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Samantha Wills

ERIKA'S STORY I THINK WILL RESONATE & inspire many. Working a high profile corporate job by day, and pursing her creative passion with her own business by night. Erika is a friend of mine in NYC. When I describe my friend group in NYC on my personal Facebook page, I use the term 'Aussie Mafia', given all the Australian ex-pats that seem to organically find each other in the Big Apple, I include Erika in that mafia; She spent 8 years Down Under falling in love with the country (and a boy!) after being on student exchange. Here, she shares her story....

ERIKA BURHO: Head of Marketing, New York Stock Exchange 

ERIKA BURHO: Head of Marketing, New York Stock Exchange 

DESK DETAIL: And the stunning work Erika does for her creative passion:  @MailModels

DESK DETAIL: And the stunning work Erika does for her creative passion: @MailModels

­NAME: Erika Burho

COMPANY: New York Stock Exchange

TITLE(S): Head of Event Marketing NYSE / Founder Mail Models

AGE: 32

INSTAGRAM: @mailmodels



What is the long version of how you got to where you are today?I am the quintessential middle child who, filled with wanderlust at the age of seventeen, ran away from home to capture attention and prove myself to the world. I flew as far as my teenage wings would take me, to Australia, where a six-month stint quickly turned into eight years. While there, I collected once-in-a-lifetime memories, incredible relationships, a business degree and the foundation for my marketing career.

Eventually, I set my sights on New York City, determined to step up my professional game. The experience I had already gained in financial services led me to Wall Street, where I am now the Head of Event Marketing for the New York Stock Exchange. And yes, I still pinch myself every time I type my job title or catch a glimpse of my business card. I work with the world’s best companies, leaders and innovators daily, bringing to life world class events on the biggest and most iconic stage in business. I’ve orchestrated some of the world’s largest IPOs, and have the privilege of overseeing our storied Opening and Closing Bell calendar, determining who is honored with the opportunity to open and close the market each day.

Away from the office, I moonlight as the Creative Director of Mail Models, a stationery and design destination that celebrates beautiful design and the art of letter-writing. Since childhood, I’ve been enchanted by stylish stationery and, to this day, I believe strongly in the power of handwritten messages, which ultimately prompted me to launch this passion project in 2013. The opportunity to unleash my creativity in new ways and build a following of fellow correspondence connoisseurs has been so much fun, and has led to styling projects and social media support for major lifestyle and design brands, including including Nordstrom, Samantha Wills Bridal and Veuve Clicquot. Again, pinch me and my little champagne-loving heart.

I’ve questioned and been questioned, at times, as to why I bother with a project like Mail Models when I already have a busy schedule and successful, fulfilling career. While I can’t (yet) articulate exactly where this extracurricular activity of mine will take me, I can attest to how valuable it’s been in providing me with a fresh creative outlet and an opportunity to practice and hone brand-building in new ways outside of my 9-5.

Did you study anything specific for the career you are in?I graduated with a Bachelor of Business in Marketing from the University of Western Sydney in 2005. At the time, I knew I wanted to pursue a career that would put my creativity to good use in the business world. Working in financial services marketing challenges both sides of my brain, and ensures I never get bored.

Has your journey at times felt lonely? How? Arriving in New York without knowing a soul made for more than a few lonely moments, but, for the most part, I found my fresh start to be motivating. I’m introverted by nature, so I crave time alone to process and plan – being initially friendless in a new city allowed me to stay laser-focused on my career goals and eventually paid off. Ultimately, through this journey, I met a number of wonderful souls, who have inevitably become some of my most precious friends and mentors.

At work, leading a large team can sometimes be lonely too. I value the bonds I share with the members of my team, but the decisions I’m required to make force me to create some separation at times. Connection is important to me, though, and, as a result, I am so grateful for the confidantes I’ve found in the workplace outside of my immediate team, who have been invaluable in offering me advice, support and, sometimes, the hard truth. I believe it’s so important to build and maintain a network of peers to make our journey less isolating, and more fun, more rewarding.

What advice would you give your 21 year old self? Don’t apologize for who you are. Upon landing my dream job in New York, I was told by my then-boss to keep quiet about the small town I came from. I regret that I followed this advice, being so eager at the time to prove myself as a holder of the pedigree I believed I needed to succeed.

I am now immensely proud to say that I hail from Grand View, Wisconsin (population 468), a place that instilled in me a sense of community and taught me to value hard work and the power of dreaming big. I know that to have traveled so far from where I came, both literally and figuratively, is a testament to my ambition and talents, and that I have earned all that I have achieved.

Tell us about your workspace (Office / café / couch / aesthetic) what inspires you about your workspace? At work, my office is bright, clean and open, and almost always swarming with people and energy. At home, in my petite New York apartment, space is at a premium, so in lieu of an official office, I try to surround myself with beautiful pieces that inspire my best work. Being the stationery aficionado that I am, so you can find piles of letterpressed note cards and luxurious paper on almost every available surface in my home like little works of art.

What traits do you admire in people you surround yourself with? I’m lucky to work in an environment that celebrates the achievements of others daily. From the CEO of a billion dollar business or an entrepreneur who is breaking new ground in their industry, to Olympic athletes and award-winning artists, I am literally surrounded by wildly successful people from all walks of life on a constant basis. I count myself incredibly privileged to learn from the accomplishments of these leaders, and admire their amazing talents, their passion for their craft, the blood, sweat and tears they have poured into achieving their goals, and most of all, their determined spirits. Being in the constant company of people with these traits serves to ensure that I am perpetually motivated to be better, to aim high, to keep going.

Work life balance… Does it exist (I don’t think it does!) and how to maintain it, or a sense of it? Admittedly, work life balance is something I’ve struggled with. Despite being incredibly exciting, the pace and pressure of my job demands a great deal of my time and energy. This year in particular, the scales of my life were weighed down almost entirely by work, and I’d be lying if I said that my personal life didn’t ever suffer as a result. From this, I’ve learned the importance of prioritization, and while I accept that true balance may not be entirely realistic at all times, it’s being crystal clear to me that we should not take for granted our health and personal relationships. Left untended, they will not flourish.

I wouldn’t have thought that adding one more thing to my ever-growing to-do list would be helpful in my pursuit of better balance, but investing time and channeling my creative energy into Mail Models as an extracurricular activity has done just that. We so often define ourselves by our day jobs, and for me, finding a passion project in my personal life has been critical in providing me with a greater sense of purpose. Beyond being good for my personal wellbeing (and sanity), this has also reenergized me professionally, helping to fuel my creativity at work by exposing me to new ideas, experiences and brand-building strategies.

What do you still want to achieve (personally & / or professionally) There is as part of me that has always wanted to design a stationery line of my own. My work with Mail Models has served to further fan the flames of this dream, and I’d love to one day (soon!) bring it to life.  

When was the last time you where overwhelmed & cried from something provoked by work / work load? Recently. I was having a particularly stressful, emotional day and I succumbed to a few tears in the privacy of a bathroom stall. Though I pride myself on my ability to maintain my composure in high stress situations, I chose not to beat myself up over this moment of weakness. Instead, I took a deep breath, drummed up my will, and carried on. We’re all human and everyone has tough days.

If you had your time over again, from when you started your career to right now, would you do anything differently? II can honestly say that there is no other job in the world quite as special as mine, and I truly love what I do. There have certainly been struggles, and I’ve made more than my fair share of mistakes (which I expect will continue), but my setbacks have been important in building my resolve and teaching me to be a better businesswoman. So, if given the option, I wouldn’t take any of it back. I’m at peace with the path that I’m on and proud to stand where I do today.

Although I wouldn’t change where I’ve ended up, there are certain things I would have started sooner if I had my time again. In particular, I wish I hadn’t waited as long as I did to give myself permission to pursue Mail Models. Not having all of the answers, or the time, shouldn’t be a barrier to getting started on chasing a dream. I’ve found that the risk of wondering “what if” is far greater than that of investing in a passion.

Who are some women in business you admire & why? I had the opportunity to hear fashion icon Diane von Furstenberg speak at the NYSE last year, and was electrified by her message. She spoke about the challenges and opportunities she’s faced in her life and career, the power of being confident, authentic and independent as a women, and impressed upon the audience that you “don’t need to be a bitch to win in business.” Her wisdom was motivating and heartfelt, and continues to resonate with me. I have great admiration not only for her decades of success, but her exceptional strength and her commitment to empowering other women.

The SAMANTHA WILLS FOUNDATION is about bringing women in business together – why do you think this is important / (why did you want to be involved in this interview)? The professional guidance I’ve received from the women in business I admire has been invaluable to me over the course of my career and has helped me to grow tremendously. Working in a male dominated industry has further illuminated for me the importance of investing in, cultivating and celebrating a personal network of strong, successful women to inspire and empower each other to succeed. Because of this, the mission of the SAMANTHA WILLS FOUNDATION is incredibly close to my heart, and I am extremely honored and humbled to share my story. More than that, I truly cannot wait to learn from the other extraordinary women that have contributed their own lessons, insights and advice.

What are some of your favorite quotes “Without leaps of imagination, or dreaming, we lose the excitement of possibilities. Dreaming, after all, is a form of planning.” – Gloria Steinem

"Be true to yourself, be true to your idea but be hard on yourself and judge your product. And once you have been hard on yourself, then be nice to yourself...Listen to everyone but follow your heart, so when you make mistakes, they are your own mistakes." – Diane von Furstenberg