Jen Colley is a senior solution architect at JDA and has been on both sides of the fence – working at a retailer and now at JDA, working closely with customers to get their category management deployments up and running. She shares with us how some of her biggest risks have been the best decisions in her life, and how she prioritizes her family while juggling a demanding travel schedule.

family on vacation
Jen and her family

Can you tell us where you grew up and currently live and a little more about your family?

I’ve never moved far! I live just 14 miles from where I grew up, in Richmond, Virginia, and now live in Mechanicsville. I’ve been married for 17 years and live close to my sister, in-laws and parents so we do a lot of family events and vacations together. I have a 13-year-old daughter and an 8-year-old son.

You joined JDA after working in retail. What was that like?

In 2006, I worked for Circuit City and I installed JDA Category Knowledge Base there. We worked very closely with JDA since they were the implementation partner. It was a cool company to work for with a family-first mentality.  From there, I became a trainer for Space and Floor Planning. However, once Circuit City closed its doors in 2009, I became a stay at home mom for five years.

One day, out of the blue, my old boss from Circuit City called me and asked me if I would work with him again.  I said sure.  We worked together for about three and a half years installing JDA Category Knowledge Base and maximizing Category Management.  The company decided to move to Texas and I did not want to move. Instead of finding another role where I would install and work with JDA Category Knowledge Base again, I decided to switch my path and work for the software company itself and it just made so much sense!

I’ve been at JDA for three years as a consultant.  I help our customers install their software for Floor and Space Planning. For the past 20 months, I have been working with a large grocery chain on their full Category Management deployment including Floor and Space Planning.

Did you ever expect your career would lead you into the world of supply chain and space and floor planning?

Short answer: No.

Long ago, I started my retail career as most do – as a cashier.  By 17 I was the store manager of the same store where I worked my first job and was a district trainer by the age of 18. I trained everyone on all the software, including some elements related to inventory and how it was planned for each store. It really interested me, and I knew I did not want to go the district manager route, so I decided to join the corporate world and that began my career in supply chain!

I started off doing store designs and focused on the floor aspect or macro space, like prototyping, determining how a customer shops, and understanding the analytics. Having a finance degree really helps for this field! That’s when I partnered with JDA at Circuit City and got into Category Management.  Once I was on the Floor Planning side for a year and a half, I decided to join the Space Planning side.  I found that floor plans interested me more than space plans, but had to try both sides, of course!

What is the best risk you’ve taken and why?

The best risk personally was deciding to marry my high school sweetheart at the age of 20! He’s been by my side 100 percent from day one. I travel nearly 95 percent of the time and he does all the home stuff and is my support through and through.

The best risk professionally was coming to JDA. I really wasn’t sure how it would work with the travel, kids, and home life. But it’s been great!  I literally travel Monday-Thursday to the customer site for seven weeks and then have the eighth week off, so my husband really handles a lot during the week while I am gone.

What’s one lesson you’ve learned and really taken to heart?

No matter what, family comes first. It is really hard to teach people that family is and always should be first.  Some might even call it selfish. But if you don’t put your family first, you lose touch with those who really do support you.

What is your proudest achievement?

Last year, I was nominated for a JDA Performer! It really validated everything I did for this particular customer and it felt like all the hard work paid off and was recognized by others outside of our account team.

What do you wish you knew when you were starting out that you know now?

Again, it comes back to family and prioritizing that family is first. It took me awhile to realize that. When I first started out, it was go, go, go, and I just kept going. And then I realized that all the ‘going’ wasn’t supporting everyone that was helping me go. Taking a break from the going helped me level set and understand the lessons learned about family first and that you really have to stick to it. This really does become a priority and it becomes so easy to do over time.

What about your career surprises you?

Honestly, how many women are not in the industry! It is rare that a woman is my manager. The whole industry is male-dominated, especially in category management. From technical, to functional perspective, and even in the retail stores, I think it is a 70/30 split. It actually doesn’t bother me, but it does motivate me!

What leaders do you admire and why?

My mom. I get a lot of my drive from her. She started off very similar to me. She was a bank teller at the age of 16. When she retired, she had worked her way all the way up to COO of the bank.  This is rare since banking is a pretty male-dominated industry!

My old boss Stephen is another key leader I have admired.  He taught me to look at the analytics and customer insights in a different manner to understand that it’s not about what you already have, but what you can gain with more insights. That viewpoint and the risk you take to get there.

What do you think is the most significant barrier to women in leadership?

We may be too emotional! As we evolve, we are getting better at taking emotion out of it. However, culturally, people expect women to have an emotional investment and use that emotional investment to try and take advantage of that emotional connection.

Given your travels, how do you maintain a work/life balance?

I actually really prioritize my Fridays at home to get as much done early, and spend as much of it with my family.

When I am away, for example though, my son texts me every morning about whatever is on his mind. We try to incorporate my being there even if I’m not there. And, we get to travel so much more as a family too, so my time away does pay off for them! Last year, we went to six foreign countries: Aruba, Curacao, Puerto Rico, St. Thomas, Bahamas and Jamaica!

What’s something people would be surprised to know about you?

I am a HUGE sports fan – from basketball to football to anything really. My husband actually inserts me into the sports conversations socially and then walks away! Conversely, though, he picks up all the cooking conversations, so we swap! He loves to cook.