Archive for the ‘Background’ Category

Alesya Opelt Is Not My Name

Sunday, August 19th, 2012

Larry and Cindy Opelt on their honeymoon in Bermuda, August 1972

My name isn’t Alesya Opelt anymore.  My married name is Alesya Macatol, but I continue to use Alesya Opelt professionally.  People always assume it’s for because I’m a feminist.  I just let them think that.

That’s not the real reason.

During the first day of my  sophomore high school English class imposing teacher Tom Pryor conducted roll call.  After each name he checked us off and quickly moved on.

“Alesya Opelt?”

I raised my hand.  Mr. Pryor paused and looked at me.  A 15-year-old’s worse nightmare – extra attention from a teacher.

“Opelt, Opelt, Opelt…” he repeated as he rubbed his chin in thought.  “Are you related to Cindy Opelt?”

“Yes,” I nodded trying to say as little as possible.

Mr. Pryor smiled, “And how are you related?”

“She’s my mother.” I responded.  The whole class laughed.  I wondered if I had something on my shirt.

“It doesn’t seem like Cindy is old enough to have someone your age.” Mr. Pryor questioned.  I shrugged.

After class I asked my friends Lisa and Susan, “Why did everyone laugh at me?”

“Normally, when you are asked you how you related to someone the answer is your aunt or cousin or something that.  It’s surprising that it was your mom,” Lisa explained.  Susan nodded in agreement.

“Oooohhhh,” I replied.  No wonder I didn’t get the joke.  It wasn’t surprising to me.

Cindy and Larry Opelt at a friend's wedding, May 1982

Growing up in a small town this happened all the time.  I had an unusual last name and only my immediate family lived within 100 miles.  Every time I’d introduce myself to an adult the response would always come back something like “Your father Larry and I play golf together,” or “Of course you are!  You talk just like Cindy,” or “Your dad and I have worked together for twenty years.”

Each time it happened I beamed.

Cindy and Larry Opelt in Adrian, Michigan - Christmas 2003

I was so proud when someone figured out I was my parent’s daughter.  My dad is smart, sharp and honest.   My mom is stylish, confident and shares my exact sense of humor.  They are both hard working and trustworthy with never hair out of place.  I’ve always felt like it gave me instant credibility when someone knew I was their daughter.

When I got married my only worry was that no one would realize I was the Opelt’s daughter anymore.  Silly, I know.  But I loved my last name.  Not because it signified that I was an my own person, but because it means I am Cindy and Larry’s person.  I use Opelt professionally because I never wanted to lose that distinction.  My parents are such good people.  It’s an honor to be associated with them.

Cindy and Larry Opelt in Gulf Shores, Alabama - March, 2007

Today is my parents 40th wedding anniversary.  In those forty years they’ve done a lot.  They had successful careers, earned degrees, built a house, traveled, raised two daughters and welcomed two granddaughters.  But their biggest accomplishment is having a happy marriage for the last four decades.  Growing up it gave me and my sister a solid base to navigate the trials of childhood.  Now it gives us a life to which we can aspire.

Living several states away from my hometown, no one asks me if I’m Larry and Cindy’s daughter when I introduce myself.  It doesn’t stop me from wishing that they would.  It’s now more likely that they ask me if I’m Maribelle or Dorothy’s mom.  And that’s pretty good too.

My parents with my daughters Maribelle Cynthia and Dorothy Lee

Happy Anniversary Mom and Dad!  I love you both very much. Thank you for being the ultimate role models. ~A

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I Had the Balls to Remove the Ceiling

Monday, October 18th, 2010

I had the balls.

During one of my job hunts while I was in California, I decided I wanted to take my love of sports, combine my education in marketing and look for a job in Sports Marketing.

After some networking, I ended up talking to a gentleman in professional baseball.  He talked to me about how I’d have to move to some podunk town, work for peanuts at a minor league team and cross my fingers that a job in the majors came open.

He also informed me because I was female I’d need to work twice as hard as any man in the industry.  He explained it was male dominated field and the glass ceiling was still very much in tact.  He wanted me to think about if this was something I really wanted.  Yep, he said that.

Not totally deterred, during the same job search the sports marketing position at my alma mater opened up.  I didn’t have exact qualifications in the job description, but after reading they wanted online experience I decided to throw my hat in the ring.

Knowing I needed to get the hiring manager’s attention I filled a box with a basketball, baseball, tennis ball and football.  Then I put my resume and cover letter in, closed the box and glued a piece of paper to the top stating, “I have the balls to be your Head of Sports Marketing” and mailed it off.  Yep, I did that.

After a few days the Athletic Director called me obviously flustered.  “Well, what you did wasn’t totally apporiate…but I have to say I wouldn’t be calling you unless you did it.”   I smiled to myself.  “I understand,” I replied.  “But either way, we need someone with more experience,” he concluded.  I was disappointed but not totally surprised.  At least he called me though – way more than would have happened if I’d just sent a resume.  Certainly it was a risk worthy of the reward.

By starting Alesya, LLC I haven’t cracked the glass ceiling, or broken through the glass ceiling, I’ve removed the glass ceiling!  Problem one solved.  And as far as having balls, I’ve pretty much determined I don’t need them.  Sports or otherwise.

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My Apple Story

Monday, May 10th, 2010

To get ready for my next meeting with TDIC, I made a presentation of bag ideas on my Mac.  All my work for Alesya Bags would be done on an Apple and all my ePrize work would stay on the PC.  Like a seperation of church and state.

I'm a Mac and I'm a PC

The epic commercial that got me thinking I just might be a Mac.

From the time I starting using a computer I used a PC.  Apple seemed like it was for artsy people only.  Maybe teachers.  PC’s were for serious business folks, like myself.  Moreover, Microsoft was the company of people who worked in offices.

Then I started reading more about Steve Jobs.  Watching his keynotes.  Looking up clips of Pirates of Silicon Valley on YouTube.  Watching Noah Wyle impersonate Steve Jobs at MacWorld.  I realized Jobs was the kind of crazy entrepreneur you couldn’t help but love.

The “I’m a Mac” ads came out.  Now THERE was some marketing I could get behind.  Clever, simple…and no I didn’t want any more viruses thankyouverymuch.  Time to make the switch.

I marched into the gleaming Apple store and announced to the salesperson that I was there to buy a laptop.  Which one?  The MacBook Pro of course.

“What will you be doing with this computer?”  he asked.

“Uploading pictures, browsing the Web, sending email, creating documents” I replied.  (You know, really important stuff.)

“So no video editing, programming or graphic intesive games?”


“OK, so you don’t need the Pro.  This MacBook will be perfect for you.”

He brought me over to the less expensive model.  I looked longingly back at the one I thought I needed.  But wasn’t I an important person?  Doing important things?  Who needed the best computer?

“But what if I want it in silver?” I moaned.

“Get yourself a can of spray paint.”


OK, I got it.  This guy was saving me money and making the best recommendation for my needs.  Plus he was saracastically funny.  SOLD.

This experience gave me the final reason to totally trust Apple.  Now I call people on my iPhone, only purchase music on iTunes, and my husband (who does deal with large files) owns a silver MacBook Pro.  I believe Apple always has my best interest at heart and purchase their products with complete confidence.  And who doesn’t want to work with a company like that?

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Why You Need a Coach

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010
Jackie Trepanier

Jackie Trepanier

I have a coach.  No, not a therapist or a shrink.  A coach.  Think Phil Jackson to Michael Jordan without the fade away jump shot.

Let me introduce you to Jackie Trepanier.  She’s brilliant.  And better than being brilliant, she’s a fantastic coach.  Jackie has all the right education – she is an Associate Certified Coach (ACC) credentialed through the International Coach Federation (ICF).  But what really makes her wonderful is the creative way she works to solve my problems.

She listens, questions and makes me find my way to the answer – the right answer for me.  Then we work together until the situation is resolved.  Its like having a world-class advisor in my back pocket.  Priceless.

Last year I conquered several stressful events (pregnancy/having a baby, selling a house, leaving a job and moving across the country) at once.  I wouldn’t recommend it.  Here’s what I know for sure though – if it weren’t for Jackie I wouldn’t have made it through the ordeal.  No way, no how.

Why you need a coach:

1. You have goals at work – make $455,000 in the 2nd quarter, improve efficiency by 12.7%, etc.  A coach can help you obtain YOUR (read: fun) goals. Want a promotion?  A bigger salary?  A way to get out the door by 6 PM?  A coach will help you do all those things.

2.  Maybe you don’t know what your goals are.  A coach can help you discover what you really want. And I think you’ll find out just showing up isn’t good enough anymore.

3.  You will experience change in your life.  Its inevitable.  A coach will help you navigate when times get tough. You’ll have the tools to face career, relationship and personal changes with grace.

4. Self-help books and articles are made for the masses.  (Sorry Dr. Phil.)  Only a coach can give you personalized guidance keeping your strengths in mind.

5. Having a coach isn’t all talk.  Your coach will encourage you to take action. When you “forget” to make that one call that could change your life, your coach will be asking you why.  Having someone holding you accountable to will change the way your act on your goals.

The life of a new entrepreneur is often a lonely one.  Having Jackie as my coach has given me a team atmosphere from the beginning.  Who is on your personal board of advisors?  Now you know the president of mine.

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Robots Need Clothes Too

Friday, April 23rd, 2010
Rosie the Robot

Although Rosie the Robot always looked quite nice, TDIC doesn't make robot clothes like this.

“I think they make robot clothes or something…”

This was the description I received from Josh before I went to meet with Mark D’Andreta, President of TD Industrial Covers, Inc. (TDIC)

Um … huh?

Well, to be truthful, it wasn’t the only description.  Mark was a second generation entrepreneur.  His father had started the business while Mark was working at a local marketing firm.  Mark’s father wanted him to come work at TDIC, but Mark said no and basically thought his father was nuts.

But he left it with a caveat.  “If you ever make $XX (a certain amount of money) I will quit my job and join you.”

Mark never thought his father would make that amount and he never thought he’d leave his job.  But one day Mark’s father called him over, opened the accounting books and pointed to the bottom line.  He’d made Mark’s goal.  True to his word, Mark quit his job, and joined his father.

Mark was extremely nice during our first meeting.  He listened to my idea, confirmed they had the machines to make a prototype and we talked about next steps.

“So…I hear you make robot clothes?”  Mark smiled.  I could tell I didn’t have the story quite right.

It turns out there are robots on the automotive lines that paint cars.  If the robots are naked, besides being quite embarrassing for the robots, paint drips off the metal arm leaving excess paint drops on brand new cars.  When they are wearing clothes – more commonly refered to as covers – the cover can soak up the extra paint  leaving the car with a perfect finish.

After a tour of the plant, we left with the agreement that I would come back in a few weeks with a design idea for my bag.  Perfect!

Wait…did I mention I’m not a designer?  Or even an artist?  I wasn’t sure how I was going to explain myself, but at least I had a few weeks to figure it out.

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Female Entrepreneurs are Just More Interesting

Wednesday, April 14th, 2010

All entrepreneurs are interesting and have a cool stories about growing their businesses.  But females entrepreneurs are just more interesting.

Male entrepreneurs …

Create a successful company and buy a sports team.

Create a successful company and buy a sports team.

Create a successful company and buy a sports team.

Create a successful company and buy a sports team.

We get it already!

While living in California I became enamored with Meg Whitman.  eBay was in the news everyday.  Their headquarters were down the street from my office.  The day they went public shares of eBay went up 163.2 percent and closed  at 47.435 far exceeding the target price of $18 a share.  Crazy times.

Meg Whitman

Meg Whitman

Meg isn’t the founder of eBay.  But she was the one to grow it from 30 to 15,000 employees and from $4 million in revenue to $8 billion by 2008.  Impressive entrepreneurial skills by any standard.

Besides the insane success of eBay, the other thing that made Meg interesting was she was publically well liked.  Her people like her too – year after year she was named as one of the  country’s best managers in Business Week.  It was in stark contrast to Carly Fiorina – the other female leader in the Valley who, sadly, was often mistaken for Cruella de Ville.  I wondered how Meg did it all.

Eating at a deli in San Jose one afternoon I looked up and saw Meg a few tables over.  After panicking for a moment I got up the nerve to go over to her table.  I stammered hello, shook her hand and something like “I’m a huge fan.”   Profound.

Do you know what she did?  She thanked me and then introduced me to everyone else at her table.  Like I was an equal. I stood there dumbfounded, nodded to the men at the table and became a lifelong fan of Meg Whitman.

That chance meeting gave me great insight.  If that’s how Meg treated a stranger, imagine how she treated the people around her.  She knew how to form relationships and it had clearly been a big part of her success.

As I write this Meg is campaigning to be Governor of California.  While I don’t know her political beliefs, I’m sure a state in financial crisis could use someone with her background as a successful business woman.  An actor is fun – but an entrepreneur just might be the ticket.

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Problem Solving Through Non-Linear Thinking

Tuesday, April 6th, 2010

In my last job I spent a day shadowing Nathan Hughes, VP of Development at ePrize.  He leads a team of talented software engineers.  To say we think differently is an understatement.  Nathan is a classic linear thinker and his thought process looks like this:

Linear Thought Process

It was inspiring to watch him answer a question, deal with a team issue or solve a problem.  Time and time again I would watch him methodically pose a question, gather the raw data, analyze and come up with answer.  The process was clean, simple and pretty.

When I have a problem I think of it like this:

My Non-Linear Problem

Yikes!  Not clean, not simple and certainly not pretty.  I don’t think in sequential steps.  The problem rolls around and around in my head while I fill in the gaps.  For instance if I were planning a dinner party it would look like this:

Dinner party thought process

If I get stuck on one part the whole thing comes to halt.  Picture it like you had a flat tire – most of the tire is fine, but that one leak is keeping you from moving.  So now the planning of my party looks like this:

Dinner Party - No Menu

After I fill in every part of the puzzle then I can solve the problem.  Once its finished I can “roll” or complete all the steps to come up with solution.  In my head, now it looks like this:

Dinner party done!

Bottom Line: I can certainly plan a party, just don’t invite me to be the chef too.  Recipes don’t turn out well if you don’t follow them step-by-step.  Trust me.  Get Nathan to help you and you’ll have much happier guests.

So back to my bag.  Where to start?  I had design ideas, branding thoughts, leather colors, funding questions, time restraints, zipper pulls, shipping concerns and “The Devil Wears Prada” running through my head at once.  I was frozen with thought.

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Friday, April 2nd, 2010

As far as entrepreneurs go, Josh Linkner is the real deal. He started his first business in college, built and sold a company during the dot com era and created hundreds of jobs in a state economy that consistantly gets rated as one of the worst in the country. While he looks like he could still be an undergrad, his resume was certainly intimidating.

“Come on in and close the door,” Josh motioned me in and I sat down. Don’t you hate it when people say “Close the door”? My stomach sank to my feet.

Josh Linkner

Josh - Circa 2009

“So … I’ve been doing some thinking. I think we need a marketing person. And I think it should be you. Would you be…”

“YES.” I replied. I didn’t need to hear the rest. The role didn’t come with a raise, or anything like that. I didn’t care. I’d be working for Josh directly while creating and executing the marketing plan for ePrize. It took all the self restrain I had not to skip back to my desk.

During the next six years, Josh would teach me a ton about marketing. He’d push my self-imposed boundaries. We created PR plans, ran conferences and implemented ad campaigns. There were no directions. No one knew the 32 step plan to host an event or the sure fire way to get 200 PR wins in a year. But learned I could figure it out. And once I got comfortable with the unknown elements, it really got fun.

Josh gets things done faster than anyone I know. Faster than anyone you know too. I made it my job to not only keep up, but to soak it all in. At times I though he was crazy. I’d be in his office for a meeting and by the time I got back to my desk there would be an email with another idea. When everyone else would say “not possible under any circumstances” he would say “should be easy – get it done by tomorrow.” Because that’s what he truly believed.

He taught me what it took to run and grow a business. How to set goals. How to read financial reports and make budgets. How to negotiate and save money. How to make connections, manage vendors, hire and fire people, prepare for board meetings, schedule production teams, forecast sales and create a corporate culture. How to take feedback (that one took a while) and how to give it. How to do everything.

I had to write this post about Josh so soon in the blog because through creating ePrize and being my mentor he changed my life – more specifically – my path in life.  He was the ultimate entrepreneurial role model and believed in my abilities.  Now I can picture myself as an entrepreneur. It’s time to step out on my own.

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Wednesday, March 24th, 2010
ePrize HQ

Present Day ePrize

After two and half years, two jobs and living 3,000 miles away from my family on 9/11, I moved back to Michigan.  Driving across the country in my Mustang I wasn’t sad to be leaving Silicon Valley.  At all.

Upon returning, I took a job with ePrize as a Project Manager.  There were 23 people in the company, more than 3/4 of us sat in one room and we met around one table every Friday to openly discuss the business.  I loved it.

We were a tight knit team, fighting against the world, slowly winning with every launch of a promotion.  There was only one problem:  I was never going to be an extraordinary project manager.  Creating and proofing hundreds of spec pages just wasn’t my thing. I spelled the COO’s name wrong on my first document.

My work started to get better, but after about a year I knew it was going to be difficult for me to be anything better than a B+. Then the  following email appeared in my inbox.

To:  Alesya Opelt<>

From:  Josh Linkner<>

Hi.  Could you come by my office?  Thanks.

Josh Linkner



CRAP.  Panic ensued.  What had I done?  I rarely talked to Josh let alone had a reason to go to his office.  This couldn’t be good.

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