Heather Chopra-Riolo, Owner/Designer Of Laken & Lila Children’s Clothing Line

Periodically, my weekly business column features a respected leader in our region who has been in their career long enough to have learned a lesson or two worth sharing. The name of this feature is, Leadership Reflections.

You will have the opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of the featured leader’s journey that led them to their current role. Most importantly, you will gain valuable insight from helpful “real life” lessons they’ve learned along the way.

This month, I decided to feature a leader in our region who unabashedly traded in her corporate job for an entrepreneurial venture that enables her to be a hands-on mother to her young son living with autism. Heather Chopra-Riolo shows us how the most nourishing career choices stem from loving what you do, and who you’re doing it for. Enjoy.

Q: Tell us about your business.

A: Laken & Lila is a handmade clothing company for children. Our mission is to make clothing that brings happiness to the children who wear it by helping them to feel proud of who they are. We do this one clothing garment at a time. Our Web address is www.lakenandlila.etsy.com and our Facebook page can be found at www.facebook.com/lakenandlila.

Q: What is your educational background?

A: I attended Edinboro University of Pennsylvania and also graduated with honors from Jamestown Community College with an associate degree in independent studies. In addition to my formal studies, I’ve also taken courses in photography and graphic design.

Q: As an organization gets larger there can be a tendency for the “institution” to dampen the “inspiration.” How do you keep this from happening?

A: I believe there are times in any organization when the “institution” tends to dampen the “inspiration” and my business is no exception. When I started Laken & Lila, it was all for the passion and the creative outlet it gave me. As the years have passed by, some days it’s more of a “job” than a passion. Knowing and remembering the mission and core values of why I started Laken & Lila brings back the passion. I need to remind myself each day to breathe and take the time to feel the passion again and then the creativity begins flowing. The “institution” side of it fades and the “inspiration” comes to the surface again.

Q: Which is most important to your organization-mission, core values or vision?

A: They all are equally important to me personally and in a business sense for the continued growth and success of Laken & Lila. The mission of Laken & Lila is to make all children wearing the clothing feel proud of who they are at all times. It’s easy for a child to lose sight of that.

Our core values keep the business in perspective. The core values are a reflection of my personal core values. I was very lucky to have parents who raised me to always do the right thing and this has spilled over into developing the success of Laken & Lila today. As a business owner, you have to live with a model based upon integrity so you can continue doing what you do each day.

Q: How does the story behind the evolution of your business tie into your mission and values?

A: I was an executive before leaving the workforce to be a stay-at-home mother several years ago. My life changed when my son was 2 and I was going through a divorce. At the same time of my divorce, my son – now 7 – was diagnosed with autism. I found myself struggling with how – as a single parent – I would go back to a demanding career while getting my son the care he needed. My son’s care was, and still is, my priority. However, as a single mother, I still needed to support both of us.

The business mission and idea behind Laken & Lila was the saving grace for my son and me. My employees are mostly stay-at-home mothers and retired women. These types of women, like me, find it almost impossible to be hired in the workforce. Whether it is my customers or employees, making others feel proud of who they are is my personal mission which ties into my business mission.

Q: What is the one behavior or trait that you have seen derail more leaders’ careers?

A: Arrogance. A title does not give you the right to treat others poorly.

Elizabeth P. Cipolla, SPHR is a business communications professional specializing in the areas of leadership training, creative recruitment strategies, employment branding, professional development and executive coaching for nearly 15 years. Her leadership experience comes from various industries including marketing, mass media, apparel, education, manufacturing, nonprofit agencies and insurance. To contact Elizabeth, email her at changeagentsee@gmail.com.