FIRST & 42 continues the celebration of the Leader Spotlight, showcasing the region’s up-and-coming stars from the 2020 class of Leadership Kalamazoo. Jump in and learn about these leaders’ “firsts” in life as well as their answers to a few deeper questions about their leadership and vision for our community. Today’s featured leader is Natalie Biddle, product engineering manager at Landscape Forms.
Natalie has the pleasure of leading a team that is responsible for all of the new product launches from Landscape Forms. “Working with such a talented group of engineers and machinists is humbling as a leader,” said Natalie. On encouraging creativity within her team, Natalie explained how she is working on creating a culture of design thinking. “I want people to experiment, to fail quickly, and to have creative confidence,” she said. In addition to learning more about her vision for our community and more on leadership, we also learned about Natalie’s introduction to the spotlight that started when her parents signed her to a modeling agency as a baby. Read on below to learn more about Natalie Biddle.
First Things First
WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST CAR?
A Diesel Jetta—which I owned for about two weeks before it had issues and we sold it!
WHAT IS THE FIRST TIME YOU REMEMBER SPEAKING PUBLICLY?
My parents signed me to a modeling agency as a baby, and when I was about four years old, I was cast in a runway show. It wasn’t quite public speaking, but I remember walking down the runway, waving, and blowing kisses at the crowd. It was a thrill and I loved it! My three-year-old son definitely inherited a bit of that love for the limelight—he doesn’t have a runway, but he loves entertaining my team members on video calls.
WHAT IS THE FIRST THING YOU DO WHEN YOU GET HOME FROM WORK?
If I’m honest, I usually get a big hug from my toddler, and I head straight for the refrigerator to open a Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale. We’re spoiled to have such great beers in Kalamazoo!
The Deep Dive
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN IN YOUR CURRENT POSITION? WHAT ARE YOUR DAY-TO-DAY RESPONSIBILITIES?
I started my current role leading our product engineering department on March 2 of this year; before this role, I led Landscape Forms’ manufacturing engineering team. It’s been fun to take the experiences from manufacturing and apply them to the front end of the business, and I love that I report to our Chief Creative Officer—we’re all learning a lot. I’m constantly reminded of how lucky I am to be a part of the team I’m on. Our group is responsible for implementing and supporting a huge number of new product launches annually, and it keeps growing. Working with such a talented group of engineers and machinists is humbling as a leader. I’m not capable of doing the work my team does, but it’s so fulfilling to give smart people opportunities to do more of what they’re naturally good at and watch them grow.
WHO IS YOUR FAVORITE HISTORICAL LEADER? WHY?
Queen Christina of Sweden. I’ve always been fascinated by her story. She became queen at the age of six, she read books all night, she corresponded with the famous thinkers and artists of the day, she dressed like a man, the list goes on, and she was a trailblazer!
HOW DO YOU USE YOUR LEADERSHIP SKILLS OUTSIDE OF WORK?
Leading is a lot like parenting in some ways: you have to be patient, you have to listen, you have to earn the respect of your kids, and you have to trust that they’ll do the right thing if given the opportunity to make their own choices and learn from their mistakes.
HOW DO YOU PROMOTE CREATIVITY ON YOUR TEAM?
This next year, we’re working on building a culture of design thinking. I want people to experiment, to fail quickly, and to have creative confidence. Too often engineers get stuck analyzing data—it truly is a culture change to tell people to go ahead and try something crazy—it’s okay if it doesn’t work! I’m married to an industrial designer, so I am constantly reminded of how important it is to try new ideas and fail quickly.
WHAT IS YOUR VISION FOR OUR COMMUNITY IN THE NEXT FIVE YEARS?
I joined Leadership Kalamazoo to connect with the community. I learned a lot through the program, and I realized that I did not truly know Kalamazoo—I only knew the small bubble I placed myself in. Over the next five years, I want to see a change in the way local businesses and nonprofits engage with the Kalamazoo community. We, as business leaders, have work to do in terms of how we support the community through our hiring practices, our outreach to Kalamazoo Promise scholarship recipients, and our engagement with schools. Kalamazoo Public Schools students are our future, and we can do a lot more to ensure we develop and keep talent here. I’m very hopeful that we can pull together to remove barriers to higher education and employment for the underserved in our area.