1. IDEAL Industries is in its fifth generation of family business ownership. How were you introduced to the business?
I learned about the business around the dining room table. It was a very organic introduction. My father was CEO, and I heard more about IDEAL than I ever wanted to. I often felt like I was competing for airtime with the business as much as I was competing for airtime with my siblings.
I never thought I would work there. I pursued medicine and then consulted at a Big Five accounting firm. When I had my son, I was going to stay home with him for his first year. That is when my dad asked me to come on board. They were transitioning from the third to fourth generation and wanted help for a few months. Those few months turned into 19 years. My roles have allowed me to remain present with my family while staying in the workforce – it’s worked well for me.
2. You became board chair at IDEAL Industries after your father held that role for 40 years. How did that transition impact your relationship with your dad, the company and the board?
When I took the reins from my dad, it was the first time in a long time that he was not in charge. There is a time that comes to mind after I became chairman where he and I really disagreed, and he struggled with it. In retrospect, it was hard for him because it was one of the earliest moments where it was clear that I was the boss, and he was in a new role. On the other hand, it wasn’t as hard for me to stand up for myself as I had expected.
In terms of the company, when I was vice chair, I took on the responsibility of looking for a new CEO. The important thing was finding someone who would build a strong strategic direction for the company, focus on innovation and organic growth and truly embrace environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors and diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). The person we hired joined around when I became chairman, and it turned out that being explicit in finding a CEO who would support those initiatives and having me in this role gave a real boost to the DEI program. I’m very involved in the dialogue about getting women into leadership and the company. DEI is a long project, but we are really making progress, and everyone is excited about it.
With the board, a lot has changed in terms of composition. We went from me being the only female director to having three women and three men on the board, and we will likely add another woman and man. Beyond changing the composition, we have done a lot of work to make sure that as we bring in new directors, they are included in the dialogue from the beginning.
3. You founded an organization called The Lodis Forum for women who are board chairs and vice chairs. Why?
I was named board chair in February 2020 – three weeks before the world shut down due to COVID-19. We are a global business, and it was a very stressful time. I reached out to a few board chairs to talk about some of the problems I was having, and everyone said they had never experienced the issues I was talking about. I realized they were all men, so I decided to reach out to some women board chairs. My original plan was to start a quarterly Zoom call with two or three people. We now have more than 50 women globally.
Our first goal is to make sure that all of our members are great at their jobs. Being a board chair is a lot harder than showing up to a meeting four times a year. There are a lot of complex dynamics that go on. We also want to create a peer network and experience. Women in these board leadership roles are often alone. They don’t know anyone else in that role, let alone another woman in that role. It is nice to learn from one another and focus on creating peer experiences.
4. In your experience, what is the most important skill or characteristic of a leader?
Resilience. You need to have a bottomless well of energy despite all of the pitfalls that befall you. In addition, my rule of thumb for surviving in a family business is having a great sense of humor and a short-term memory. IDEAL is 106 years old. If you were to hold on to everything for 100 years, you wouldn’t be able to function.
5. What advice would you give to your younger self?
Drop that self-doubt! Women find it so difficult to gain access to leadership or the boardroom. A lot is systemic, but some of it is what we do to ourselves. Stop thinking you don’t belong wherever you are and that you don’t deserve that next opportunity. It is one of the most valuable things you can do for yourself.
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