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The Barb Wire

Podcast: Jen Cullen Williams Enters “The Barb Wire”

Industry trade shows, motherhood, and the challenges facing professional women are on the agenda.




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IN EPISODE 2 of The Barb Wire, host Barbara Palumbo chats with Jen Cullen Williams, managing director of Luxury Brand Group, a leading luxury and jewelry brand communications agency.

The aim of The Barb Wire is to allow listeners to eavesdrop on engaging jewelry industry conversations that range the gamut, as real-world conversation do, from personal to business issues.

Says Palumbo, “My favorite thing is when my guests actually forget they’re on a podcast, and it’s just like we’re kicking back on the phone. “ This episode achieves that standard throughout its duration — in fact, at one point, Jen reacts in surprise over an intimate revelation she has just made, “Wow, that was really personal!”

The episode includes in-depth discussion of industry trade events — including the dangers of “trade show arrogance” as well as the opportunities for industry events to better serve their audiences with new technology and focused education.

But there’s also lighter discussion of trade show dress codes, the importance of careful shoe management during a trade event, as well as the towering personal confidence provided by zero-humidity “Vegas hair”.

On the personal side, Cullen Williams, who has a 1-1/2 year old daughter, shares her experience of having a child while in the midst of building a career, as well as the pros and cons of being married to a fitness industry entrepreneur. (Cullen Williams’ husband runs a California-based group of fitness businesses.)

Industry members who get shout-outs in this episode include Frank Proctor, Peggy Jo Donahue, Rebecca Moskal, and last month’s Barb Wire guest John Carter. Also mentioned: bygone teen idols Jennifer Love Hewitt and Jonathan Taylor Thomas, and Palumbo shares her surprising(!) celebrity crush as a teenager.

Enjoy this episode of The Barb Wire!

  • 3:10 The uniqueness of the Tucson gem show experience.
  • 4:25 Jen learns a lesson about Tucson’s very different dress code.
  • 6:40 The fine details of swapping out shoes, and alternating pressure points, to minimize blister pain during a multi-day trade event.
  • 8:25 Jen and Barbara discuss a major challenge for professional women — choosing the best time to start a family while still managing a successful career.
  • 9:35 How women with children, especially those who travel frequently for work, can sometimes be interrogated as though they are neglecting their children.
  • 11:15 Jen on planning for her first child. She had been with her husband for more than a decade, but each year, they would decide to focus on their careers — deeming it “the Year of the Hustle”. Finally, they decided they were ready.
  • 14:30 Jen tells a “really personal” story of how she learned she was going to have her first child right after JCK two years ago.
  • 18:30 Discussion of Jen’s husband’s career as a fitness business owner, and what degree of dietary oversight a fitness professional imposes on his partner. Jen is addicted to exercise, but concludes: “I don’t look like a gym owner’s wife. I could be a lot more cut and fit and be a better marketing advertisement for him. But I like wine.”
  • 24:30 One poster-worthy motto of her husband’s gym business: ”If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.”
  • 25:40 Jen shares her special motherhood motto, as well as her motto for getting through challenging periods at work. It’s just two words, but there’s power in its brevity.
  • 30:20 At trade shows, the importance of treating show attendees (and journalists) with care and empathy, and making every person feel like they’re being paid attention to. And what happens when some shows — ahem, ahem, BASEL! — stop taking the best possible care of their customers.
  • 35:00 Jen on the continuing importance of trade shows in jewelry, as well as the need to continue to innovate in the field.
  • 36:30 How technology is adding new wrinkles to the trade show experience.
  • 38:00 Jen took the Harvard Business track at the GIA Symposium, which she loved, and wonders what Harvard accreditation she can truthfully claim — “I’m not really a Harvard grad, but I like to say I’m a Harvard grad.”
  • 40:10 Why trade show education is important and what happens to a business owner’s slice of the business pie if he or she stops learning and lets their business grow stagnant. Says Jen: “It’s not going to be a pie anymore … it’s going to be an empty plate.”
  • 43:05 The importance of creating partnerships between vendors and buyers at trade shows.
  • 45:35 Who would Jen like to have dinner with, alive or dead, in the jewelry industry? She mentions two possible choices — one an iconic French fashion designer/businesswoman of yesteryear, and the other the current French CEO of one of the world’s top watch brands.
  • 48:40 Print magazines or online publications? Jen is a big fan of magazines, and refers to a “Scrapebook” she created in her teens stuffed with clippings about her favorite stars of the day — including a few nostalgic mentions of former idols from “Party of Five” and “Home Improvement”. Barbara also reveals her surprising, and surprisingly short, top crush from her own teen years.
  • 50:40 Jen’s biggest influence? Her parents, first and foremost. And then her “career tribe”.
  • 52:00 Jen lists some of her biggest fans — with her sister coming in on top, being her “best biological friend”.
  • 54:20 The five-minute meditation exercise that Jen starts her work day with.
  • 55:15 Jen shares her favorite industry event. It’s not a specific trade event — but it’s a special kind of experience that only happens during trade events.
  • 57:10 The accessory that Jen won’t leave the house without.
  • 59:20 Gold or platinum? Jen makes a choice, and then immediately tries to take it back.



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