home-makers, while men were the ones who were supposed to work and support their families. At a young age, I realized I didn't want to be held back by these pre-determined gender roles - I wanted to have a career and make a living for myself. I was shy, quiet and nerdy growing up, taking high school calculus in 8th grade and college level calculus in 9th.

When I was in 8th grade I was the assistant to my school's counselor. There, I read a book about career choices. "Doctor, pilot and engineer" were listed as the top three most challenging jobs. Doctor was out (I can't do blood) and I figured in order to be a pilot I'd have to join the military, which I didn't want to do, so I decided I would be an engineer. The book also said electrical engineering was the most difficult and that MIT was the best school for the field, so I made up my mind to make that happen. One decision I made in eighth grade determined my entire career path, and I couldn't be happier with my 14-year-old self. Thankfully, this is a decision I have never once regretted.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Euro-Pro?
Euro-Pro is a fascinating place; one of the biggest highlights has been our growth rate, which we've maintained at around 25 percent per year for the last six years. The reason for this growth is our agile product and marketing strategy. We make changes to products based on real-time market information, up until the product is launched in the market. With rapid changes happening all the time, the challenge is to respond flexibly but robustly, across a global team.

What advice would you give to women who are looking for a career in product development?
I believe you need to have two distinct attributes to be a great product developer: be a technical engineer who is good at what you do, and have a deeply creative side, that lets you think out-of-the-box. Product development is not an easy field to get into, so do it if you feel it and if love it, because the people who are passionate about it are the ones who succeed at it.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
It's very hard. I make the conscious decision to spend all my time outside of work with my family. My husband, children and I talk about how any potential professional changes will affect our family before we make them. We discuss how we can re-arrange our schedules so that if we do make these changes, they don't cut into the time we get to spend together. For example, before I worked at Euro-Pro, mornings were my special time with my kids, and then I would come home from work later at night. When I began at Euro-Pro, I knew I'd have to change this to match the needs of the business, so as a family we decided to make dinner our new special time. Meals are now about family and having conversations. There are no books, electronics or distractions of any kind allowed at the table. I know being a career-woman decreases the amount of time I get to spend with my family, so the idea is to optimize and maximize the time we do have together. We do what feels right for our family, and when it starts to feel wrong, we adjust.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
I know this sounds harsh, but the biggest issue for women in the workplace is understanding you can't have it all. When you become a mom you have to make a decision, and there's a trade-off that comes with this decision, no matter what. You either take care of your kids and your career suffers or you work full time and miss a lot of time with your kids. If you choose to take time off and raise your children, you are essentially back to ground zero when you try to re-enter the workforce. Markets change too quickly to leave for any significant amount of time. When women who've taken years off of work look to return to their jobs, they often find their experiences only qualify them for entry level positions, most likely with smaller salaries than the one they left years earlier. If you work part-time while your children are young, you are simply holding your spot in the workplace, not progressing, which can be extremely frustrating. The key is to understand that you can't have it all, and to be at peace with the decisions you and your family make.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
Mentorship has been critical to my personal growth. What is important about mentorship is that it is lifelong and doesn't have to be formal. Learn from the great leaders around you - watch what they do, how they lead others, how they create alignment and motivation. I've been very fortunate to have some great leaders here at Euro-Pro to learn from. In the last year, I've learned more about leadership here than I have in the past 15 years before joining the company.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
I love Cokie Roberts! I always enjoy listening to her analysis of what is happening in politics. She is always down to earth, and simple in her analysis. Cokie is one of the few true female role models in politics.

What are your hopes for the future of your company?
One of my highest hopes for Euro-Pro is sustainable growth. I want us to continue expanding and continue building strong teams that allow us to maintain our high rate of growth - we can't grow without our amazing people. Additionally, we ended last year with the #1 market share in two categories, and maintaining these number one spots, and gaining more, is a very high-priority.