Helene Stelian, Next Act for Women, Women Entrepreneur

Helene-headshot1My good friend worked with Helene years ago.  They had kept up over the years and she told me about the new site that Helene had launched called Next Act for Women, Women Reinventing Themselves in the Middle.  This is a topic that I have written about, talked about and think about so I asked for an intro.  I talked to Helene for awhile and as always it is interesting to hear how and why she chose this as her next path.

Helene grew up in Paris, France.  Her Dad is Greek-American and her Mother is Danish.  Each of her siblings were born in different countries.  Her parents met in NYC.  Her Mom worked at the United Nations as a translator for the Danish embassy.  She was subletting her apartment and it was Helene’s Dad who came to look at it.  He was working at Young & Rubicam at the time.  They fell in love and he was transferred to London.  She came along for the ride and the rest is history.  From there they moved to Frankfurt Germany.  Her Mom had been in the war and did not want Helene to be born in Germany so she moved to Copenhagen to have Helene.  From there they moved to Brussels and had another kid and then to Paris where they had another kid  Her father had moved through Europe opening up the Y&R offices eventually opening his own agency in Paris called TBWA that eventually was bought by Omnicom and merged with Chiat Day.  Her Mom had been an integral piece of the background in the opening of all these offices and TBWA that was quite a large European business when it was sold.

Helene lived in Paris until she was 13 going to a French school NW of Paris just outside the arrondissements.  French was her first language although her parents always spoke English in the house.  In the summer of 1977 when her parents decided it was time to open the American branch of TBWA in NYC. They left Europe moving the family to Greenwich Ct where her father was going to head up the American office.  It was not easy. She had a heavy French accent, she was shy and felt very disconnected.  Helene actually learned a lot from TV.  The family would go back to Paris in the summers because they had a country house outside of Paris.  She even did an internship one summer at Galleries Lafayette so her connection to Europe remained.

At 17 she graduated high school in 1981 and made her way to Duke University where she majored in history.  She spent all four years there, not spending a year abroad because she wanted to be part of the US.  At Duke she learned how to write and do research.  Helene said the best part is she made some really great life long friends.

After graduating she went to work at Lord and Taylor in their buying program.  She had worked in stores before and really liked it.  There you began as an assistant buyer then a department manager than an associate buyer and then a buyer.  After her first year she was transferred to Northbrook Illinois to manage the children’s department.  She loved it.  She was responsible for a team and the profit and loss of the department.  Yet the pay was low, the hours were long and it took a toll on her. Helene decided this was not her thing.

Helene applied to go to business school at Washington University in St. Louis. Her father had gone there and so had her sister.   Many ties to the school.  She got her MBA and after graduation took a job at Kraft settling in Chicago.  At Kraft Helene spent the next eight years plugging away on mayo, salad dressing, Log Cabin syrup, new products and more.  She learned how to run a business, manage people and have profit and loss responsibilities.  Putting to use what she had just spent two years reading about was a very different experience.

During the end of the 8 years Helene got married, became pregnant with twins and ended up on bed rest for 10 weeks.  Her twin daughters were premies by about six weeks.  Helene decided she really was not ready to return to a structured job.  Leaving Kraft was hard because a lot of her identify was tied up in that.  She felt lost without that piece.  There was nothing to hang on to and she wasn’t making her own money.  She quickly realized she needed something else.

As a mother, Helene was incredibly organized.  She had no family around.  She started making lists and doing research because she could not find a book that gave her that information on motherhood she was looking for.  So she created a book for herself.  Friends would even ask her for her lists and knowledge when they were expecting.  Helene decided to take her lists and publish a book.

She found an agent who was willing to take a chance on her. Chronicle Books published the book.  It was 2001.  The book is called  Getting Ready for Baby: The Practical Parent’s Organizer.  It was spiral bound for note taking.  The book sold 80,000 copies.  In 2014 she got excited about publishing another one because it was becoming a little out of date.  The world changes quickly. Helene decided to self-publish the second one.  With the change in social media and the ties to the blogging community she felt that it just made sense.

Between 2001-2014 Helene became active in the Chicago volunteering community.  They moved back into the city from the suburbs.  Helene decided it was time to reinvent herself.  She wanted to make an impact in a different way.  Around her were many women that were just joining the empty nest phase of their lives like her.  The consistent theme among the women who had traditional jobs before deciding to stay home wondered what they were going to do with all their time.  There had to be something.

Helene was feeling the same way.  She looked into becoming an EMT.  She wished she could become a doctor but tabled that.  In her talks with other women her first instinct was to write about these struggles.  She read the Inventing the Rest of Our Lives: Women in Second Adulthood by Suzanne Braun Levine  She writes about women being stuck in the “fertile void”.  It was inspiring.  All these ideas are going through the heads of all the women she talked to but they can’t figure it out.  These women all felt unmoored.  Personally Helene wanted to be more fluid about where she was in her life and write about women reinventing themselves mid-life.  Writing a book didn’t resonate so she began to blog about it.

Helene launched the blog this past January.  She had ten posts under her belt.  She was inspired by the women who had made a career change mid-life.  There is a woman who started a nonprofit aimed at helping victims of domestic violence, a woman who became a passionate cyclist in her late 40’s and now competes professionally, a woman who became a farmer in her late 40’s, etc.  Helene started to write about re-invention.  For her it has been an amazing journey and incredibly powerful to talk and write about these women.  These women are brave and are making huge leaps into the unknown.

Essentially Helene has created a sisterhood of women to help each other along the way through her site.  At the beginning she waited and waited to launch as many entrepreneurs do until her friend gave her the best advice which was just do it and see what happens.  That is Helene’s leap into the unknown of changing that attitude in herself of just going for it.

I love the site.  I know many women in the same spot.  This site gives everyone the confidence that might be needed because after all, there is always a next act.