Vicki Updike was recently named co-chair of New North Inc., the 18-county economic development organization in Northeast Wisconsin. After leaving her six-year post as CEO with Silver Star Brands last year, she worked as a vice president with Bergstrom Automotive. Updike sat down with Insight Editor Margaret LeBrun to talk about New North as well as the consulting company she launched in April to work with women in leadership roles.
I’m passionate about women in leadership. When I was president of Silver Star Brands, the struggles that some women have in leadership were not apparent to me. The executive team was 50 percent women, and it really was a great culture. It wasn’t until I stepped away from Silver Star, when several women contacted me, that I started understanding the need for mentoring.
There are so many things that tend to slow us down, sometimes by our own choices. I want to show women options as they continue to move through their careers — the challenges and the mixed messages that we sometimes get as leaders. For example, what does the word aggressive mean? Or the likeability factor that’s needed; women want to be liked, and a lot of times, they’re not. It’s holding your confidence as you continue your career and working together as women leaders to work through those mixed messages.
I launched a consulting company in April called New Sage Strategies, focused on promoting women in leadership. It isn’t a networking or social group; it’s about business issues. As executives and presidents, we have to balance the balance sheet and watch the cash flow along with every other executive, so it’s being able to find this network of senior executive women who can work through those issues and encourage each other to grow. I’ve been very fortunate in my career to have great mentors, and I now really want to do that for other women.
I’ve been on the New North board since 2012. I grew up on the east side of Green Bay, so when my kids were starting school I made a conscious effort to move back to Northeast Wisconsin. We were in Janesville (when I was working at Lab Safety Support, and prior to that I was at American Girl in Madison), but there was something about this area that called me back.
New North was a natural fit for me because I want to propel the region, not just economically but also personally, because people can have a great balance of life here. We are a unique region with collaboration being such a core value — so many organizations and companies in this region work together to make this region stronger. My goal is to continue to promote the collaboration, to work with other economic development organizations, the chambers and the educational institutions and continue to be a catalyst for this region.
I had joined the executive committee for New North and was also on the board development committee, so becoming co-chair was a natural step as Kathi (Seifert) was looking to step down from her role. I see her as one of the fabulous mentors that I have been fortunate to work with. She’s still on the executive committee and very much involved.
Talent is a huge topic that New North is focusing on. We need to keep great talent here and educate our kids so the region will continue to thrive. We’re trying to encourage those who have left to go away to school to come back and understand the opportunities we have here in the New North. We’re also trying to reach kids at a younger age so they can realize the opportunities here.
We want to continue to promote the high quality of life in this area, and that means bringing higher-paying jobs and diverse talent to the region. To be a global region, we need to work on entrepreneurship, and we’re getting some exciting traction there. To see so many young kids taking that leap into entrepreneurship is so fun. The courage they have is amazing and very inspiring to me.
New North celebrated its 10-year anniversary not that long ago. That is just amazing, and I am thrilled to be part of the organization.