Paige Perdue on being motivated to mentor others

Paige Perdue is a 20-year veteran of the WD-40 company and is currently Director of Digital Marketing. She manages a portfolio of seven brands in the digital space and in her own words WD-40 flows through her veins! She is humble, hardworking and loves watching others thrive. I had the pleasure of chatting with her in early November and was inspired by her story.

What did you want to be when you grew up?
A secretary. I came from a less fortunate background and grew up on welfare. My mother encouraged me to learn how to type so that’s what I focused on. 

Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?
Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart because I think it would be highly entertaining. 

What single book had the greatest impact on you?
I have two books. The first is the novel Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah by Richard Bach. My boyfriend (now husband) gave it to me many years ago and it’s said that if you open the book to any page you can find guidance for what you seek.  

The second is Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl. It's about finding a purpose in life under duress and extreme odds.

I had a lot of strikes against me when I was growing up. I grew up on welfare, moved around a lot, had an alcoholic father and lived in a shelter when I was younger so I didn't have the greatest opportunity to succeed. I think these books have so much meaning to me because you really have to search within yourself to find that inner strength.

When do you go to bed and when do you get up?
I try to get to bed by 10pm and my alarm goes off just before 6am. But boy, I would love to sleep in longer! 

What is your favorite time of the working week?
Wednesday because it's hump day: halfway in and halfway to go. It’s the peak of the mountain. 

Can you briefly explain your career path to date?
I started working when I was 14. I always had to help provide so I have a really good work ethic. Part of that was to help us get off welfare when I was a teenager, but then I finished school early and started working full time. 

I worked for two years and then left to go to college. I found a way to get Pell grants and student loans. I did secretarial work in the summer (because I learned how to type!) and I majored in Speech Communication and Journalism. Coming out of that I got a job at an advertising agency in San Francisco. I worked on some of their biggest clients as an account coordinator. It was hard work, but I really enjoyed it. While I was there the agency merged with Chiat\Day.

At this point I married my husband and he got relocated to San Diego. He was working for the Department of Defense as a civilian worker and I got a job at another agency down here. I worked on some great brands like Bumble Bee Seafoods, The Scripps Research Institute, San Diego Trust & Savings Bank and Lightning Bolt Apparel.

Soon after I had the opportunity to work on the WD-40 business, which I did for a couple of years before being offered a job as their marketing manager. I defected to the client side in 1994 and I’ve been here ever since.

I love the brand. I love the people. I love the company. They treat us very well. It's been an amazing, dynamic ride.

I eventually became a senior brand manager and then director of marketing. Over the last 20 years we’ve acquired and invented several other brands, so our business has changed completely. Even though my role is similar in title, its evolved to meet the very different ways we have looked at our business and allowed me the opportunity to grow and develop as a marketer.

In 2005 I came back to work full time after a stint part time when I had my children. In 2007 my VP said that we really needed to do something about the website. In all honesty I really didn't know anything about digital at all. My experience was limited to a conference I went to in 1995 that was titled, "Doing Business on the World Wide Web". So that was it. I put together an RFP and went through the process of selecting a digital agency. The last seven years have been a huge learning curve. It's been pretty amazing and I’ve absolutely loved it.

What is the biggest obstacle you’ve overcome, as it relates to your industry?
Needing to be flexible and adapting to the change. Part of that has been trying to get the C-suite to drink the digital Kool-Aid and understand the changing digital landscape. 

What motivates you?
Being a coach, a leader and a mentor to others. I consider myself a servant leader: I love watching other people learn and thrive. 

What advice would you give to your children at the start of their career?
Take the cotton out of your ears and stick it in your mouth! Listen, learn and be willing to pay your dues. It's okay to start at the bottom. When you know how to do a lot of things, and when you're willing to help others, it makes you well-rounded.  There’s no job too small and it’s good to get your hands dirty. 

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
What I've been able to do in the last seven years for this brand and this company. We have seven brands in the US and they all exist within the digital space. What we have been able to achieve in Social Media as well as what we're doing in our CRM program has been extremely fulfilling.  

What do you believe has been the key to your success?
Coming from nothing and having succeeded on my own has allowed me to be humble and authentic. I've always been willing to work really hard. I have really high expectations and high standards, but I don't expect anything from anybody else that I don't expect from myself. I don't pretend to know it all and I'll admit when I'm wrong. I'm tough, but I’m fair. 

What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
In the blink of an eye you can lose everything. You have to be careful with the choices you make because it really can disappear. I've seen it happen. You need to be honest in word and in deed. Don't pay lip service; be yourself. 

What do you believe are the personality traits of great leaders?
Listening. Empathy. Being able to recognize what style is necessary to steward others. Understanding that you have a responsibility to help and guide people.

Seeing the bigger picture. Giving people permission to ask questions, but let them do what they do without micromanaging them. 

What do you believe is the secret to rising up to the top?
Being passionate about what you do and being able to influence others. Leading by example and finding what inspires those you lead. Building relationships with co-workers, partners and potential partners based on mutual respect and honesty. Never assuming you have all the answers and not being too proud to ask those who might for guidance. Having the courage to share your point of view, even though it may not be popular. Not being a ‘yes man’. Challenging the status quo, yet knowing when it’s right to do so.

 Who do you turn to when the going gets tough?
I have a circle of friends that I can talk to outside of work. I also turn to people that I used to work with as well as partners that I work with in the business. I try to meditate to get things into perspective.

What's next?
I've been here over 20 years and I’m continuously challenged and inspired. I love this company and its brands. WD-40 flows through my veins! I will continue to make our brands strong in the digital space and I'd also like to teach younger audiences about how brands work on Social Media.


As told to Caroline Hugall over Skype on Tuesday 4th November 2014. Paige lives and works in San Diego.