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Oak Atkinson ’87: Touching Hearts One by One with tumbalina

By Contributing Writer on September 21, 2015
Oak Atkinson Colgate class of '87

Oak Atkinson ’87

My company is tumbalina. Our mission is “Touching hearts one by one.” My job is to make people smile. When we are really successful, we make someone shed a tear of joy. We happen to do this by way of greeting cards and it’s a fun way to make a living. So, how did I get here?

Well, I’m not easily satisfied. I raise the bar as fast as I achieve a goal. I really don’t consider myself successful, but I guess others think differently and asked me to join TIA Entrepreneurship Institute. It’s a real honor. To give back to Colgate and to “pay it forward,” as the saying goes. It’s also fun. Oh yeah, so how did I get here?

A little background. Both of my parents were from Korea but I spent my childhood in a little Ugandan town called Masaka where my dad was the local surgeon. With no gift shops in town, I started designing and making cards as a little girl. I never imagined that one day I would make my living running an award-winning card company.

From Uganda we ended up in NYC and I was fortunate to be admitted to Colgate, class of 1987. After college, I joined my favorite catalog company, J.Crew, where I was responsible for advertising and customer acquisition. Then on to Avon Products, I launched the company’s first consumer catalog and directed the marketing, merchandising, and creative. Somewhere in between, I got my MBA from Fordham. After that, I ended up at Gannett newspapers as the Advertising Development Director. My last corporate job was with an upscale travel company, Tauck, where I headed up the marketing and creative departments. I did not enjoy all of these jobs but each added a different experience and tools that prepared me to start my own company. So after a long journey, I went back to my passion of making people smile in creative ways. That was the smartest thing I’ve done in my career.card visual-01_opt

In my first year of business, in 2003, we won several industry awards, including a “Louie”, (the Oscars of the stationery industry), and the American Package Design Award. From there it’s been off to the races. This past year we sold over $18 million worth of cards online for clients like Snapfish, Walgreens, and Walmart.

So, what does this have to do with Colgate? Good question. Well, I assure you it has everything to do with Colgate. A liberal arts education — especially a COLGATE liberal arts education — gave me the broad perspective to use both sides of my brain, to combine the creative and business acumen to be a successful entrepreneur. And because Colgate really challenged me (sometimes to the point of self-doubt and tears!), I was not only given the tools but the spirit to succeed. And there’s nothing more instrumental to success than believing that you can achieve your dreams.

If there’s a lesson in my story that I want to convey as a TIA mentor, it is that you must both welcome and overcome challenges. And you also must have aspirations — passions, goals, whatever you want to call it; a reason to pop out of bed in the morning. Simply put, pursue your dreams…and persevere.

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