Getting to Know Bree

By Mike Lessiter, President, Lessiter Media

Editor’s Note: Bree is the 5th most-tenured staffer at LM. I remember my “last look” interview with her in the fall of 2004 before she accepted the marketing assistant position and became the 12th full-timer on staff (she remembers it too, though she has an embellished tale about my desk). Bree was a youngin’ among the grizzled vets. In fact, it wasn’t until her 7th year that she permanently got rid of the “youngest on the team” status. 

As she approaches her 14-year anniversary, Bree has seen a number of changes in the company and in her role. She arrived just after the acquisitions from Cygnus in 2004. After a rough start and changes that had to be made in our editorial, sales and art departments, she was core to the Ag team that righted the ship to get us out of the red and into the black after the 7th edition. Today, Bree is the Senior Manager of Data and Events and has become what we could call LM’s “Girl Friday.” 

We went down memory lane more than once in our interview, including the text E-ZINES (no one would believe our first “digital products” back then or how they were assembled), the crowded BYOC Monday meetings in Frank’s tiny office (that’s right, “bring your own chair”), the first-ever HTML marketing effort (2005) that Bree prepared for AFJ holiday promotion and the too numerous to count processes that were built and refined when none existed before. Among those jobs were creating Ad Services (2004), finding and integrating Magazine Manager (2009) and the launch of the SOURCEBOOK back in 2008. She was also the IT person for LM’s PCs for a time. 

Bree also conceived of the Advertising Sales Pacing Report, which has proven to be an invaluable management tool, alerting us to problems long before they reached the point of no return. Bree used her Excel knowledge to turn it into a 5-minute report that is now examined each Friday. 

Other than the duties of a writer or graphic designer, Bree’s done virtually everything else at one time or another. “Reporting, data entry and BPA have always been on my plate as default,” she says. 

Onboarding? Really? 

Bree had a different onboarding experience than we know today. I don’t think she’s exaggerating when she said she was instructed by her supervisor to “Just learn it.” This included production, pagination and trafficking with no knowledge of the magazine business. But she did it and did it well, and the hands-off approach did work for her, she says. 

Not long after she started, her supervisor announced she was pregnant, and Bree was on a fast-track of learning, eventually running the marketing, customer service and circulation departments during the maternity leave. “I had to learn QuickFill, how to do a major direct mail campaign with splits and all the reports, which was my real introduction to Excel. I learned so much in those 12 weeks she was out.” Bree was also in the middle of packing up and building furniture for the move from one Regency Court building to another, which we somehow executed between the January conferences in 2005. 

I joked that we wouldn’t purposely “onboard” anyone in that manner today, but maybe it set a path of immediate problem-solving. “I may be a little late in the game sometimes, but I pride myself in jumping in to see that things get done. Had it not been for that maternity leave, I don’t think I would’ve developed the way I did here. You and Frank had expectations, trusted me and I was there to get it done.” 

Bree adds that she likes that she’s always been developing her own job. The opportunity was what landed her here, but the chance to keep learning is what’s kept her here, she says. “My job develops into something else every few years, yet it’s still core to where it started, but expanded. There’s always something new, and there’s always more input and different processes to create.” 

Bree credits Patrick Sharpe with challenging her and changing her perspective on the department and the power of Excel in complex budgeting. Bree’s professional development has also included presenting at an industry publishing conference and earning an Advanced Excel certification. 

Work Ethic 

Work ethic is learned, and practiced. Prior to joining LM, Bree was holding down 4 part-time jobs that came to an end shortly after her graduation from UW-Milwaukee (UWM). During college, she’d been a Web Designer and IT person for Bay View High School when 500 computers were added. She worked at the UWM library during college and had also been doing the marketing for a dance studio in Milwaukee. 

Reagan, Gauge, Vader & Yoda … Bree earns “Cool Mom” status for painting 9 foot AT-AT and “Master Gauge” in 8-year-old son’s bedroom.

At age 23, Bree and her mom exited their concessions business, which included 5 stands at the State Fair grounds that they worked every weekend. Thanks to the horse shows, she knew about farriers. 

“I knew what a farrier was because my mom booted one out from our concession stand during a horse show when I was 14. It was raining and he set up next to our back door of our kitchen. It was a health code violation so my mom kicked him out.” 

Bree’s position as trainer of Olive Garden’s serving staff refined her views of events and hospitality. Ask her about the night she single-handedly cared for 40 blind diners in an impressive customer service story. 

Rolling with the Punches 

The event business is not easy. One thing you can count on is that the unexpected is going to happen, and you’ve got to be ready to roll with things. Bree has the ideal demeanor for this high-stakes work, as evident by a staff that is pleased to work “for her” during those long days on site. She keeps things light with staff, sponsors and attendees. 

“Last year at the Precision Farming Dealer Summit, you asked how things were going and I replied ‘How do you think they’re going?’ You said ‘Fantastic.’ At that point, we’d had room setups that were all wrong, a water pipe that burst and flooded the meeting room and no heat, which meant there were more rooms to switch. That’s my job to make sure I can say ‘We’re good,’ even when it seems like everything is going wrong. We try to keep problems out of sight. There are lots of quick decisions to make at the events, but it’s fun, even when it’s stressful.” 

Bree admits that while she’s guilty of procrastinating, she says she works best under pressure. Anticipating the comment that was to follow she added, “No thanks. I’ve got enough.” 

A major undertaking years ago was the launch of an all-new registration system at the conference. Patrick and Bree had prepared all the processes and checklists but it was Bree who was on the front line in a challenging – and critical – situation. She handled it with diligence, grace and professionalism, knowing there was only one chance to get it right. 

Personal. Married to Trent (I.T. Director) since 2004, resides in Oconomowoc. Son, Gauge (8), is fanatical about Star Wars and keeps busy with Legos and Cub Scouts. Daughter, Reagan (nearly 3), is a headstrong climber/jumper who is already exhibiting professional eating skills (Look out Nathan’s Coney Island!). She is currently in the middle of a potty training standoff with her mom.

Early Years. Grew up at 35th and Greenfield, the daughter of Tom, truck driver, and mother Faith (deceased). Also raised with brother, Erik, and step-brother, Tommy. Mom ran a summer babysitting business (20 kids in the house), where Bree developed a taste for her mom’s crock pot dish of macaroni and cheese, sliced hot dogs and ketchup. Dreamt of being an F-15 fighter pilot (Top Gun era).

Free-Time. Bree has been running at 5 a.m. for about 2 years and has now advanced to trail runs. She did her first 10K last year.

Best Vacation. Orlando, Florida in late fall of 2016 for the Star Wars experience at Hollywood Studios. Gauge packed several costumes in his backpack and was selected for special treatment for 3 different events in a single day he will never forget. “We didn’t think it could get any better when after his Jedi training, park staff told Gauge Chewbacca needed to see him. And then, when they spotted him in his white costume, he was also asked to march with the Storm Troopers down Center Street.”

Little Known Facts. Bree was a ballerina for 20 years and also taught ballet until an ankle injury sidelined her in 2004 … Bree joined the work force at age 11 at her mom’s concessions stands at the State Fair grounds (“She didn’t have a babysitter so I became the fry person.”) and ended up co-owning the business with her mom until age 23.

Daydream. Opening up a restaurant, “Lake Bree’s,” on a waterfront property that would feature her favorite home-style recipes. “We’d specialize in breakfasts (baked blueberry French toast), bacon-themed dinners (bacon-wrapped pork tenderloin, bacon-wrapped meatloaf) and desserts (Oreo truffles, toffee and cheesecake).” Who else is willing to volunteer for test-kitchen duty?