Christie Lawler is the founder and owner of CJL CONSULTiNG. CJL is a national beverage marketing agency. The company specializes in emerging national chains (typically under 100 locations), and the goal is to help these brands become more profitable and consistent in their operations, so they are poised to grow and scale. CJL also houses The WITI Group and JAB MiXOLOGY. With unparalleled equanimity and a resolve to succeed, Christie has shattered conventional leadership and set standards for others to follow. Having worked in a hostile work environment, she understands the importance of a healthy work culture and ensures everyone in her organization gets enough room to express themselves fully. A high-energy yet grounded person, Christie believes in giving freely.
In an exclusive interview, Aspioneer caught up with Christie to learn about her journey, aspirations, and plans for the future. Below are the highlights.
Finding the missing piece
Christie Lawler: “I started the company in 2009 because I was beyond exhausted from my hostile work environment while I was working on my MBA and needed to keep working and honing my expertise while focusing on my personal goals. I took some time off from building this company to gain more experience in other areas and returned full-time to this vision in 2017. By that time, I had worked, learned, and grown personally and professionally, and I knew what was missing on this side of the business.”
"There are so many things, it would be impossible to nail down just a few initiatives that are in our pipeline. But we are always working toward growth and evolution"
A difference that makes a difference
Christie Lawler: “What’s unique about CJL is that we are not only WBENC certified as a Woman-Owned Small Business, but that we house two extra arms within our umbrella. Our nonprofit arm, The WITI Group, (a 501(c)(3) serves our industry with over 100 members nationally that promote and mentor the future female leaders of the food and beverage business. And our third arm is our product line, JAB MiXOLOGY, which is a line of naturally preserved infusion blends of herbs, spices, roots, fruits, flowers, and veggies that create dynamic cocktails in two simple steps. What differentiates us from others is what we are most proud of. We are making a positive social impact through our nonprofit arm as well as our volunteerism. We are building a better future for the next generation of our business by being vocal about what needs to change in our industry. Doing the right thing even when it isn’t profitable—those decisions are extremely difficult to make when running a business, but there is no other way to be, in my opinion. I run this business on my name, my credibility, and my legacy, and that is worth more to me than any dollar figure. As a leader, I advocate for freedom of choice and balance. I am most proud of the fact that, as a company, we offer unlimited vacation, personal, and sick days. I believe that life is better when we aren’t counting hours or days, but experiences. We all have jobs to do, so the job gets done either way. What is most important to me as a leader is that I recognize that we all have priorities, and sometimes those priorities don’t involve our work life.”
The path appears
Christie Lawler: “I never saw this as my path. Honestly, I am living the life path that I never planned for. I intended to be a journalist, married to my computer and without a life partner, let alone a family. But things changed – and I am so grateful that the life I planned is not the one I have now. I was molded by amazing mentors who taught me not only how to be a better version of myself but also how to be a better human. They inspired me then and to this day, I think of them with gratitude daily. I also learned from the horrible bosses in my life – how not to treat people and how I want to avoid acting under any circumstance. Not that I am without flaws, but I have been taught so much from the good, the bad, and the ugly – every leader I have had has shaped me in profound ways. I am grateful for the beauty as much as I am for the ugly.
I honestly believe that everyone has a unique experience because we have all faced adversities that we have had to overcome and will have to overcome. From my own experience as a small, blonde female, I have been underestimated at best. But in the moments where I was most maligned – I was treated as though I had nothing to offer besides a physical stereotype. That honestly pissed me off for decades. But now, I embrace it. Please do underestimate the woman sitting in front of you. Drop that bar of yours lower. Go ahead… I dare you. I will be able to hurdle that bar, no matter how low or high you set it. And when I’ve done what I can do – no one ever asks me “why?” anymore – they simply ask, “How did you do that?”
Learning by Listening
Christie Lawler: “I often work through the night so that I can accomplish everything that needs to get done that I cannot take time for during the “workday” hours. Some days are easy; some days don’t end. But as long as I have time for my family, it all works. I am most inspired by the people who have taught me much and by those I encounter who make a difference. The list is quite long. I am still learning that lesson every day, by listening. I am so grateful for my friends and colleagues that guide me on how to be a better human – which always leads to unexpected growth.”
Striking the balance
Christie Lawler: “I must be a workaholic because I have managed to turn my hobbies into work-related activities. However, I do love cooking for my family and watching my boys play baseball. And when they were younger and before I threw myself into work at an insane pace, I used to make homemade bath bombs for my boys that had little toys buried in the middle. I definitely need a better balance in my life, but I am fulfilled and happy. My life is full and I cherish the moments with my boys while watching them grow into young men.”
A legacy that inspires
Christie Lawler: “There are so many things, it would be impossible to nail down just a few initiatives that are in our pipeline. But we are always working toward growth and evolution. Lessons learned are the guiding principles behind our evolution. And the previous awareness is not what will be the guiding principles that keep us moving forward. On all fronts, we are in a constant state of evolution. And we partner with companies and people that bring new assets to us that benefit our clients. As for me, my goals haven’t changed as a leader: be kind, empathetic, and giving. I put everyone else first because we share a vision. I want to grow the company so I can grow our nonprofit side and focus more on giving back. I want my legacy to be that I did the right things for the right reasons and put people first.”