She is equally comfortable discussing these topics alongside things like her guilty pleasures (traditional magazines), her favorite place (Napa Valley), even the type of wine that is most like her (Prosecco or Malbec, depending on the occasion). Anyone who spends time with Julia soon learns about her passion for food, and they will likely benefit from that passion.
“Cooking for me is definitely that creative outlet, and that extra step I take to show the people around me that I love them.”
Julia’s Cuban heritage has had a profound impact on her sense of family, her culinary tastes and her love for cooking and hosting. She is two generations removed from the island, and she grew up hearing family members tell stories about the homeland.
Her connection to this heritage is strong. So strong, in fact, that it contributes to her only regret in life.
“I wholeheartedly regret not learning Spanish as a second language.”
She notes that most members of the family on her father’s side speak fluent Spanish, but she remains optimistic about her prospects.
“There’s always time for that,” she explains.
That word—home—is very important to Julia. It’s her favorite place to be. Nothing makes her happier than having dinner at home with her husband and daughters, catching up on the day’s events, laughing together.
And she puts in the hours too. The time stamps don’t lie. Those who work with her know they will frequently receive communications during the late hours.
For Ahrens, this is just one example of how she gives her all to all the things that matter to her—family, friends, home, and her job.
She moves so naturally between her work life and home life, she makes it look easy sometimes. Her genuine interest in other people, and enthusiasm for attending to their needs, shine through. The result is usually a happy client.
She is a wonderful manifestation of the Confucian saying, “Choose a job you love and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.”
It is not hard to nail down a dominant theme for Julia’s life and work: her relationship with food.
“Food is a ritual. Breaking bread, trying new things, it’s definitely an expression of love, and it’s very important to me.”
Having heard her talk about her love of wine, I asked her what kind of wine she would be.
“That depends on the situation,” she responds immediately. “I’d have some seasonal offerings. I like all different types of wine. One is definitely celebratory–bubbles. I absolutely love Prosecco. Bubbles make it special, and it’s a little more accessible than champagne.”
“But then also, I would say, there is another wine that would describe me. I would say it’s a Malbec. It is bold, strong in some ways, but also consistent. You know what you’re going to get. It’s driven by the occasion, ritualistic, good for a cold night, nice dinner. ”
I was also curious about how she might think about the different parts of her job, viewed through the lens of cuisine, so I asked, “Could you describe your job as a four-course meal?”
She hesitates, asking, “How much time do we have?”
But she was up to the challenge.
“Drawing the clients in, getting to know them, making them feel warm and safe in your team’s care. Getting to know your clients on a personal level creates an extra layer of trust.”
“I think of this as a little bit more straightforward and tactical. This is a functional course, a palate cleanser, if you will. Along those lines, I think in order to be successful, you have to deliver on things consistently, no matter how small. For example, maybe I arranged to have a package shipped for them, prepared a meeting recap, or helped get a logo made for their kid’s baseball team.”
“From the client perspective, it helps them think, ‘I can depend on you to deliver.’”
“Big presentations. I really enjoy and nerd out on presentation psychology, the dynamics in the room, making sure the meeting occurs at the right time of day, everything that goes into getting it right. I love the theater of presenting." The big ah-ha.
“In my future life, when the time is right, I would love to teach a course about presentation theory. I’m just so intrigued by building the emotional and personal connection with people.”
“When I think of dessert, I think of indulgence. So I think about the perks of agency world and those client relationships. The fact that we get to go to St. Louis Cardinals Opening Day every year. The fact that we can take them to lunch, bring them coffee. When we make that personal connection in a way that we enjoy. That’s a treat.”
When asked about how she approaches the demands of her job, she responds, “It requires a sense of urgency and passion. Making sure you’re putting as much as possible toward the task at hand, but do it with calmness and grace.”
Calmness and grace, indeed. That’s Julia Ahrens.