As an Urban Studies major at the University of Pennsylvania, Florrie Willis, MoneyGuard Divisional Sales Manager, had no idea a sales career, much less a management position with one of America’s leading financial services companies would be in her future. With graduation looming, she lacked clear direction, so she turned to her father to help sort out her next steps. His words of wisdom: “If you don’t know what you want to do, find a company that has a good training program and you’ll have a foundation in what the working world is like.”
Willis heeded his advice and began searching for a suitable training program. That led her to Lincoln Financial Group, where she was hired into the Lincoln Preparation Program (LPP) in 2002. From her first assignment as a sales assistant on the sales desk, Willis discovered she really liked the sales side of financial services and particularly enjoyed connecting with people and working closely with clients. She worked her way up to senior account manager in Relationship Management and then accepted a new role as an external wholesaler for Lincoln Financial Distributors’ long-term care solution, MoneyGuard in the spring of 2010. The change in jobs took Willis and her husband, Patrick, to sunny Tampa, Fla., where they enjoyed the warm weather and Florrie relished the autonomy of her new position.
“Wholesaling is one of the best jobs in the whole world because you are running your own business,” says Willis. “You control your schedule, you control who you work with, and you control your messaging. It energized me.”
That flexibility proved especially valuable as Willis and her husband started a family. Although her job required her to travel, she only had to be gone on overnight trips about 25 percent of the time. That allowed her to spend time with her two young daughters.
“What I liked about wholesaling was I could schedule those big moments, like parent-teacher conferences, recitals and Mother’s Day breakfasts,” explains Willis. “When your schedule affords you the flexibility, it’s important to carve out that time, so your kids feel somewhat normal.”
As much as she loved her wholesaling job, after nine years, she realized it wasn’t energizing her as it once did. The logical next step became obvious: divisional sales manager. Ironically, Willis had considered interviewing for such a position several years before, but the timing wasn’t quite right. This time, she was confident she was the best person for the job and went after the position. In May 2019, Willis became assistant vice president, divisional sales manager for the Southern region for Lincoln MoneyGuard Solutions.
A Big Surprise
Excited about the new position, Willis dove in headfirst, determined to excel in her responsibilities. What happened next came as a surprise. She and her husband had tried for a third child. After two miscarriages, however, they accepted life as parents of two. Then the unexpected happened. Three months into her new position, Willis learned she was pregnant – with twins.
“I was really rocked to my core because it wasn’t part of my plan,” Willis recalls. “It is hard to balance a new job and young kids when you’re going to be gone on an airplane 50% of the time. It felt overwhelming.”
Not long after the birth of her twins, much of the United States went into lockdown, as the COVID-19 pandemic became widespread. Willis and her husband found themselves juggling the responsibilities of two full-time careers, four kids under the age of 7 and the weight of a global pandemic.
Florrie shares these tips that have helped her navigate through a new management role and motherhood amid the pandemic:
Maintain a Regimented Schedule: From nap times to office times, Willis and her husband have gone to great lengths to schedule every detail of their family’s life. One silver lining of the pandemic has been the introduction of a new tradition: family meal time.
Prioritize Communication: Knowing “who’s doing what when” has been key to the couple’s ability to maintain balance and productivity during this unprecedented time. A high level of communication has enabled them to achieve an effective distribution of labor, while ensuring they tend to their work and home responsibilities.
Accept Imperfection: “You have to give yourself grace,” says Willis. “You’re not going to be the best mom during COVID-19. Your kids are going to watch TV and that’s okay. You might not be making gourmet meals and that’s okay.”
When Lincoln’s sales teams begin to travel again, Willis will create a plan for how she’s going to navigate a heavy travel schedule while raising four children. Undoubtedly, she will approach the challenge with the same tenacity that has defined every phase of her career and the help of an employer that prides itself on supporting its female employees. She’s also very open about accepting help – and never feeling ashamed of doing so. “There’s no right way or wrong way,” Willis says, “You just have to do what works for you.”