Our business superstar this week is Meg James, Executive Officer at Hilton Head Area Home Builders Association. Meg’s areas of expertise range from community outreach and partnership development to event management, fundraising and public relations. Learn about the workplace obstacles she’s overcome, what advice she’d give to her younger self, and how she does it all, in our Q&A below!
1. How do you juggle your work and home life?
This is something I am still working to perfect. I think some would find that surprising considering that my husband, William (who is an elementary Art Teacher at Mossy Oaks Elementary in Beaufort, SC) and I don’t have any children yet. I find myself buried in work into all hours of the night only to arrive home very late to an eerily quiet home having missed out on the Super Bowl, World Series, Tricker Treating or random drop in of a friend or neighbor. I am fortunate to have a passionately supportive husband and family. They don’t give me a hard time about it because they know I’m struggling to create balance and that I beat myself up about it! I admire women who make it all happen but I hope I can at least resonate with the ones who are still working on it.
2. Given the industry that you work in, how do you handle the sexism that you’ve been faced with?
I’ve always just been one of the boys and, to be honest, I prefer it that way. I was a tomboy growing up, closest in age to my brother Nicholas, so we were always beating the living crap out of each other and always extremely competitive in sports like volleyball, basketball, and soccer. With the exception of my career as Sales Director for two hotel properties, I have been blessed to be surrounded by extremely supportive and influential male characters. Starting with my father who is a very devout Christian man, the hardest worker I know (other than my mother of course) the stubborn mule with the sweetest smile hidden under his now graying red mustache and continuing with my brothers and husband who are all conscious, caring souls always ready and willing to help a stranger.
Further still in my daily capacity of Executive Officer, manning the daily operations of 501-C6 Trade Association, I am grateful for the sound male figures that have my back. The Building Industry can easily be labeled as a male dominated profession. I feel like the men of our Association are more inclined to build up and be proud to work side by side with their female counterparts than perhaps other places in the world. Don’t get me wrong, the lady in heals walking onto the jobsite to meet with the other subcontractors about the landscape and hardscape design is still treated inferior, as if there’s no possible way she knows the ins and outs of plumbing and mechanicals. And to those men that do that, I say, “GET OUT OF THE WAY!”
Again, my experience is slightly different from the norm that I am aware exists, but I am beyond blessed to have had the pleasure of being surrounded by insanely gracious individuals of a most wildly colorful spectrum throughout my 33-year existence!
3. What words of advice would you give to a younger version of yourself?
Keep up the hard work ethic! It does pay off! And it makes you a woman who can get sh*t done! And done well! Don’t give up and when you feel like giving up just focus on one thing at a time…keep writing out to-do lists and tackling the hardest tasks first! Oh and when in doubt make a phone call instead of sending an email. Call first, leave a voicemail, and follow up with an email. Times have changed and technology is King but the way we communicate emotionally still requires our basic senses: see, touch, hear, feel and taste! So, never not stop to take the time to cultivate emotional relationships with people both personally and professionally!
4. How did you get to where you are today?
Well, I was born and raised on Hilton Head Island, SC the year the Hilton Head Hospital opened its Maternity Ward. I tell my youngest brother, Bo, that I’m kind of famous and listed on the baby alumni plaque featured in the hospital (I cannot confirm or deny the truth of this). I mention this, because I pride myself on being a true native to this beautiful Lowcountry I continue to call home.
My parents, Ron and Patricia Strimpfel who own Reclamation By Design, Ltd. Master Builders by trade and inspired by the craftsman of the bygone eras, their company specializes in the sourcing and use of reclaimed building materials. They moved from Norwalk and Collins, Ohio where they attended high school together. My dad, the eldest of 10, and my mother, the daughter of a farmer, at the youthful age of 22 years old packed up and moved South to be able to take advantage of the warm weather to build in year round. They answered my older sister Molly McDonough’s (a Brilliant stylist at Salon1050e in Bluffton, SC next to Target) prayers when she was 10 years old when my Mom gave birth to ME!
Skip to 2013…my husband and I had been married almost 4 years, he was finishing his degree at the University of South Carolina and I was the Director of Sales for two hotel properties in Northeast Columbia, SC. With William in school and student teaching, it didn’t leave much time for him to work so I picked up a second job bartending and would leave the hotels to tend bar at least 5 nights a week. I started to feel like I was having the life sucked out of me. My hotel employers didn’t appreciate my hard work, it was one of those scenarios where I just couldn’t do anything good enough, they always wanted more and of course were never willing to compensate me for any of it. They gave me literally nothing to work with, let me put that into perspective for you, they wanted me to make as many outside sales calls as possible every single day with some hotel mints and my business cards. On special occasions I was allowed to have some hotel cookies or maybe some apples.
In 2010, William and I were living apart, I was working for my parents company, helping with marketing management initiatives and acting as office manager to take some of the load off my mom. I had met Ashley Feaster, the Executive Officer at the Hilton Head Area Home Builders Association (my predecessor) while working for them because I would be attending HBA events, or turning in paper work for Parade of Homes and LightHouse Awards, etc. While in Columbia, whenever the HBA family would come up to rally at the State House or take in the Annual Bird Supper, I would accompany my mother who sat on the Board of Directors. So…on a Friday afternoon in April 2013 I emailed my mom my resume and said, I can’t take it anymore! Please forward this to Ashley Feaster at the HBA as she said she would pass it around for me to members of the Association as a reference. My mom immediately called me. In the same thread of emails she had in her inbox, just 2 or 3 apart from mine was one from Mrs. Feaster, “Is Meg still thinking about moving back here? If so, WHEN? I just found out that I’m about to lose my Member Relations Manager!” WOW! Talk about FATE! Ashley interviewed me over the phone that weekend and on Monday morning I turned in a generous three-week notice and on April 29, 2013 I started my journey at the Hilton Head Area Home Builders Association.
My husband and I used to play a game when we worked together at Truffles Café in Bluffton, SC (I trained him as a server). We would write questions on a napkin and then hand it to the other person to fill out! Well one of our colleagues posed the question: If you could have any job in the world, right now, what would it be? I about died when we handed over our cocktails napkins and William and I both said: A photographer for National Geographic, because you could travel all of the world and live out so many extraordinary experiences, photographing the most beautiful people, places and things in the world! So, when I think of a dream, I think of that moment.
6. Where did you go to school, what did you study?
Growing up on a 12-mile long Island, your class sizes are really small. I believe my graduating class was something like 36 people. My mother Homeschooled my younger brother Nicholas and me for nearly 7 years.
I started High school at Hilton Head Christian Academy my Freshman year and can remember feeling extremely anxious and out of my element. Perhaps because my first day, first class, first thing in the morning was the brilliant Mr. Schmucker’s Chemistry Class. I completed my Junior and Senior Years at Hilton Head Preparatory school where I was competitive in Volleyball, Basketball and Soccer.
Having given up my other hobby, Ballet, during the last two years of high-school so I could play sports, I was excited when a former Hilton Head Dance Company member convinced me to try out for the USC Ballet Company. I got in! I performed with the USC Ballet Company for 3 semesters, changed my minor to dance and loved every minute of it! I studied abroad through Cultural Experiences Abroad (CEA) and lived in Barcelona Spain for 6 months in 2003. What a wonderful experience.
I’m fearless, my mother would say. I’m equally as blessed to have parents who were willing and able to make such an event happen for me. Financially it’s not something a lot of people can afford. I don’t take that for granted. My mother loves to remind us that they would have a lot more money if they hadn’t put their children in Private school! I try and convince her it was worth it…verdict is still out! I graduated from the University of South Carolina with a Bachelor of Arts in 2006. I received my Masters of Business Administration through Colorado Technical University in 2008 and I’m proud to say that I have been utilizing what I learned from all of my various places of study every, single, day!