Digital Commerce Re-Tales: Abi Harmon

The Digital Commerce Re-Tales series highlights personal and professional stories from the people and brands defining the direction of digital commerce. While each profile is as unique as the figures themselves, they share common themes such as learning to navigate the ever-changing nature of the eCommerce industry.

“I recently have been trying to convince my husband to allow us to adopt a goat or a bunny.”

Abi Harmon’s Seattle home currently holds space for herself, her husband, their dog Magnus, and two cats, but she’s eager to add a new species or two into the mix.

“He said that I’m maxed out on animals.” Hopefully negotiations are still in the works.

Abi’s desire to expand her personal menagerie is in alignment with her professional passion for diversity and inclusion as Chief Executive Officer at Perpetua.

Abi on her professional passions…

“Diversity and Inclusion is very, very important to me. Having worked for organizations that have prioritized it and [others that] have not, working with diversity of thought and diversity of person, and making sure that there’s an inclusive environment for folks to be able to bring their authentic selves to work, that is sort of number one. I know what it can feel like to be part of an organization where you don’t feel like you can really be genuinely yourself, so that is absolutely a passion.”

This conviction goes way back for Abi. Born and raised in a relatively traditional and conservative suburb in Richmond, VA.

“I was doing cotillion dancing every week, wearing my white gloves. I’m a little bit of a quirky person, and my family is very hippie. We’re Jewish, and it never necessarily felt like the perfect cultural fit.”

Her family moved to Iowa City while she was in high school. There, Abi flexed her performance muscles and joined her new school’s speech team where she found a strong sense of community with diverse and like-minded folks.

“It ended up being honestly a really good experience for me. Being in a college town, even though it’s in Iowa, it had a lot more diversity. Diversity of thought and an intellectual, education-focused school community.”

A self-described ‘retail loyalist’, Abi hit the bullseye after graduation from Macalester College, earning her first professional position as a business analyst with Target at their headquarters in Minneapolis.

On the value of work experience…

“Target recruits heavily from strong business schools. Coming from more of a liberal arts background, I didn’t necessarily have the pedigree of some of my peers. But I did have a lot of work experience and an understanding of the service industry and that desire to speak to the end consumer.

It was an aggressive interview process. I obviously made it through and, from the start, Target does an amazing job with training. My first three months were in a training program, learning all the ins and outs of the role, kind of being put to test, both with case studies but also hands-on experience before I was able to be placed and formally become that business analyst.”

Having an affinity for retail didn’t stop Abi from jumping at the chance to work in the brand world when opportunity came knocking.

“I love Kleenex. I joke that everyone in my family has what we call runny nose syndrome…so I have a connection with this specific tissue design box of Kleenex that has probably been around since the 60s. When I was at Amazon in the retail world, and Kimberly Clark came knocking on my door for a job, I totally geeked out about the fact that I had the potential to work for the company that created Kleenex.”

Throughout her career Abi has benefitted from valuable guidance and feedback but the mentorship that has meant the most comes from someone who knows her inside and out, her father.

On her most consistent mentor…

“I’ve had good mentors throughout my career, but I must admit my best mentor, my most consistent mentor, really is my Dad. He has a business and education background; he does some career coaching. We have this amazing relationship where I’ve been able to get very direct feedback.

I think having a mentor, even though it’s familial, that understands my emotional reaction at times to scenarios and how to navigate – allowing me to process a situation but then focus on how I action and drive forward – has been… I mean there are no words for it.

I started at Flywheel as a Senior Director managing a pilot for Procter & Gamble, and six years later I was managing the whole company with 300+ people underneath me. I would not have been able to drive that journey had I not had someone in this executive coaching role, making sure that I was putting that in perspective, and really guiding and coaching me through sometimes tough conversations with my bosses, tough conversations with my team. Just allowing me to have that safe space to process and communicate and then working with me on what the action plan would be.”

Outside of work, Abi is a trained Pilates instructor and teaches weekly classes at her local yoga studio. Within the workplace, an aptitude for finding balance is at the crux of her leadership role as she traverses the continuously evolving world of eCommerce.

“I think there is this constant balance in business more generally, but certainly, in eCommerce, and in this rapidly changing retail media space. You can deliver results and you can drive with action, but bringing the client or the customer, the team, bringing those incredibly important resources with you along the journey really, really matters. Because otherwise, you’re somewhere by yourself. And so that’s always stuck with me, of how to balance. I’m very results driven, but I can only be as strong as the team that’s shown up with me.”

Equally important is her commitment to balancing the gift and responsibility of mentoring and promoting women.

On the gift and responsibility of being a woman leader…

“I very much recognize both the gift and to some extent, the responsibility of being a woman leader in an executive role and making sure that I’m showing up for other women that are trying to sort of figure out and traverse the workplace. That’s huge for me. And sort of taking advantage of owning some of the strengths that women are more likely at times to have and how you show up for yourself and bring those strengths into the workplace in the most productive way.”

Professionally, she has built a unique resume that comprises experience working for a retailer, a brand, and now a service provider.

On working in the three arms of the eCommerce world…

“In the retailer world, it’s all about the brands. They own everything. They are the ones creating the product, they’re really close to the end consumer. We’re just making sure that we’re buying the right thing and putting it on the shelf. Then I went to the brand world, and everything we’re doing is to create this relationship with the retailer; they have so much power, they are the ones that own the end consumer.

For better or worse, when I had been in the brand and retailer worlds, I had a little bit of a nose up attitude about the service industry. It’s kind of this third-party space and I didn’t quite understand what a media agency really did for a brand and why some of that work was outsourced. Then I came into the service world and fully understood the amount of influence that the agency has in really seeing the bigger picture, being able to influence where the brand goes, where the retailer goes, being a translator to both and across both [retailers and brands] is incredibly powerful.

I feel like I’ve been able to make more meaningful changes in a manufacturer organization within this world than I ever was when I worked within the brand world. And I have much better relationships with the retailers, who truly see us as the customer even more so sometimes than the brand, and the ability to drive change there than I necessarily did when I was driving the day to day of the retailer.

It’s so interesting how close this space is, and yet everyone puts another component of it on a pedestal. That need to work seamlessly, and honestly the respect that I have for the agency and service component of [e-commerce] has grown drastically.”

The truest lesson that Abi has learned so far from these intertwined industries within the world of eCommerce is the value of karma.

“It is a small world, and it is very relationship-based; technology first, but relationships matter. Having had good working relationships with folks within that retailer world and having worked within the walls of a brand where folks within that brand went to work at other brands, taught me to focus on seeing the good in people and make sure that that’s what I bring to the table. You end up working with a lot of the same people over and over again and so that piece really matters.”

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