Q&A: Karen Scarpino


Karen Scarpino. Courtesy Green Giftz

Editor’s note: Each Q&A in the Influential Women enewsletter will feature a woman from the region who’s influential, a rising face in her industry or doing interesting work. Submit tips on potential Q&A subjects to tgortsema at grbj dot com.

Karen Scarpino is the president and owner of Promotional Impact and Green Giftz — a promotional products distributor in Grand Rapids.

As president of a million-dollar business, Scarpino strives to instill a passion for excellence in employees at Green Giftz as well as work-life balance.  

Scarpino’s team creates "high-design" and "earth-friendly" promotions for organizations committed to sustainability. 

Her efforts to re-purpose scrap and contribute to the local economy via jobs and by minimizing waste, while helping local corporations meet zero-waste goals, put her as a leader in the industry.

Biggest career break?

Being promoted to vice president of a 50-year-old advertising and public relations firm by age 27, and I was the first female in its history to reach this level. In the early 90’s, women had to do a lot to prove their worth, and I am grateful to have had a boss who saw my potential. This is a gift I like to pass on, always seeing the potential in others and helping others to achieve their own personal greatness. 

Proudest moment? 

Of course, my kids make me proud daily, but I have a moment that blends kids and work. For many, personal lives and work lives are separate, but when you are an entrepreneur, working with your husband, both lives blend. Our employees are part of our family, and our clients are our friends.  Recently, we purchased a building in downtown Grand Rapids. When we moved in, my daughter, who works for us, helped us get settled in. My son, who wants to study information technology, was helping our IT person set up. Our team was setting up their new office spaces, and Casey, who has been with us over 12 years, even had her husband and kids there to experience the new space. It was both a family affair and a team accomplishment in which we all shared the excitement. I was very proud of my husband, my kids, our team and our accomplishments all in one day. 

Best advice you’ve ever received?

My dad says, “Do your best and leave the rest.” He knows I’m very passionate and devoted to doing my best in anything I set out to do. As an entrepreneur, this can result in working non-stop. If you give your all to a project, to your team, to your client…you can go home and “leave the rest,” not worry about it any longer, so you can shut it down and be there for your family after work. 

How did you make your first dollar?

Babysitting. Karen isn’t a popular name, but there were a couple dolls in the neighborhood named Karen after their favorite babysitter. 

Most-treasured possession?

My cuddle bugs – I am an animal lover and have three little dogs that bring me lots of joy. They’re always excited and eager to be with me. If I want to curl up with a blanket, they’re right there. If I want to go for a walk, they’re right there. The only thing we disagree about is their interest in barking.

Dream job?

To wake up every day filled with passion to make the impossible happen, be creative, be a problem-solver, make clients look good and build a team of winners…which is what I’m fortunate enough to be doing.  

If you were president for a day, you would…?

Small businesses create more than 65 percent of new jobs, yet they’re stymied by permitting, inspections, fees, taxes and other challenges. I would offer incentives and tax breaks to encourage more hiring and reduce unnecessary regulations. We need to remove barriers, so small business can lead the way to a vibrant new economy.

Last book you read?

An Oprah favorite: “A New Earth,” by Eckhart Tolle

Last search term you googled?

Mind-body green, which is a wellness website

Your worst habit?

Reading medical papers and researching autoimmune diseases. My son has juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, which affects many systems within the body, and the drugs taken for treatment are harsh on vital organs, especially starting at such a young age. Thanks to the Arthritis Foundation, I’ve connected with other families with children who suffer daily, and it’s heartbreaking, but at least we can support one another. I’m passionate about raising awareness of invisible disabilities that so many kids battle, yet so few people support or understand them. 

To unwind, you like to…?

We escape nearly every weekend to our cottage in Pentwater. Life seems simpler, and we’ve built so many family memories there. Just hearing the waves roll in and seeing the sunshine reflect on the lake is peaceful and rejuvenating. 

Dream vacation?

My dream vacation is tropical for sure. All I need is sunshine, sand between my toes, a palm tree nearby, waves crashing in and a beach chair. At a beachside tiki bar, you could sit next to someone who has only $25 to their name and next to someone who has $25-million dollars, and you can’t tell the difference between them, because both are wearing shorts, a T-shirt, flip flops and a smile on their face. 

Favorite food?

My favorite is mom’s homemade mostaccioli and meatballs. I think of her every time I make it, and I’m glad I learned how to make it while she was alive. 

Person you most admire?

My parents because they’re selfless, disciplined, hardworking, loving, and they are the best role models.   They genuinely treat everyone with great importance and value, and I try to do the same.  

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