09/25/2014 09:45 am ET Updated Nov 25, 2014

Women in Business: Q&A With Cathleen Stewart, VP of Marketing for Batteries Plus Bulbs

Cathleen Stewart is the Vice President of Marketing for Batteries Plus Bulbs, the nation's first, largest and fastest growing battery and light bulb franchise. A former Marketing Director and Advertising Manager at Potawatomi Bingo Casino in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, she has more than 25 years of experience in marketing and advertising management. As the Marketing Director at Potawatomi Bingo Casino, Cathleen was responsible for a team of more than 150 marketing personnel in Promotions, Direct Marketing, Advertising, Special Events, Entertainment, Guest Services, Tour/Travel and Web. Currently, she leads a 20 person in-house team that provides marketing support to Batteries Plus Bulbs' nationwide network of over 620 stores, as well as the franchise's corporate staff. Cathleen holds a Bachelors from Marquette University.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
Many elements contribute to how I approach work and how I lead, but if I had to narrow them down I would say it's having strong models throughout my life and being a single mom. Early in my career, I was fortunate to work under a supervisor who was always open to my ideas and advocated for me. I carried that into my own style as a leader. Growing up, I watched my own mom raise five kids and then run a successful business later in her life. She has been a positive influence for me.

As a single mom, I'm always the leader. It's all on me to not only provide financially for my daughter, but also lead by example and build a strong foundation for her to follow for her own successful future. That keeps me determined to work hard and in turn motivate my team to do great work so that our department continues to build value at the company.

How has your previous employment experience aided your position at Batteries Plus Bulbs?
Prior to joining Batteries Plus Bulbs, I was the advertising manager and marketing director for a major casino in Wisconsin. It was long hours and challenging work, but I learned a great deal about marketing and measuring results. Before that, I was at several advertising agencies where I earned experience in account services, media planning/buying and managing budgets. Even college and part-time jobs I've held throughout my life helped prepare me for my later career, with basic skills like multi-tasking, customer relations and working as part of a team.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Batteries Plus Bulbs?
Being at the corporate level of a franchise company brings distinct challenges. As marketers, we strive to create strong, creative brand messages through marketing materials that will drive customers into our stores. In addition, supporting our franchisees to achieve their business goals is of utmost importance. Their success is our success and vice versa. When I started here 10 years ago, we had about 200 stores. Now, we have over 600. As we grow, we want to maintain the superior level of support that each one of our franchisees deserve as investors in our brand. It is both challenging and rewarding to work toward achieving this goal every day.

Overall, the biggest challenge and highlight of my entire career has been the recent brand identity change that came with adding energy efficient light bulbs to our product line. For over 25 years, we were known as Batteries Plus. As a mature brand, changing our positioning and our name to Batteries Plus Bulbs was a monumental undertaking on two levels: earning buy-in from our existing franchisees and then educating and marketing to our customer base. We developed a careful, well-thought out strategy two years ago that is still being utilized. Thankfully, I have a fabulous team in the marketing department who each took ownership of various aspects of execution. The new branding has attracted an influx of new franchise owners into our system and has increased performance of existing stores. It has been extremely rewarding to watch this all unfold with the support of my team.

What advice can you offer women who want a career in marketing?
Stay relevant and be willing to embrace change. Things in the marketplace can change on a dime and as marketers, we have to be ready to evolve. New and fresh ideas are constantly in demand. If we don't stay ahead of the game, competitors will race in front of us. Complacency is the enemy.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
It's not easy and there are definite sacrifices on both sides. When I'm at home, I feel like I should be at work and when I'm at work I feel like need to be at home. In my previous job, I was working 80-85 hours a week while raising my daughter. One day, when she was 5 years old, she gave me a craft she made in school that said, "I love you even though you work all the time." I knew I needed to find a new job with a better balance.

Being the Vice President of Marketing for a company that has over 600 franchise locations, I still work hard and sometimes long hours, but I have flexibility, which I was careful to seek out in an employer. Our CEO places a strong value on family, and that translates into our company culture. As long as we continue to drive results and do great work for our franchisees, our senior management team is understanding if I have to leave because my daughter is sick or if she has something important I need to get to. But I do make choices. I know I can't be at every event or be with her all the time. I choose what's really important. When my daughter is upset that I can't be somewhere, I remind her how my career benefits our family, such as being able to afford vacations and helping her pay for college. She gets it.

Also, just staying connected to my daughter throughout the day or when I'm travelling has helped a lot with the balance. I gave her a cell phone at a young age, so if I was travelling for business, I could contact her without any issues. We text and talk throughout the day ... she knows I'm there, even if I'm not physically "there."

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
In our particular workplace, I really don't see any issues specific to women. As a matter of fact, some of our best performing franchise stores are women owned/operated. But I know that is not the case everywhere. Perception of women in some work settings is that if they are sensitive to other employee's needs, they are described as "emotional," or if they are strong leaders, they could be referred to in negative terms, such as "aggressive." That's why it's so important to choose your employer carefully. If you want balance, find a company that truly values family. If you want to be valued, look closely at the company and see how many women are in the management positions and how many of them have families. Get a good feel of the company culture before you join.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
No matter how far you move up the ladder, it's important to have people to look up to and turn to for guidance. On the professional side, our CEO has been a great mentor for me in the last 10 years. He has taught me so much in regards to our business, but also best practices in leadership. Despite his tremendous success in the business world, he remains humble and makes everyone he speaks with feel important, whether it's one of our franchisees, a reporter that is interviewing him, or one of our employees in the company kitchen while making his own coffee.

My mom also continues to be a mentor. She raised five children and ran a successful business. She always made it look so easy. I hope that in many ways I am serving as a mentor to my own daughter.

At the office, I do my best to empower my team and provide them with the learning tools to help them grow professionally. I encourage them to mentor each other. Everybody can stand to learn something from someone else.