Congrats card in order: Papyrus CEO from East Bay named a Jewish woman to watch

At a recent meeting with her design team, Papyrus CEO Dominique Schurman discussed feathers — tabbed the “it” fashion trend of the season.

Schurman’s concern: how the embellishment would translate onto cards, invitations and other products.

“We watch fashion very closely,” Schurman said by phone from Papyrus’ corporate offices in Fairfield. “If we see a studded tote bag, its design might inspire a paper gift bag or greeting card.”

Dominique Schurman in a Papyrus store

Schurman, 49, recently was named to Jewish Women International’s “Women to Watch in 5771.” She, along with nine other honorees, was recognized at a luncheon Dec. 6 in Washington D.C.

“It’s a real honor,” said Schurman, a resident of Alamo and a member of Congregation Beth El in Berkeley. “It’s very exciting to know I’ve been noticed on a nationwide basis. As a woman in business, it’s great to take a moment and celebrate that. As a Jew, it’s nice to have all parts of my life come together in this award.”

Jewish Women International is a Washington, D.C.–based organization that aims to empower women and girls through economic literacy, community training, education and women’s leadership.

Schurman heads the Schurman Retail Group, the second-largest specialty retailer in the American greeting card industry and creator of the Papyrus brand.

Schurman Retail Group owns 430 stores nationwide, including American Greetings, Carlton Cards and Paper Thread, as well as 150 Papyrus stores across the country.

On this year’s “Women to Watch” list are Jewish women whom JWI considers to be exemplary and accomplished, and with more to come as far as the future of their businesses.

Their biographies, which appeared in the fall issue of Jewish Woman Magazine, detailed childhood memories, how they achieved success and their involvement in the Jewish community.

“One of our core principles is to recognize Jewish women’s leadership,” said Susan Jerison, director of marketing and communications at JWI. “You’ve got this list of women, some are household names, who have built a successful life and, in one way or another, are contributing to the community around them.”

Honorees include Dana Bash, CNN’s senior congressional correspondent; Meryl Frank, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women; Lisa Malat, vice president of Barnes and Noble; and Alexandra Shapiro, senior vice president of brand marketing and digital for USA Network.

Jerison said JWI has had its eye on Schurman for a while. “We’re pleased to have Dominique,” she added, “as she represents the award very well.”

Schurman said she stays close to the day-to-day business operations, beginning with checking the previous day’s sales first thing every morning. She spends the rest of her day in design meetings, traveling to stores and engaging in all aspects (merchandising and budgeting, to name a few) of her company. 

“You have to have something inside that gets you up every morning,” Schurman said. “Something that keeps you focused on the positive, on the big picture and gives you strength to navigate through obstacles. I love what I do, and that really helps.”

A native of Berkeley, Schurman grew up with a German mother, Margrit, and a Swiss father, Marcel, who started Papyrus in their family kitchen in 1950. Early on, many of the greeting cards were imported from Europe, and Schurman couldn’t help but notice their artistic flair.

As sure as her mother and father were about launching their business, the couple (both refugees) struggled with how to reconnect to Judaism after World War II.

At age 15, Schurman traveled with her father on what proved to be a meaningful journey to Israel.

“There was an awakening in me,” recalled Schurman, who is married to an Israeli and has two adult sons. “I was a young girl making a conscious choice to connect to Judaism. Now as an adult looking back, it’s fascinating. We didn’t have the traditional Jewish home, but we rediscovered our faith together.”

The experience in Israel compelled Schurman to live on a kibbutz and study abroad at Tel Aviv University.

A graduate of U.C. Berkeley, Schurman never anticipated taking over the family business, but when she was in her early 20s and her father announced he was selling the business, she told him not to rush into anything.

“I said I might be interested,” she recalled. “He told me to start at the bottom and see if it feels like a fit.”

So her father held onto the business, and she jumped in to answer phones and learn the basics.

Eventually she took over as CEO, and today, 28 years later, her vision is all about expansion, both internationally and creatively.

“Some people think of greeting cards as what their grandma used to send,” Schurman said. “Our challenge, especially in the digital age, is to reinvent the greeting card and show it can be young, trendy, chic and fashionable.”