If you’ve read the book, seen the film, or heard the song (which didn’t actually appear in the film, but which has become a jazz standard), you’ll know that Portrait of Jennie is a fantasy about a mysterious and charming girl/woman who–because she pays absolutely no heed to the strictures of time–cannot be counted on to show up where and when she’s expected.
In contrast, Jules Catering’s equally charming (but entirely reliable) Director of Business Development, Jenny Willig, operates in real time and is an authentic presence, not only at Jules’ busy Somerville office and at countless metro-Boston events, but also at Cambridge Chamber of Commerce gatherings, which she values for providing “rich opportunities for professional networking.”
Whereas “Jennie Appleton” (played by Jennifer Jones) is a cinematic vision based on a work of fiction, Jenny Willig (‘playing’ herself) is the real deal.
Triptych of Jenny (or, Jenny X 3)
Case in point: When we caught up with Jenny greeting Cambridge Chamber of Commerce guests as they boarded the Charles I docked outside the CambridgeSide Galleria, she was simultaneously playing at least three roles:
- Director of Business Development for Jules Catering
- Ambassador for the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce
- Co-host (with Jules’ longtime partner the Charles Riverboat Company) of the CCC’s Cruisin’ for BAH-usiness nautical networking event
The onboard conversation was lively…it was a perfect end-of-summer evening… How could we not hop aboard to observe Jenny juggle three roles?
I. Mapping strategic paths to develop new business
We launched the conversation: Fill us in on your role as Jules’ Director of Business Development.
“This is a new position for me–and for Jules–so we’re still navigating our way. I’ve been doing this for just about a year, and a key objective for me is to think ‘big picture’ and do what I can to build business on behalf of the sales team.”
“I’m still selling. I’m still responsible for my own client retention,” Jen continued, “but the new challenge is to take my experience as a salesperson and help devise a cohesive strategy about how we can connect with new companies that might be an especially good fit with Jules.”
Jules has a lot to offer, we observed, our mouth full of crab cake. (We know better, but we couldn’t help ourselves!)
“The food is of course great, and in terms of service and sales…well, the fact that we’re all very different personalities works to our advantage. We have the luxury of thinking: ‘Who on Jules’ sales team would be a good fit where?'”
“We also have longevity on our side. I just celebrated my 14th anniversary with the company, and many on the team have been with Jules for at least 10 years, which translates to long-term relationships with existing clients–as well as the promise of continuity for those who are new to Jules.”
Quality service and food enhance group dynamics
We learned at LinkedIn that you majored in Psychology at Clark University, while also pursuing Sociology and Early Education. With regard to your professional life, has this triple concentration served you well?
“Every day I use what I learned! So many situations in catering are case studies for group dynamics–how people eat, how they approach one another, how they interact. And a catered event is more than just social–it’s visceral. Even in corporate settings, where people are often working toward a very specific objective, my goal is for them to viscerally have a good time.”
“I’ve been known to say that while great food and service won’t guarantee ‘World Peace,'” Jenny laughed, “these things do make a difference, because when food and service are not good, it can very negatively impact the dynamics of a group.”
II. Cheerleading for the Chamber
Give us a little background on your history with the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce.
“A few years after I started with Jules I wanted to explore opportunities for some professional development outside the food industry. So I approached the Chamber because they represented a larger world–one I was eager to explore.”
“In 2005 I joined the Chamber’s Ambassador Committee, which is a welcoming committee for new members, and which has provided me with opportunities to do for the CCC a lot of what I do for Jules.”
“Cheerleading wasn’t something I did in high school,” Jenny smiled, “but it turns out I’m pretty good at it–at least for Jules and the Chamber. And as a member of the Ambassador Committee I’m part of a team that promotes the power of networking–we help people who might not be accustomed to promoting themselves learn effective ways to ‘put themselves out there,’ while also demonstrating how worthwhile Chamber events can be.”
“Kelly Thompson Clark, President of the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce, is a person who never ceases to amaze,” Jenny continued, “especially when I consider how very accessible she makes herself–not just to me, but to all 1500 members! I can’t remember a time when we sought input from Kelly that she didn’t help us out.”
Jenny’s claim prompted us to see if Kelly Thompson Clark might help us out…with a quick sketch of Jenny. Kelly didn’t disappoint: “The CCC is so fortunate to have a member rep like Jennifer Willig. She’s always first to volunteer, get others engaged, and she actively promotes the hard work of her fellow members and the Chamber. Jen is such a tremendous addition to the CCC’s Ambassador Committee, it’s no surprise she was awarded the Ambassador of the Year in 2006-07.”
Kelly is also a big fan of Jules, describing the company as “a model member and corporate citizen. Their co-sponsorship of the Charles Riverboat networking event was just the latest example of how supportive they are of the CCC and community.”
“Since Jules joined the Chamber,” Kelly continued, “they have involved themselves in events, committees, and other area activities, proving beyond a shadow of a doubt why they were awarded the 2003 Excellence in Business Award.”
III. Partnering and co-hosting with the Charles Riverboat Company
We turned back to Jenny, to say how happy we were to be partying out on the water, and to ask her to tell us about Jules’ partnership with the Charles Riverboat Company.
“Jules has been the go-to caterer for the Charles Riverboat Company for about 8 years–and my colleagues Sergio Ribeiro and Elissa Kupelnick, whose account this is, could fill you in on details. What I can tell you is that Jules provides food for both sightseeing tours and private charters–not just on the river but also out in Boston Harbor.”
Sounds like a logical collaboration.
“It is. And this event we’re co-hosting is a perfect example of two members of the CCC teaming up and showing support for the Chamber and its members. I mean, how great is it to be able to socialize and network in such a refreshing setting! It’s just very satisfying when so many things come together, for so many people, in such a positive way.”
Intrepid explorer–on the job and off
We know you enjoy your work, Jenny–because we’ve been watching you! What else do you do for fun?
“Travel! Most spectacularly at the end of June I flew to Alaska for another nautical adventure,” Jenny said, pausing to watch an MIT sailboat come about against the backdrop of the brilliantly lit Back Bay. “This was a week-long ‘live-aboard’ expedition offered by Whale Song Adventures, which transported us through 65 miles of Glacier Bay National Park.”
Sounds amazing. Did that onboard experience compare in any way with this?
“Of course the scenery and the wildlife couldn’t be more different, but there were similarities to my life back here–especially when I consider what my Jules colleagues and I do as off-site caterers. In a way, we’re like a boat crew–a group of highly skilled individuals working together to reliably ‘transport’ our clients to a wonderful place.”
One last thing–but SPOILER ALERT!
If you’ve read or seen Portrait of Jennie, you’ll know that the fictional Jennie Appleton is “lost at sea.”
Not so Jenny Willig!
[If you haven’t seen Portrait of Jennie–and if you’re susceptible to gorgeous black-and-white imagery of 1940s Manhattan–add this film to your Netflix queue!]
Charles Davenport’s plan for the Charles River Embankment, 1874: MFA Boston, Wikimedia Commons
Portrait of Jenny in Alaska: Chris Wyatt of Whale Song Adventures
All other photos: Liz Muir