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    Between managing the schedules of her two teenage sons, running two successful companies (Signarama and Transworld Business Advisors), heading up a local networking organization for women (CliffDivers) and staying active with regular cycling classes, Maggie Harlow has her plate full.
     
    But when we say her plate is full, it is full of laughter, achievement, and fun. The things that Maggie takes on are tasks that empower her, challenge her, and ultimately inspire others to do the same in their own lives.
     
    Louisville.com: What did you want to be when you were little?
    Maggie Harlow: “I really never had a dream. Growing up, my mother always used to say to me (she was a stay at home mom for most of my life, and ended up going back to school and back to work), but for most of my life, she always said to me, ‘plan on working your whole life. Don’t buy into this fantasy that you’re going to marry someone who’s going to let you stay home because the world is changing.” So she started preparing me and telling me to be prepared to work.
     
    I wasn’t convinced that she was right, but she was right. It’s interesting. My whole life I sort of have gone with the flow. I grew up and didn’t have a clear vision of what I wanted and what I wanted to study while I was in school. I was always good at art, and so my mom suggested to study art.” When Harlow graduated with an art degree, she began to work with her father at his automotive dealership. After 12 years on the job she went to work for the ownership group that took over the dealership when her father retired. 
     
    The position was “not a good fit,” Harlow admits. “And it wasn’t until the moment that I made the decision that I wanted to own a business. That was the first time that I had really clearly said, ‘I’m not just going to go with a flow. I’m not just going to hang out here until these new owners fire me.’ It was the first time that I activated and said, ‘I’m gonna put my stake in the ground’ and I’ve sort of become addicted to it. I’m like, ‘Okay, I like that feeling.’ Saying this is what I want and then working towards that. Entrepreneurship really just changed my life.”
     
     
    LC: Why CEO? What drew you to that position?
    Maggie Harlow: “I have a real desire to execute my vision. It’s hard for me when I say, ‘I have this vision,’ and someone says, ‘Well, we’re not really interested in that.’ Good or bad…I have this natural desire that I like to chart my own destiny and you know, I’m okay with people questioning my decisions or even disagreeing with my decisions. But at the end of the day, if I think it’s a good idea, I am compelled…I’m like “No, it has to happen. It’s a good idea.”
     
     
    LC: What’s the best thing about being the Signarama CEO?
    Maggie Harlow: “Being able to make decisions and looking forward, always having a vision of what’s coming and then fulfilling it. That, to me, is a really rewarding experience.
     
    Being a CEO doesn’t require any specialized skillset. I think people are successful CEOs in many manifestations. You know, it’s like parenting. Parenting takes all these different shapes and they’re caring in all these different ways, and they do it successfully, at varying levels of success. But two completely different philosophies of parenting can create two really healthy people. Being a CEO is the same way.  You may come at it differently than someone else, or your skill may be moving quickly toward a decision, your skill might be being able to include everyone in the company and helping make that vision come true. I don’t believe that a good CEO must be this or that. There are tendencies.”
     
     
    LC: Your 17-year-old son, Jack Harlow, performed at this year’s Forecastle Festival, and has been pretty successful in the local rap scene. Can you tell me a little bit about his rap career?
    Maggie Harlow: “Jack's rap career is such fun.  He had his first label-backed issue come out a few weeks ago and he has been performing regularly and finding simpatico collaborators who he admires and enjoys working hard with.  His career has brought about experiences I could never have imagined… It's an out-of-body experience for me when I hear one of his new songs or when I watch him perform.  I get weepy every time, or sometimes find myself not breathing!
     
    I take great pride in what he has achieved, but truthfully, I can take no credit.  At age 11, he declared he was going to become the world's greatest rapper and he has never taken his eye off that goal.  I sometimes pretend it all started in-utero, where he heard rap non-stop - my music of choice!”
     
     
    LC: What’s one song that makes you feel empowered?
    Maggie Harlow: “My empowered song changes constantly, but you can count on it always being hip-hop or rap.  'Black Skinhead' by Kanye was introduced to me by my son and has become a great power-up anthem.”
     
     
    LC: What’s been your career biggest obstacle so far?
    Maggie Harlow: “I would say right now my biggest obstacle is having clarity about my next 20 years. I really don’t have a vision of what exactly I want that to look like. You know, is it growing the sign business? Is it something else? And that’s a little tough for me. Getting here was tough. It’s been 11 years, and it’s been a lot of work, but as my kids move on and I think about professionally where I want to end up, is it politics or is it business…it’s an interesting place to be.
     
    What I see in my future is critical for me. Looking out and being able to understand what I’m working toward - everything is easier when I know what the end goal is in sight. As soon as I can get that vision clearer, life would be more fun.”
     
     
    LC: What would you want to run for?
    Maggie Harlow: “Right now, probably something in local politics. I would like to get my feet wet on the small stage, if I was going to run for something.”
     
     
    LC: Tell me more about the organization you started, CliffDivers. I know it’s a group of local women who want to further explore risk-taking, taking chances, and embracing changes in their lives, but can you tell me why it’s important to you?
    Maggie Harlow: “CliffDivers was a passion project -- something that sprung from an intense desire to connect with women in my community, share rich, interesting conversation, and introduce them to one another.  My favorite response from attendees is when they say, ‘I met the most amazing woman!’ This city is literally crammed with amazing women.”
     
     
    LC: There are definitely an abundance of amazing women in Louisville. If you could grab a beer or glass of wine with any women from history, past or present, who would it be? 
    Maggie Harlow: “Patty and Mildred Hill, the Louisville sisters and pioneers in early childhood education, are relatively unsung badass women.  I would love to learn from them and hear how they defied nearly every expectation and convention of the day to follow their passion to improve early childhood education.  Their impact around the world is impossible to measure.  I would love to learn more about how they did so much at a very restrictive time for women.”
     
    LC: How do you tackle work/life balance? How do you make peace with yourself and stop worrying?
    Maggie Harlow: “The way that I deal with the competing pressures is to let go of things that I don’t want to focus on. For example, I don’t have a perfectly decorated home. I don’t have, you know, the latest fashions. I tend to think practically of what I can accomplish. So, while I would love to have a ‘Better Homes and Gardens’ type of home, it’s not in the cards because I’m going to put energy into my business, or I’m going to put energy into being a mom.
     
    I think that what I love to say to men and women about that pressure of a job and a home is that you have to decide what really matters. And if it really matters to you, if baking cookies and taking them to school for your kids birthday, if that matters to you, then by God, find a way to make that work. But if it really matters to you that you can take that conference call at 7 o’clock at night with your biggest client, then you’ve got to find a way to make sure that that thing that really matters to you happens.
     
    That might mean that you’re not going to bake those cookies, or you’re going to miss that conference call. You have to make those choices, but the guilt is not helpful. So when you can’t bake the cookies, the guilt of, ‘Oh, I’m a bad mom,’ or ‘Oh, I’m a bad dad,’ is really pointless. If you’re making conscious decisions, make peace with the sacrifices you have to make.”
     
     
    LC: What is the first thing you do each day?
    Maggie Harlow: “The very first thing I do in the morning, and I hate to admit this, is that I look at my calendar. I’m bad with planning, and so my alarm goes off at 5:45, and I have to look at my calendar, because it’s entirely possible that I have a 7 a.m. meeting, that is totally not on my radar. But my calendar reminds me where my energy needs to be, what I’m going to wear that day, and what kind of game I’m going to bring. Is it an ‘A game’ day, or is it a ‘B game’ day? For me, a quick look at my calendar helps me calibrate, ‘Alright, this is the day I’m going to have.’”
     
     
    LC: What’s your favorite way to decompress?
    Maggie Harlow: “I garden. Weeding in the garden is one of the greatest therapies of all times. Pruning bushes and trees is unbelievable. I feel like I’m on another planet when I’m in the garden and working away at it. It relives a lot of stress. Hanging out with my kids relieves a lot of stress - just hearing about their day and talking with them. And I sort of have a small problem with ‘Plants Vs. Zombies.’ I’ve learned to manage it better, but I’ll tell you what, playing 10 minute of ‘Plants Vs. Zombies,’ laying on the bed with my iPad, I feel way better. Something I can for sure win at.”
     
     
    LC: Gardening! That’s a lovely pastime. What’s your favorite thing to plant?
    Maggie Harlow: “I love to plant perennial flowers and plants.  They always surprise and delight me when their little green noses appear in early spring, just about when I begin to despair winter will never end.  Harvesting their flowers gives me gifts for my friends and family.  At the end of the season, when I strip away their dried foliage, I'm reminded of my own ticking clock and my hope to surrender in such a graceful way.”
     
    Leading Ladies of Louisville is an ongoing Louisville.com series focused on the women that are making Louisville great. Check out our interviews with:
     
    If you’d like to nominate a Leading Lady of Louisville, please email Elizabeth@louisville.com with the subject “Leading Ladies of Louisville Nomination.”
     
    Aimee Jewell's picture

    About Aimee Jewell

    My name is Aimee Jewell and I am a graduate student at Bellarmine University, where I'm studying communication. When I'm not writing for Louisville.com, you can find me at the Louisville Palace, the Mercury Ballroom, or Camp Hi Ho helping with events. Follow me and see what I'm up to on Twitter at @AimeeJewell13.

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