The LBM business traditionally has been one of the last redoubts of untrammeled masculinity, from the delivery dock to the corporate offices. Yet in an industry where change of any ilk has often been viewed with caution, a new generation of women is moving upstairs.
They are neither creeping quietly nor apologizing for their interest in running family businesses more accustomed to making way for brothers and sons. But they're moving in for sure, having learned the ropes in lower-level jobs as their male counterparts did before them. And now that they're in a position of authority, they are instituting new ways of bringing people together throughout their companies, forging a sense of community, establishing communication as a two-way street for information gathering, and using data to pinpoint new sales opportunities as well as identify sales deficiencies.
ProSales spoke with a quartet of women who are taking on leadership roles in family-owned businesses. Here's how they run.
Jessica Scerri CEO
Golden State Lumber, Petaluma, Calif.
Scerri, 33, took over Golden State when her father, company president Lee Nobmann, stepped down in April 2010. Golden State operates four yards in the San Francisco Bay area. The dealer has twice been honored as ProSales Dealer of the Year.
I will never forget when I was interviewed for our second Dealer of the Year win, and one of the things I talked about was seeing the faces of people when they came to meet the boss; it was like they were in the wrong office. You have to stand up and shake their hand. But it was great training. Sometimes they thought this girl had no fricking clue what she's doing. Once you prove you do, then I felt they listened to me more. They listen to a woman more than they do a man.
It's definitely not about lumber for me, but about people. I enjoy the customers and employees and vendors, being able to better my employees.
I went to [the University of Southern California] and majored in theater, learning stage managing, and that actually did help. It does relate to what I do.The business side I learned on the job. The accounting part was difficult. It took me a while to pick that up. One of the first things my dad did was have me enter financial data. It was the worst job ever, but it helped me learn how to read a balance sheet.
I've been working in the company for seven years, plus a lot of summers since I was 13. First it was special projects–we were doing perpetual inventory to get all our paperwork processed in a timely manner, rather than having a stack of invoices piling up. Invoicing in real time, basically. Then I got put into a general manager position at the Brisbane location. I came back to corporate office as executive vice president, and I worked with my father on daily, procedural stuff.
Managing the yard at Brisbane was where it was hardest. When I went to the manager's position there, I wasn't really ready for it. So I had to use all the people and I got everybody to buy in to it. It started as a survival tactic, but it ended up really working.
I still negotiate the union contracts at the two yards that still have them. There was such a difference between how the negotiators treated me and how they treated Lee, my dad. I was flabbergasted. And I used it to my advantage. [With me] it was a real conversation, not a battle.
My dad is still a big part of the bigger vision. He's an owner and on the board and he is my mentor. But he and I talk about our management styles all the time. If we get to the same place, the way we get there is different.
When I came in as CEO, I changed the way our management meetings are done. I wanted it to be a forum where people weren't afraid to say things and could bring up anything. Before, our meetings were so structured, and I felt like people were scared to speak.
I really try to learn about my employees' lives. I handwrite a birthday card to every employee at the beginning of each year, and that really helps me learn names. If I see one I don't know, I ask who that is and get information about them. On the employee's birthday, I go into the yard and shake their hand. There's a huge payoff. People really respond to it.
When I first started here I wasn't sure I wanted to be here for the long term. At the beginning of working in the yard in Brisbane, I told [my father] I wasn't sure I would have the passion for it that he had, and if I didn't, I would leave. But I got hooked.
I'm excited by all the opportunities I have. A new lumberyard is probably in our vision. Then there are a lot of other things, like all the little tidbits that we aren't spending our time on. Like the bottom 10% of our customer list; are we serving them best and selling them as well as we can? Improving the efficiencies of our yard.
It's hard not to notice the successes of women in this business, but I think it's something that we'll see more of.