Ellen Bennett’s entrepreneurial journey started with an idea: quality aprons for food service employees. She pursued the idea with vigor, and today, Hedley & Bennett is a successful kitchenware company, with products used by some of the most prestigious names in the service industry. Bennett sat down with Suneel Gupta in a recent Office Hours to discuss how her ambitions have taken her to new heights. In a bonus Q&A, we asked Bennett to get candid about her workspace, how she’s handled adversity, and ways she stays motivated.
Workspace & Routine
If you’ve spent more time than usual at home this year…
Do you have a workspace or office at home? Tell us about it. Did you have this space before the pandemic?
Ellen: I had a desk for a while before the pandemic and then my husband commandeered it, but the truth is I don’t do great at desks. My two favorite spots I love to work at are sitting on my couch at home with my feet up or at the dining room table because I can look out the window. And of course, when I get to work at the dining room table, I am close to all the snacks.
Are you someone who needs an organized workspace, or are you comfortable with a little clutter?
Ellen: I find myself to be very comfortable with clutter, but when I am working on a computer, I like to have an empty workspace in front of me, such as a clean countertop.
What bad work habits (if any) are you guilty of & how have you overcome them?
Ellen: I tend to be a chronic multitasker. This means texting people, while also drafting an email and talking to someone at the same time. Even though I can get a lot done this way, some tasks won't get my full attention and are only partially completed. To overcome this, I’ve stopped trying to answer emails between things that need my full attention, and I have also been putting my phone on silent during meetings which has helped tremendously. Using allocated time for emails and correspondence, has allowed me to properly focus as well.
Do you consider yourself more of an introvert or extrovert, and how does that affect the way you work?
Ellen: I am more of an extrovert, which means I love to have in-person meetings and take calls more than I like to conduct things via email. I find this method to be more direct, and it allows for more speed. But not everyone tends to move at my speed, so I learned to adapt at times to different people's preferred methods. However, I don’t feel everything should live in email. After a few messages back and forth, I feel we could just hash it out in-person or on a call.
Time & Organization
How do you approach time management for a workday? Is it one solid block of time that’s over at 6 p.m.? Or is a workday a few blocks of scheduled tasks with personal time interspersed?
Ellen: So much of what I do involves future planning, ideation, innovation, and team prioritization and because of that every day is completely different. Because of this I live and die by my calendar. So, If it is a call, meeting, doctor's appointment, or just remembering to eat, it must live in the Google Calendar. Then personal time lands in the evening and on weekends.
What are three things you do to gear up for your workday?
Ellen: Vitamins, sleep, and food! I am currently pregnant, so I am pretty committed to drinking fresh green juice in the morning, and eating breakfast, which are both things I didn’t really do before.
What’s one thing that motivates you to get to work?
Ellen: My team! They work their butts off, so being able to be there in the HQ with them, working as hard as they are, is important to me.
Can you name a few ways that you keep yourself organized during the day—an app, a planner, a physical to-do list?
Ellen: My calendar holds everything I need to know. Also, my assistant Elliot helps me to go wherever I need to go and leave when I need to leave. We keep a shared to-do list that holds what I need to tackle and remember. It also holds my top five priorities for each day that keep me on track. We also meet weekly to review everything that got done / is still pending and then we reprioritize together.
How do (or don’t) you separate business tasks from personal ones?
Ellen: I kind of jumble it up, since my work revolves around food, and I love the world of food. So, there is significant overlap, and when I am not working, I am cooking or at a farmers market, food event, etc.
Many business entrepreneurs say hard work and luck are the main ingredients for success. Can you tell us about a time when things didn’t go your way, and how you responded?
Ellen: When the pandemic began, so much of our business came to a screeching halt, on the restaurant side of the house. This was a scary time for the world. We had a whole plan for what we wanted to do that year, and that went up in smoke, once everything was shut down. But it didn’t stop us. Overnight, we decided to pivot. We responded by converting our LA factory into a facemask factory.
While not planned, this has become a part of our business for the last eighteen months. Currently, we are focusing on our core business, but super proud of our team, since because of their efforts, we were able to produce donate hundreds of thousands of masks to those who needed them.
Are you a goal-setter, and if so, what are some goals you’ve set for yourself lately?
Ellen: I love to dream up and imagine things in my mind and then make them a reality. As a eight and a half month pregnant woman, I had a goal of exercising the entire time. I had this goal, even though a lot of people said I didn’t need to, or that I should take it easy. Instead, I am proudly at my 37th week, and I have been going to the same HIIT classes and workouts I was attending before I was pregnant. Not only does it feel great, but others have been inspired to work out, even through something like pregnancy. I also released my first book earlier this year, which was a lifelong goal of mine. And words can't even describe how special it is to have that message put out into the world. We had another big dream of collaborating with the Grateful Dead. We just launched and it sold out in 2 days.
Just for Fun: Out of Office
We business professionals devote much of our lives to our careers. But what we do with our time off from work can tell us a lot about who we are as people. Please tell us…
In your spare time, do you prefer winding down – meditation, bubble baths and movie nights – or gearing up, e.g., rock climbing, camping, traveling, etc.?
Ellen: In my spare time, I prefer adventure. Eating, traveling, and running around with my husband to find the perfect taco or farmer's market. A common theme among all of them is none of them include sitting around, ever!
What does an ideal vacation look like to you? What activities are you most likely to engage in?
Ellen: An ideal vacation is going somewhere wild, new, and fully immersing ourselves in their cuisine and culture, as if we were locals. I want to take the local buses and subways, to grocery shop where everyone shops and see things everyone sees, not just when they are visiting. I am not into museums, because I prefer active participation.
What’s one thing you’ve done in your time off that stuck with you as a defining moment?
Ellen: I ran the New York Marathon, and it stretched my mental muscles and they never stretched back. Pushing myself to new limits was brutal but getting to the finish line was one of my proudest moments. It was an great reminder that I we are all so much stronger than we think we are.
What’s one place – a country, vacation spot, landmark, etc. – that’s high on your bucket list?
Ellen: Israel, just waiting for the day I get to go and visit.
This interview is part of Office Hours, a series that connects you with entrepreneurs and experts and tips for running and growing a business right now. Find other can’t-miss conversations by visiting our Events page.