Some people throw themselves into business to survive financially. Others do it to just plain survive. Leontyne Anglin, owner of her own Quakerbridge Road-based media operation, Staging Executives, joined the latter category this year when she quit her full time job to focus on her business. For Anglin, it was the only way to deal with the loss of her mother.
“I’ve survived by helping others,” Anglin says. “It’s been kind of therapeutic. I remember seven or eight months ago not being able to sleep more than two hours. I would stumble through the dark to get on my computer, and kind of aimlessly surfing around I stumbled on a show I used to do on the radio. It was a podcast where I was interviewing an author who was a survivor of Katrina. I went to play that show, and I heard my mother’s voice. I had forgotten that she was on that show.”
Anglin’s mother had once told her that the only way to get through grief was to stay focused on the things that brought her joy, and Anglin realized it was her business, not her job — with a nonprofit agency that provides legal representation to foster children — that fit the bill. “I’m not going to go back to work to do anything I didn’t want to do before,” Anglin says. “I always had a job, and I always had my own business. I just decided that I was going to use this as an opportunity not just to heal myself, but to help other people going through things. Starting a business to me is a piece of cake. Dealing with grief is not.”
By striking out on her own, Anglin joins the ranks of women business owners who have found that for one reason or another, they would rather be in charge of their own companies than continue working for someone else’s.
The focus on Staging Executives, a firm that assists with media production and design, is the latest transition for Anglin in a career that has been full of them.
Anglin grew up on Long Island where her mother was a teacher at an affluent private school in Manhasset. Her father was a Wall Street commodities trader. Education and articulateness ran in Anglin’s family. Her grandmother was a poetry therapist, and the house was filled with nonstop conversation. Talking comes easily to Anglin, and she is annoyed when she sees young people ignoring each other and paying attention to their phones instead.
Anglin went to college at Hofstra and followed in the footsteps of her father, beginning a 16-year career in corporate finance. She spent time on the trading floor, dealing with stocks and derivatives, before transitioning to corporate marketing and helping companies run business-to-business campaigns.
All the while, Anglin worked on volunteer projects and helped companies organize day-of-service events. That came naturally to Anglin, given her upbringing. She was a lifelong volunteer just like her parents and her grandparents before her. She headed her first event at age 9, when she organized a neighborhood Easter egg hunt. “It came very naturally to me,” she says.
By the late 1990s Anglin had moved to South Jersey because her husband, a teacher, had gotten a job there. The first thing she noticed about her new home was a stark difference in culture among the kids. To Anglin, it seemed that students in South Jersey began to prepare for college later than the children where she grew up. In 1999 Anglin became a founder and board member of the Burlington County-based nonprofit group Beyond Expectations, which brought college students into high schools to explain to at-risk teens how to further their educations. She says the students listened better when talking to 20-year-olds than they would being lectured at by an older adult. The program continues to this day and has gotten its students, many of them foster kids, into 25 colleges around the country.
Over time, Anglin was drawn deeper into the nonprofit world and eventually left her last corporate job, at Prudential, in 2002. Her first job in the nonprofit sector was community organizing for Isles in Trenton. “That really helped me learn the landscape,” she says.
In 2007 Anglin joined Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA, which provides legal representation to foster children) and helped open the nonprofit group’s Burlington County branch. Anglin says she was particularly struck by the hardships faced by older teens who were aging out of the foster care system. With no families to support them, and the state support system stepping out of their lives, they often had nowhere to turn for help. “It bothered me. The foster care system is a tough system,” she says. “I was really drawn to what was happening with older teens, and it was having a hard effect on me.”
Around that time, Anglin saw an advertisement for a program that a Philadelphia-area TV station was running that would train people how to produce film and TV shows. “I said, huh, wouldn’t it be great if I could use that tool to tell people about kids in foster care,” Anglin says. “I wasn’t about to just say, ‘Oh, those poor children.’ I come from a world where if you see something, you do something.”
The “something” Anglin did turned out to be an award-winning short film about children aging out of the foster care system. “It really helped shed a light and start a dialog about what was happening in the foster care system,” Anglin says. From then on she was hooked on the power of film and television.
Immediately, Anglin recognized the power of media production to help the young people she was working with, not only by drawing attention to their situation, but by giving them something meaningful and engaging to work on. The next year Anglin created a program for Beyond Expectations that allowed students to participate in making their own video. “It’s awesome,” Anglin says. The students get to be part of a crew and put a real production together. She found that teaching video production had become a more effective way to reach kids than by having them just sit down with college students.
At mid-career Anglin was in the unusual position of having discovered a new passion. “I was in my 40s already, and I had landed in this thing called the media industry,” Anglin says. She threw herself into learning every aspect of TV production, from lighting to filming, to editing. Some of it she learned on the fly, and the rest was self-taught.
Anglin says she spends most of her free time learning new skills as she has done ever since she read a Franklin Covey time management book in her 20s, and took the advice to heart. “I would use my lunch hour. I would be reading at my desk, or listening to a podcast in the car, or listening to a webinar. If you don’t have time to physically go to a workshop, you can spend 30 minutes to learn something in your car. Put on a CD and listen to it. The car is your mobile university. Every place you go is an opportunity to learn something.” Anglin says she learns nearly constantly. “I was a nut job 24-7,” she says. “If I don’t know how to do it, I’m going to learn how to do it on my own.” For almost any skill, she says, there are YouTube videos, tutorials on Lynda.com (a website run by LinkedIn), or other free or low-cost resources.
A few years ago, Anglin’s life seemed to be on a smooth course. She was working at a steady nonprofit job and running Beyond Expectations. Her daughter had graduated from college and was working in communications and marketing. Then everything came crashing down when her mother died.
Anglin and her mother had been exceptionally close. They talked on the phone almost every day. “It’s her voice I miss the most,” Anglin says. “She had a beautiful, calm, soothing voice.”
Dealing with the loss threw Anglin’s life into turmoil. She thought about going to a grief counselor but didn’t think she would find it helpful. “I knew that going in a room and sitting with a counsellor just wasn’t going to cut it,” she says.While her work colleges were sympathetic, she said, there is a lot of pressure to get back to work in the business world. "Continuing to try and work in the midst of such grief didn’t fit the bill," she said.
“Some people got it, and some people just absolutely didn’t get it,” Anglin says. “Imagine that all of a sudden the place where that person used to sit is now empty. You’re in the car where you talk to that person and they don’t call. Maybe it doesn’t affect them like that but it affected me.”
The only thing that seemed to help Anglin was helping other people. “Every single day I’m dealing with it, but it gives me an outlet. It gives me something else to focus on,” she says. “If you’re down, you help somebody else. It doesn’t change your situation, but you feel better about it. It’s my own way of dealing with my own grief.”
Anglin made the decision to throw herself fully into the media production that she felt so passionately about. Her company, Staging Executives, offers training in media production, from television to podcasts to film to help “getting your show on the air. “She also films events and works as a producer for Princeton Community Television, where she has her own talk show, In the C-Suite. One recent show featured Christopher Jerjian, the president and CEO of the Ibis Plaza office suites in Hamilton. She is also reviving her podcast, the one that gave her the bittersweet pleasure of hearing her mother’s voice again.
Having made a major career transition herself, Anglin has some advice for others who are walking the same path.
“Cram,” she says. “Learn everything you possibly can while you’re still employed. Don’t sit there and wait for them to come in there and pull the rug out from under you.”
Her second piece of advice, not surprisingly, is to volunteer. Not only is it good for one’s psychological health, but it builds connections. Company “day of service” days are very good networking opportunities, she says. “The worst thing in the world is sitting at home sending out resumes into a black hole,” she says.
Lastly, she says, is to be referrable. That is, do good work so that no one will hesitate to recommend you for a job. “Anybody can volunteer, anybody can network, and anybody can go online.”
The workshops Anglin runs are about building various career and business skills. Her podcast is focused on nonprofits and volunteering. The TV show centers on advice for small business owners. In the end, all of her efforts are focused on helping out people who are in a similar position to hers.
“I’m trying to give back,” she says. “I’m just sharing things to help people who are in a bad place right now.”
One commonly given piece of advice that Anglin doesn’t believe is true is that a person should follow his or her passion in a career. Instead, she says, you should do whatever you are good enough at to teach, whether or not it is your passion. Getting skilled at something is sometimes enough to make it your passion, she says. That’s how she came to love media work even though she had never done it before and it wasn’t her passion at first. “Maybe I didn’t like cameras before, but I learned how to use them because the camera guy didn’t show up, and I said, ‘this is never going to happen to me again.’ And one day, I handed my footage to an editor, and the project didn’t come back the way I envisioned, so I went off and learned how to edit,” she says.
And if Anglin ever has doubts about the path she has chosen, running her own business and producing her own shows, she can just listen to that podcast with her mother. “She said she was so proud and was so glad that I was doing something I loved.”
Staging Executives, 3525 Quakerbridge Road, Hamilton 08619. 866-278-8427. Leontyne Anglin, founder. www.stagingexecs.com.