As I think about what Women’s History Month means to me, I think about the people that helped shaped me into the leader I am today. From the strong women in my family to the courageous female managers that I have worked with over the years, my journey has been guided by thoughtful leaders and mentors whom I continue to admire and respect.
Mentors and Thought Leaders
I didn’t have strong female role models early in my career. Female leaders were typically subjected to roles of office supervisor or Human Resource Supervisors. Rarely did a female occupy a service manager or leadership position.
Fortunately, the male role models that I did encounter in the first half of my career were men that didn’t shy away from helping me grow into a strong female leader. I appreciate the men at Sears that embraced diversity and helped me move up into leadership roles.
Over time, I began to see more women in leadership roles. In the second half of my career, I flourished because of the investment of both men and women mentors.
I look forward to the day when it’s common to hear “she’s a strong leader” instead of “she is a strong female leader”. I’m glad that Sears has embraced diversity so that we’re moving toward not being judged by gender, but by accomplishments. I look forward to helping both men and women thrive. Together we all make each other stronger.
How I Climbed the Career Ladder at Sears
I began my Sears career as a part-time office clerk at the Service Unit in Omaha, Nebraska. I was still in school and started working in the appliance service industry while all of my friends were getting jobs in insurance or banking. I felt quite unique as I was working directly with service technicians – even though it was an office job.
If someone would have asked me back then if I thought that I would still be in service all these years later, I would have certainly said “no!” But I stuck with it – I found that I loved it then and I still love being in the service industry today.
I’ve always been someone that strives to learn new things, solve problems and not do the same repetitive tasks. When I started my career, there were two leaders that recognized this and gave me opportunities to learn other segments of the business; payroll, dispatch, parts, office, and preventive maintenance. The rest of the support teams were all specialized, so I was sort of a ‘test’ to see how cross-functional rotations would work.
While many peers were less enthusiastic about the cross-functional role test, I embraced the opportunity and it paid off for me. I was soon offered the opportunity to run my first Sears Service Unit. It was a small unit that had both In-Home and Shop technicians; and I had to move out of Omaha to fill that position.
In my first management role, I learned the importance of relationships and team building. I went into that unit and replaced a gentlemen that had been in the manager’s role for over 20 years, and he had over 35 years of total service industry experience. Those were big shoes to fill.
The unit I took over had experienced technicians and support team members that were all at least 15 years older than me. Having me replace their long-time manager was a culture shock for the team. Some saw me as this “little girl” from the central office instead of a successful business women moving up in the company. Needless to say, it was a bumpy road for a couple of months as we learned how to work together. But in the end, we all thrived and that was one of my all-time favorite teams.
I managed this service unit for 2 year and then began a string of special assignments and new opportunities within Sears. During this part of my career, I focused on gaining a deeper understanding of creating strategies while never losing sight of the big picture of the service industry.
I moved back to Omaha and reorganized our Sears Technician coverage. Next, I partnered with UPS to set up innovative repair parts logistics strategies. Techs began picking up parts as more convenient locations to improve the appliance repair experience for our customers. We completed repairs quickly and smoothly with quicker access to repair parts.
Additionally, I was part of a team to set up a new sales floor layout for parts salesfloors in service units. This successful floor plan was then rolled out to other Sears Parts Stores in the country.
Next, I took on a challenging role of reorganizing the parts department in Minneapolis, Minnesota. This was a huge project for me. Starting from scratch, I helped the team quickly sort and organize thousands of repair parts into shelves and bins so they could easily be inventoried and used. We established new processes and procedures for binning and picking parts within two weeks.
At the time, I didn’t realize it, but this was a working job interview for a new District Parts Manager position. My leaders wanted to see how well I used critical thinking and motivational skills to solve a major business challenge.
Based on the team success of that Minneapolis project, I passed the test with flying colors and was instead promoted to the new Regional Support Consolidation Manager position. My regional role included working with consultants to improve business efficiencies as well as consolidating support functions from the field service offices into a central location at the regional office in Kansas City, Kansas. During this role, I had to pack up and move to Kansas City – my third relocation with Sears in 4 years. Although relocation was hard, my willingness to relocate paid off in opportunities to move up even further within the company.
While in Kansas City, I was promoted to Region Operations Manager. For the first time in my career, I began working for a female leader. She was the Director of Service Operations and an amazing leader with strong knowledge of the operations business. She wasn’t just my manager; she became my first female mentor.
She taught me to be more confident. I learned from her that while my experiences were different from the traditional service career path, I offered a unique leadership approach.
After two years leading the operations for the Kansas City Region, Kansas City and Chicago merged and I moved to Chicago to become the new Regional Operations Manager. Yes, another relocation – and another move up.
My move to Chicago became a significant turning point in my career. Over the next few years I moved up into area and national leadership positions – one of the few women to hold Director leadership roles in Sears Home Services. I continued to learn more about the overall service industry and focused on quality of service.
During this time in my career, I began Six Sigma business training and became a Six Sigma Blackbelt. This training helped me learn to rely on statistical analysis and advanced processes to make sound business decisions and gain even more success, while also completing my Organizational Leadership degree. I am now the Senior Director Home Services National Operations.
Transformative Period for Women at Sears
While I was a national director, a vice-president of Sears Home Services called and asked me “what can we do to get more women into director roles and help you get promoted to the next level of senior management?”
I can remember everything about that phone call to this day. We talked about getting more women into our mentor program so that we can actually have females mentor one another. Based on that conversation, I was assigned my first official female mentor. She was a fantastic leader who knew the parts and service business inside and out. This mentor helped me learn valuable skills that helped me move up to my current senior leadership role.
The mentorship program also helped other women advance into leadership positions. Women in leadership roles helped take our appliance service business to a new level of excellence.
At the same time, our Sears Home Services CEO started a partnership with Michigan State in their Executive Development Program that focused on Women in Leadership. I was involved in participating in this partnership. There were so many things that women in service could do, and so many amazing women that were ready for that next level. They just needed someone to help develop them and give them the opportunities. I was thrilled to be part of this development program.
Women Have Made Major Strides in Leadership
I remember back a year ago and I was on my weekly team call with my direct reports and the topic came up about women leaders - we had 10 Director level leaders on the call, of which half were women. They are five of the most remarkable women that I have had the pleasure of working with and learning from. When I started in the appliance service industry, I didn’t even imagine that would ever happen. There probably weren’t 5 female leaders across the nation at Sears Service, let alone in one section of the business. I am proud to be amongst a growing group of successful women leaders as we continue to improve inclusiveness and diversity in our company.
Lessons Learned and Advice to Female Professionals
When asked what I would tell my younger self, or give advice to women coming into the industry, I offer these suggestions.
- First and foremost, be authentic to who you are. Remember that you have a right to be in the room as much as anyone else.
- Be present. If you are in a meeting and have thoughts, comments or questions – speak up. No one is going to speak up for you.
- Find your own path. Don’t think you have to follow a specific career path or do something just because that’s how it has traditionally been done. If something excites or intrigues you, go for it. It might take you down a different road, but I will bet it will be a fun one.
- Take care of your customers and your teams, that’s Business 101.
- Keep learning. Read books, ask questions, learn your industry, learn a different industry or pick a random seminar to go to.
- Last but not least, keep balance – work/life balance is critical. I’m still working on that last one.
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So far in my career, I’ve moved many times across the nation for work, created multi-million-dollar business plans, set strategies, learned Six Sigma strategies, wrote (and re-wrote) contracts, led teams of hundreds of people – all while working alongside some of the most amazing leaders. I am full of anticipation of what opportunities service will bring to me next.
Join me in celebrating the success of women during Women’s History Month and saluting the women and men that have helped us enjoy success. Together we can continue to improve opportunities for women everywhere to fulfill their potential as leaders.