Ashley Heinnickel serves as Larson Design Group’s Vice President of Marketing & Communications, a role within our Executive Leadership Team in which she develops and executes strategies that drive growth and the demand for LDG services. At LDG, Ashley employs the knowledge and experience of 17+ years building and executing strategic marketing and business initiatives across the software, education, transportation, and AES industries.
As part of our Celebrating LDG Women in Leadership series, we’ll learn more about Ashley, from her path to leadership to the advice she has for future leaders.
Did you always see yourself in a leadership role? If not, when did you realize you might find yourself in that position and what effect did it have on you?
Growing up, I never saw myself as a senior leader or someone seeking power or authority – it just happened naturally. I was always driven to do my best and exceed expectations by doing the fundamentals well. Opportunities like becoming class secretary and being elected as captain for my high school and collegiate basketball teams helped me realize leadership was starting to become a possibility for me.
My first leadership opportunity happened early in my career when I moved to eastern PA after college and landed my first job by going door-to-door to local businesses. There wasn’t an actual job opening, but I was hired to do special projects like documenting training materials, organizing print advertisements, and tracking metrics. I only was in that role for six months when I moved back to Pittsburgh. Less than a year later, the owner invited me to relocate again and join him in launching a spin off consulting business. I took the leap of faith and accepted a Product Manager role. I was eventually promoted to General Manager and took a seat on the senior leadership team at age 24. My first manager saw something in me and was willing to give me the opportunity, support, and training to be successful. It was a combination of timing and my willingness to relocate, but in the end, I think it was about good performance and being someone that he could trust.
What inspires you as a leader?
I grew up playing sports year-round and I always find myself inspired by professional athletes, especially Olympians. Their dedication, mental toughness, stress management, and ability to perform under pressure. I am also inspired by continuous improvement. I find myself always reading and learning and enjoy using assessments to understand myself and my team at a deeper level. It’s the slight edge and small improvements that lead to larger successes.
Do you have a favorite inspiration or mentor?
I have had incredible coaches growing up including my father and my high school basketball coach. They taught me about attitude, mastering the fundamentals, and that success came from working hard and would never be handed to you. I have also had the privilege of working with professional business coaches in my career who massively contributed to my success and have had strong women role models in my life like my mother. I am also inspired by my husband. He is always teaching me and pushing me to achieve outside my comfort zone. He gives me confidence and has always been incredibly supportive of my career and keeps our family life going when I am away.
How does your team contribute to your success?
My team supports me by helping bring ideas to life with their incredibly creative work. Collaborating with them to tackle processes or projects always produces a better outcome. They are a great support system for each other and for me. I’ve always believed in a “work hard, have fun” mentality and our ability to tackle challenging problems and come together to celebrate our successes is very motivating for me.
What are some of the most significant obstacles you’ve overcome in your career and how did you get past them?
Managing three pregnancies and three maternity leaves while trying to advance your career is not easy. I accepted a Director of Marketing position when I was pregnant with my second child and navigating my development as a leader simultaneously was incredibly challenging. As I have pursued career advancement, I’ve always had to find ways to manage the related stress that tends to follow. From traveling abroad to learning new industries to managing team complexities, I’ve leaned on trusted friends, family, and colleagues for support. I also prioritize exercise and make time to recharge when needed.
What values, techniques or support systems have you used to achieve a work-life balance?
The biggest technique I would say is being organized. I have a plan for my work and am a master of my calendar and to–do list. Two working parents coupled with the demanding school schedules of our three children makes it easy to get overwhelmed. I try to be as intentional and productive as possible when I am at work so that I can be present with my family when I am at home. I also trust my gut. I think most of us know when we get out of balance, it’s having the discipline or accountability to get yourself back on track when it does happen.
What other advice do you have for future leaders?
First, as you grow in your careers, don’t be too good to do the little things. Oftentimes, I see people so focused on the next role and aren’t taking the time to master the role that they are in. If you can do the fundamentals well, they will build trust and leaders will give you more responsibilities.
Secondly, don’t be afraid to say yes. When a leader offers you an opportunity to work on a project, join a committee, go to an event, or even join them for lunch – say yes. Get out of your comfort zone, cancel your other plans, and go for it. Sometimes you won’t get asked a second time.