Ampersand Woman: Entrepreneur Chris Staffel
November 11, 2015 | Filed in: Woman of the Week
Earlier this year, customer Chris Staffel sent us a photo of herself wearing MM.LaFleur. And although this has become a regular occurrence (keep ‘em coming, ladies!), this photo stood out from the crowd. Chris literally took her company public in the Etsuko—a definite first for MM.
As we got to know Chris, we realized she was the consummate Ampersand Woman. Trained as a musician, she ultimately realized that her skills and personality were better suited for the business world. She broke into the energy infrastructure field, and she hasn’t looked back since.
We caught up with her to talk risk-taking, IPOs, and how practice can pay off in the most unexpected ways.
Energy infrastructure is pretty specific. How did you end up in the field?
If you’d told me years ago that I’d be building companies for natural gas pipeline infrastructure, I would not have believed you. I went to a music conservatory in Chicago for my undergraduate degree, and then I got an MFA in musical theater. I moved to New York right after graduate school to pursue musical theater. But when I produced a show on off-off-off Broadway, I realized that I enjoyed the business aspect of show business more than performing.
Around that time, I happened to meet two individuals who were long-time energy industry veterans, and they asked me to be their assistant and in turn learn the industry. It was definitely a departure from what I’d been doing, but I took the risk—there was just something about that opportunity and that door being opened—and I’m so grateful that I did. I’ve now started three companies with those partners.
How did you get your latest company, PennTex Midstream Partners, off the ground?
In December of 2013, I got a call from my former boss and he said: “Quit your job. We’re going to start another company.” So that December, six of us started PennTex. We began with just an idea written on a cocktail napkin and backing from Natural Gas Partners. I was tapped to be the VP of Administration, so in that role, I oversee HR, Public Relations, IT, Government Affairs, Facility Management, and Risk Management. Basically, I keep the trains running.
You looked incredibly elegant at your IPO, if we do say so. What was that day like?
It was one of those big milestone moments, but it’s really the everyday hard work you put in that gets you to that moment. That day felt like a celebration of 16 months of hard work and long hours, and it marked a turning point in our growth as a company. We took the company from six employees to 86 in such a short period of time, and my favorite part was seeing the sense of accomplishment on our employees’ faces. We really are a family.
How does your music background inform your work as a businessperson? What does practice “make” for you?
While studying music, I had to spend hours in the practice room, which bred discipline. It distilled a really strong work ethic in me, and it facilitated alone time to really reflect. “Practice makes perfect” is what everyone says, but I don’t want to be perfect. Perfect is boring, it’s calculated, and it’s definitely unsustainable. But practice helped me become a disciplined thought leader, and that perfectly prepared me to be successful in business.
What are you most proud of in your life and work?
I’ve never shied away from taking risks, and many times, that meant going at it alone. As a result of taking those risks, I’ve had some of my most incredible experiences, from both a professional standpoint and a personal standpoint. I moved to New York City without a job and just had a dream of pursuing music there, and that opened doors. Later, I pursued opportunities in other cities, which advanced my career and allowed me to meet such great people across the country. Those risks have paid off tremendously.
What do you wish you’d known when you started working?
I wish I’d known more about my personality and how that plays into your career. As a musical performer, you don’t have a lot of decision-making abilities. Now, I realize that I like to be in the driver’s seat and also to have structure. That’s not very conducive to a career in music, but it works well in business.
Is there a piece of advice that has guided you along the way?
If you’re the smartest person in the room, you aren’t in the right room. You need to surround yourself with people that you can learn from. It might be really uncomfortable at times, but you will grow at a much more accelerated pace.
Do you have a style philosophy when it comes to dressing for work?
I like to keep it simple. That’s why I’m a fan of MM.LaFleur—you guys send me a Bento Box, I get to try everything on, and if it doesn’t work, I can send it back. I like having all of the thought taken out of it. I used to like shopping, but now because of work, I don’t have time. When I get dressed in the morning, I prefer dresses because it takes all the guesswork out of it. I can throw on a dress, heels, and necklace, and I’m out the door.
Success is… seeing your hard work come to fruition, as evident in our IPO.
Happiness is… working with a team every day that you love working with.
Instant satisfaction… is overrated.
Listening… is underrated.
What do you want to be “when you grow up?”
I’ve learned to hold my plans very loosely, but I would eventually love to run a global corporation. I’d love to start additional businesses. When I’m 80, you’ll find me on a cruise ship—sightseeing during the day, and in the evening, I’ll be singing jazz standards with a martini in my hand.
Photos by Lindsay Brown