Written by Hanna De Hoyos.
If you have been a member Women Communicators of Austin (WCA) for a while, there’s a good chance you have met Jane Baxter Lynn, this month’s Member Spotlight. Jane has led WCA’s Mentor Program for many years and will be speaking at the February 17 WCA @ Night event on how to have a successful mentor relationship in your career. (Register now – tickets include a free drink and hors d’oeuvres!)
Jane has not only been an active member of WCA since she moved to Austin with her Texan husband Frank in 2007 but she also served as Banner Brunch Silent Auction Chair and on the National Board of the Association for Women Communications when it was associated with WCA. She is passionate about working with our members and her many other mentees to be successful. In 2014, she was recognized for her work in this area with our Gene Barnwell Waugh Mentor Award.
What a lot of people don’t know is what she does in her ‘other’ life. A professional communicator, Jane is principal at JBL Strategies, a strategic business advisory firm, focused primarily on working with nonprofits these days. She works with organizations to evaluate, set and implement their strategic direction, as well as facilitating strategy sessions and providing leadership training.
Jane is originally a Zimbabwean (what was Rhodesia), born to British parents who were working out there. She spent 30 years of her life in Africa and still has a deep affection for it.
Tell us about your professional experience and how you got to your current position?
Somebody the other day described my life as “many layers.” What he meant by that is that I have had the most amazing opportunities and experiences across many aspects of my life.
I have had some of the best jobs in the world. My first job was in South Africa, starting out as public relations officer for a large beach resort hotel, then I moved on to become a public relations manager for a quasi-government parks, game and fish preservation board. I then became regional PR manager for a major construction, engineering and consumer products company and, finally, PR and promotions editor for South Africa’s leading women’s magazine. I then moved to Europe where I managed PR for Holiday Inn’s Europe, Middle East and Africa divisions, from where I was headhunted to become director of marketing and communications for the World Travel & Tourism Council—a global organization of all the Fortune 500 travel & tourism companies’ CEOs—dedicated to expanding awareness of the industry’s significant economic impact.
When I moved to the United States after marrying Frank, I started JBL Strategies working with Budget Rent-a-Car, Expedia and other companies to enhance their communications structures and strategies. I became Vice President Corporate Communications for HFS Inc., a franchise company in the travel and tourism and real estate industries. From there, I became the first Executive Director (ED) of the Long Island Wine Council, an industry organization promoting wine and tourism at the East End of Long Island; ED of the Washington Wine Commission, launching its current brand, and then becoming first ED for the U.S. Green Building Council Central & South Texas Chapter.
How did you get started in the communications field?
From a very young age, according to my mom, I was an organizer and communicator. At 15, I decided that I either wanted to become a flight attendant or a public relations professional, however, I was too tall to be the former (5’ 8” was the maximum height) so I chose the latter. Since then, I have been involved in leadership roles within PR/Communications associations in South Africa, Europe and here in the U.S.
What do you find most rewarding and challenging about your career?
What I love about our communications profession is that you are the middle person, responsible for bringing together your internal leadership with your external audiences. You have the opportunity to influence and truly make a difference for your company, organization or cause. Bringing together diverse groups of people to achieve a common goal is a major satisfaction for me.
These days, a large part of what I do is mentoring–helping organizations and individuals to figure out what they are doing, how they are going to get there and ensuring that they have the positioning and messaging in place to communicate their purpose. Seeing the changes they make is incredibly rewarding.
In terms of challenging, today’s world women communicators are much better placed to be successful than I was in the early days of our defined profession. For the most part, communications is now part of the C suite. However, there remains a lack of understanding of the strategic importance of planned communications, with the PR folks still only being brought in at the last minute when there’s a crisis or when the strategic direction has already been set.
What is the best advice you can give to young women starting out their careers?
Decide where your passion is and define what you’d really like to do, then develop a plan to seek out work opportunities that satisfy those things. Probably the most important thing is to focus more on what your profession is before worrying about what industry or field you’d like to be in. As communicators, we typically work with people who are experienced in their industry, so as long as you know where and how to get the answers, you do not need to be the expert. You’ll learn soon enough.
Also, I truly believe that the smartest way to advance professionally is to identify mentors who can guide you and be available to you through the ups and downs. I have had many mentors at different stages of my career, some of whom have been with me throughout and I still look to them for guidance today, some who are professionals in my own field of communications, and others who have business acumen or interpersonal skills experience that add value to my work.
Finally, don’t undervalue yourself. Do your market research to find out what your position is worth and don’t ever take less.
What sparked your interest in WCA?
I first came across the Association for Women in Communications (AWC) when living in Seattle 12 years ago. I was already a member of the International Public Relations Association (IPRA) and having been President of International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) in Belgium, I was looking for an organization with which to connect.
When we moved to Austin in 2007, I immediately joined WCA here and was blown away by the amazing group of women – highly professional, supportive and a lot of fun. The network helped me get established and, over the years, I have turned many times to the group for professional support.
What do you find most rewarding about being involved with WCA?
WCA comprises a group of super smart, highly supportive and inspiring women of all ages, backgrounds and interests. It’s a constant learning experience and very fulfilling. As head of the Mentor Program, I get to work with women who are committed to guiding others along their career paths and with mentees who recognize the importance of mentorship and are willing to make changes in their approaches.
What does WCA mean to you?
This is one organization of which I hope to always be a member. There is so much stimulation and companionship available no matter where one is in one’s professional life.
What other organizations are you involved in?
U.S. Green Building Council, a mission driven nonprofit committed to accelerating the adoption of green building and land development practices for the health and welfare of all.
Canine Companions for Independence, which provides at no cost highly trained service dogs to people with disabilities other than blindness. What I love about this organization, for which I have volunteered more than 20 years, is that we get to enjoy dogs, another of my passions, while at the same time and more importantly working with people to enhance their lives.
Finally, I am on the organizing committee of St. Matthew’s Soul of a Musician Series, a Sunday evening concert series at Iron Cactus North, dedicated to supporting local singer/songwriters.
What other causes are you passionate about?
Environmental conservation, which has been a constant throughout my career and personal life. I currently volunteer as a National Wildlife Federation Habitat Steward, we have a Wildlife Habitat certified garden, built a 5-star green rated home in downtown Austin, and we are also involved in the Travis Audubon Society.
Anything else we should know about you?
I love fast cars, mostly classic cars, since I was brought up around them. My Honda S2000 sports car, which I’ve had for 15 years, is used as an everyday vehicle, but every now and then I take it on some amazing road trips. I’ve been known to take her to the track on track days, which is always a lot of fun. Music and dancing are also my medicines, which I think are so uplifting.
On the wine side, I have a Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) Wine and Spirit advanced certificate. Family-wise, I have two step-daughters and four grandchildren, all of whom live in Texas, which is wonderful.
I’d sum Jane up as a consummate professional, who is always looking to help others succeed, whether they are her clients, mentees or friends.