When Therese Van Ryne sat down to write “Zippy’s Special Gift” in April 2020, the world was a very different place than it is today. That’s because this touching story about our beloved Zebra mascot had not yet been told!
Since December 2020, when the first copy of this award-winning children’s book shipped, thousands of children and adults alike have been inspired to embrace and celebrate their “stripes” – those unique traits that make them special. We have all come to appreciate the value of authenticity just a little bit more, and we can more clearly see how our differences both unify and strengthen us. That is something worth celebrating in a big, bold way!
So, we thought we would start by toasting Therese.
As Global Director of Public Relations, Thought Leadership and Advocacy here at Zebra, Therese challenges us to tell powerful stories that can change lives. She also empowers us to become changemakers by giving us a platform to share our voices. That’s part of the reason why she has been recognized as one of the Most Notable Executives in Marketing for 2021 by Crain’s Chicago Business.
But even more importantly, Therese leads with action. She took time out of her personal life to write “Zippy’s Special Gift,” collaborate with the illustrator, and publish the colorful book so proceeds from its sales can benefit Bernie’s Book Bank.
I recently sat down with her to understand her motivation and inspiration for the book and her philosophy on life more broadly:
Natalie: First off, congratulations on being named one of the Most Notable Marketers by Crain’s Chicago. I know in working closely with you that you are very passionate about your work. Can you talk about what it takes to sustain an impactful Public Relations, Thought Leadership and Advocacy program today?
Therese: Thanks Natalie. Like any successful program, the amazing results we’ve achieved at Zebra is based on our people. I’m honored to lead a strong team of talented people from around the world; each of these team members has their own unique style that inspires me every day. Our collaborative approach in telling great Zebra stories brings us together as a team while our individual skill sets and experiences enables us to achieve a wide array of positive results that build our company’s reputation and help drive its growth.
Natalie: And you still found time to write an award-winning children’s book…that’s incredible! You mentioned in an interview with Country Magazine that you always had dreams of writing a book but had difficulty finding time between parenting three children and advancing your career – until the pandemic. What sparked your interest in writing a children’s book?
Therese: I have always enjoyed reading “rhyming” books as a child and again as a parent sharing books with my children. Our favorite children’s books had a simple storyline with colorful illustrations and a meaningful ending. I’m a big fan of Zebra Technologies’ mascot, Zippy, and the many stories we’ve shared as employees about Zippy. I thought it would be fun to raise Zippy’s profile through a children’s book that reminds people of all ages about the importance of inclusion and belonging, and the feedback we’ve received about the story has been amazing!
Natalie: What steps would you advise one take if they’re looking to complete a lifelong dream or passion project, similar to your writing and publishing of a children’s book?
Therese: My advice is to turn your bucket list into a “budget” list – budgeting your time to figure out how and when you will complete each activity or project. Over the past couple years, I’ve made several items on my “budget” list happen by mapping out a plan to achieve them. Life is too short to push your dreams far into the future – you can make them happen sooner than you think by determining the appropriate timing, arranging the right resources, and thinking through the best strategy to get there.
Natalie: Do you have a professional or personal philosophy that you’ve used to guide your growth as an individual and as a marketing professional?
Therese: I’ve always set a high bar for myself along with those I engage with on personal and professional levels. And while I may have high expectations, I never expect more from others than I’m willing to give. One of my favorite mentors always advised me to aim for “progressive performance versus postponed perfection” so I apply this to ensure continued growth and development in all aspects of my life. Admittedly, one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had at this point in my life is to see my children take on this philosophy as well as they learn and grow every day!
Your Edge Blog Team: Why did you choose Bernie’s Book Bank as the beneficiary for the book? And what compelled you to donate the proceeds in the first place?
Therese: Zebra employees have been actively volunteering in their local communities for decades and leveraging company-sponsored paid time off to volunteer and give back. In fact, many Zebras volunteered their time with Bernie’s Book Bank alongside friends and family before we formalized our engagement with them as one of our key strategic charitable partners.
We chose to work with Bernie’s Book Bank based on its mission to increase book ownership among under-served children in the Chicagoland area. In October, the organization celebrated distributing a whopping 20 million books – an amazing milestone accomplished in just over 12 years. The proceeds from the sales of “Zippy’s Special Gift,” which are donated to Bernie’s Book Bank, will help the organization purchase and distribute even more books to empower Chicagoland children to read their way to a better life.
Natalie: Well, it is my understanding that you and Zippy have had quite a year – and the efforts have greatly benefitted Bernie’s Book Bank, among thousands of other people around the world. What have been some of the most notable accomplishments related to “Zippy’s Special Gift”?
Therese: Publishing the book has been exciting in and of itself but it is the impact that resonates most prominently. From having the opportunity to read the book aloud at the inaugural Bernie’s Book Bank Storybook Festival to donating copies of the book to children’s hospitals around the country, it has been quite fulfilling to give back in this way during this challenging time.
I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention the three-week virtual book tour for “Zippy’s Special Gift” earlier this year and the ensuing reviews and spotlights along with the recognition it has received including the Mom’s Choice Award.
Your Edge Blog Team: At Zebra, our motto for our philanthropy and volunteer activities is “Doing Well by Doing Good.” And I know you both champion and embody this sentiment. Can you give us a little more insight into what this means to you?
Therese: We often think in terms of how volunteering helps local communities and supporting charitable activities can even help improve companies’ bottom lines. It’s also amazing to know that volunteering can make you healthier and happier! So, by doing “good,” you can help those around you do well while also benefitting your own personal wellness.
Natalie: Well, you must tell us your trick to balancing work, life and community service.
Therese: I’m very fortunate to have an incredibly supportive family! I enjoy spending quality time with my husband and three children along with our dog. The time I spend relaxing with them inspires me to find the right balance and not sweat the small stuff. I also truly believe in the adage: if you enjoy your job, you won’t work a day in your life. I love what I do and am thrilled to be a member of Zebra Nation, so life is good!
Natalie: One final question… do you intend to flex your communication and marketing skills for any other passion projects – perhaps a sequel or something new?
Therese: I can’t give away all my secrets, but you can rest assured that more items on my “budget” list will be coming to fruition in the near future!
I strongly encourage each of you to order your copy of “Zippy’s Special Gift” from Amazon now! The holidays are the perfect time to sit down with friends, family, neighbors and even strangers to read a tale that we’re sure will become timeless. As Zippy and her friends find their special gifts, I suspect you and your loved ones will discover a few of their own!
Zippy’s Special Gift has been nominated as a “Best Charity/Philanthropic Initiative” for the Vendors in Partnership (VIP) Awards. You can place your vote for Zippy, Therese and Zebra by following the instructions below. But don’t delay. Voting closes Dec. 3.
- Click "Vote now" in the upper right corner of this page
- Click "Best Charity/Philanthropic Initiative"
- Create an account and confirm your email address
- Click the " <3 Vote" box for both of Zebra's entries, "Best Charity/Philanthropic Initiative"
More About Zippy’s Special Gift: