“Be silly. Be honest. Be kind.”
-Ralph Waldo Emerson
Today we announced that Jan is stepping out of her CEO role and transferring not only that title but also majority shares to me, capping off a transition strategy she and I first started planning 12 years ago.
It’s a moment that despite knowing it was coming is still incredibly overwhelming. Jan and I have gone through so much – put each other through so much – in those 12 years. And I will expand on that a little more…tomorrow. Because today, well today belongs to my mentor, my boss…my friend, Jan Gusich. And there are some people more important than me who have some thoughts they want to share – the AKHIA family.
I asked them to help me articulate what makes Jan, Jan. And as usual, they overdelivered and overwhelmed with their comments:
“Friendly. Caring. And simply, fantastic.
Jan is amazing at what she does and her passion is evident. From Crisis Communications to small client asks, she approaches everything with the same attitude and makes sure the task is done and that the client is satisfied beyond their expectations.”
“I can write a book about Jan since I have known her my entire life (we won’t say how long that is), but below are a few of my most favorite things about Jan.
She is “THE BEST SISTER” you can ask for. I LOVE her with all my heart for all the things she has done for me. She is always there for me (and our family) in good time and in bad. It’s nice to know she will always have my back.
Jan is a ROCK! I have been with AKHIA from almost the beginning of time and witnessed ALL the sacrifices, obstacles and transitions she has had to endure to ensure the success and stability of this company and ultimately, her employees.
Jan is a LEADER! It never ceases to amaze me how much people look up to her and value her ideas, opinions and intelligence.
She INSPIRES the best in everyone. It doesn’t matter who you are, she always wants you to succeed in whatever you choose in life.
I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that her husband Tony, has stood by her side for thirty something years and has supported and grounded Jan in whatever she did. He is the ying to her yang.”
-Love you, Julie
“Her heart and compassion for every person, employee, spouse, kid, pet.”
“To me, it’s Jan’s generous heart and authenticity that make Jan so special. It continues to amaze me how much Jan gives to AKHIA, the community, individuals, etc., including not only in terms of monetary donations but also her investment of time and her kindness.
I love that Jan is totally herself no matter who she is with. I’ve heard many stories of Jan spilling coffee or falling (and personally witnessed some of these “accidents” myself). She makes you feel like you can be you. It’s this genuineness that makes clients trust her and her employees love her—and why she’s an inspiration for me and countless others.”
“AKHIA has always felt like a family business. Jan has been the head of this crazy family. She leads with hard work, laughter, love and passion.”
“Jan is without a doubt one of the most authentic people I have ever had the pleasure to meet. There’s no BS, no punches pulled, she’s just Jan, take it or leave it.
The best part of that is she is also one of the most caring people I know. You can tell that this job and her employees truly matter to her. When she looks at us, she doesn’t see 55 employees. She sees 55 families that depend on her.
Organizations often take on the personality of their leader. That’s why AKHIA has the reputation it has. To put it simply, there is an old quote: “Take care of the people, the rest will take care of itself.” The personification of that quote is Jan. That’s what makes her different. That’s what makes her special. And I think that’s why I have learned more from her than any other boss I’ve ever had.”
“What makes Jan, Jan is her fearlessness. She looks at every challenge, not matter how daunting, as an opportunity to learn, grow and succeed, and, in turn, inspires everyone around her to do the same.”
“How do you sum up what makes Jan so special? Not only is she a great leader, she’s someone who cares deeply about each and every one of us.
I’ve seen it firsthand. It’s not every day the CEO will hand write a note to you to wish you a happy work anniversary or stop by your office to see how your family is doing.
Her passion has resulted in a place I get excited about coming to every day. And her hard work makes me want to work harder. Jan’s set an unprecedented example of what it means to be a woman of excellence in business—and in life.”
“She’s one of the most kind people I have ever met. She truly cares about her employees as if they are family—always taking the time to offer advice, compassion and a laugh when needed most. Jan’s care for others (strangers or closest family) is admirable, and only the luckiest get to call her their boss.”
“What makes Jan is two parts sincerity, mixed with fearlessness and then chilled. Never shaken. Never stirred.
Jan is the recipe for success (and using a mixed drink metaphor is fitting) because it’s people first – both employees and clients. Jan is an inspiration because in an industry of self-promotion, she is never superficial. She’s genuine in everything she does. Where there should be ego, she remains humble, where there is self-importance, she promotes camaraderie. In an industry of stretched truths, she is a beacon of honesty – to everyone. Every day. Always.”
“One of the things I admire most about Jan is that the expression of her leadership abilities and “giving spirit” seemingly know no bounds. She has nothing to prove as a successful business owner and professional at this point in her career, yet it seems she’s never been more engaged with civic organizations, charities and other initiatives through which she shares her time and talents.”
“It’s simple to see why Jan is special: she leads with her heart. Yes, she is smart, funny, interesting, etc., but her best quality is her genuine ability to make everyone feel valued.”
“Jan is one of the most selfless people I have ever met. She has taught me a lot about being humble and being willing to make sacrifices for the benefit of AKHIA and our team. I’ve seen her apologize for things that weren’t her fault, give credit to others when she’s the one who deserved it, work tirelessly all hours of the night so one of her employees didn’t have to, and worry more about her employees’ wellbeing than any other CEO would.”
“She is the quiet in the storm and yet her presence is undeniable. As they say, people will forget much of what you did in life, but not how you made them feel and this is what drives Jan and makes Jan, well, Jan!!!”
“She’s smart, savvy, strong, successful and above all else – incredibly selfless. Her first priority is always making sure everyone feels supported and valued, taking care of her employees like they are her family.
She’s a role model for me and so many other working moms trying to balance it all. But when you tell her that, another classic Jan quality comes through – she’s the definition of humble, always quick to give credit to those around her. It’s why there’s truly nobody like Jan Gusich and I’m forever grateful to have met her, work closely with her and call her my friend.”
“Equal parts compassionate, open heart; well-refined sense of class; and vast industry experience and knowledge that she readily shares with others. Plus, a celebratory spirit and sense of humor that brings everyone around her together to feel like they’re part of something bigger.”
“What makes Jan… Jan? Her kindness, empathy and willingness to help anyone and everyone.”
“After a few months of working with Jan, she finally got my name down (for quite some time I was “Katie”) and ever since then she’s been calling me to help with various projects!
Jan has provided me with opportunities I never thought I’d get to experience during my first year at AKHIA. She believed in me and my abilities even when I didn’t. She gave me the information I needed to complete a project and then threw me into situations on my own. At the time I was FREAKING OUT, but looking back, these situations helped me grow the most as a young professional at AKHIA.
Jan is simply the BEST! That’s all.”
“Her inability to walk without tripping, her love of red wine and a LOT of it, her terrible driving (while applying make-up) and horrible parking skills, her infectious laughter…….. but mostly her selflessness and loving, giving spirit.”
“Her generous heart of gold! She truly cares about every person who crosses her path, from her family members to her employees to her friends, she is always there to listen, offer advice and help in any way she can.
Her ability to tell a funny story and laugh till she cries while trying to get the words out.
Her unending friendship, support and guidance.”
“She’s so….normal. And that makes her memorable.
And that’s unexpected not just for a CEO, but a CEO in the PR and Marketing world, which is a world fertilized with BS.
I never think of Jan as the stereotypical CEO… the win-at-all-costs, bottom-line-first, my-way-or-get-out boss. If she is, she hides it well.
I will tell you one story that shows who she is. I brought my third-grade son in to the office one day. He set up a little basketball hoop on the door and was playing with it. Jan walks by, challenges him to a game of HORSE, and promptly loses. She challenges him to a second game, and loses again. The smile never left Jan’s face the whole time, and it never left my son’s. She was genuinely into the game, trying to win and showing happy frustration (if such a thing is possible) when her shots didn’t go in.
What’s that tell me? It says Jan didn’t play HORSE with my son to score points (figuratively speaking) with me. She did it because she wanted to, because that was fun to her. For someone whose every minute is occupied with this business, she took the time to play a little ball with my son. She didn’t have to. She could have walked right on by and no one would have blamed her or held it against her. But she didn’t.
And Craig still talks about that to this day.”
“Whether she realized it or not, Jan has been my unofficial mentor for the past 13 years. I’ve quietly observed, learned and know I’m a better professional and person for it. So, what makes Jan, Jan? She’s smart, savvy and successful – yet she’s real. She’s fun. A good friend. A caring boss. A kind person. She’s humble. She loses stuff all the time and can’t park a car to save her life – yet she’s usually the smartest person in the room. She taught me to trust my gut, have confidence to speak up and to always consider the feelings of others.
When it comes to clients, she overpromises and still overdelivers (yes, I said that right), she’s never afraid to get in the trenches and get her hands dirty even as CEO, and she has a way of making anyone feel comfortable, heard and cared for while still pushing you to do and be better.”
“To me, what makes Jan, Jan, is how genuine she is. In a crazy world of so many things that feel exaggerated and fake these days, the way Jan leads by truly being herself and being 100% real with us all has set the tone for each of us to do the same. It has inspired me to never lose sight of that both personally and professionally.”
“Jan’s genuine personality is infectious and her love for this company and the people is beyond anything I have ever seen before – it’s truly a rarity. From sharing many laughs over a few drinks, to our heart-to-heart conversations, Jan is not only our CEO, but she is a friend that you can always count on.”
“Jan always makes a point to say hello to me when she walks into Creative. When you’re having a bad or stressful day, something as small as that can calm you down and allows you to move on with your day. And I love that she is so excited for my wedding. She asks me about it every couple of weeks and I made sure to hunt her down the day after I bought my wedding dress because I knew how excited she would be. And she was.
When I step back and think about when I worked for a large corporation where the CEO didn’t even know I existed, then worked for a sizable agency where the CEO knew my name and what I did at the agency, but that’s it, to now—working for a CEO who not only knows my name and what I do, but has met my family, is friends with me on Facebook and wants to know information about my personal life—it’s a rare thing to find and something that we shouldn’t take for granted. I will miss Jan and the things like that that make her special.”
“Jan is Jan because of her heart and care she takes in making sure her employees feel like family. She is what I aspire to be when I grow up!”
“Genuine. Jan would take the shirt off of her back to help someone.”
“One word I would use to describe her is genuine. To me, that makes a real impact. I believe her success is tied to that characteristic.”
“As a mother to two young girls who ask me all the time about what their futures may hold, I find that I could easily say I want you to be someone like Jan when you grow up…and that would be spectacular.”