A woman’s place is in the executive suite

Females by nature are more often in tune with all five senses, according to CEO Suzy Monford

Carol Kinsey GomanWhen I heard that Andronico’s Community Markets had named a new Chief Executive Officer for their chain of stores in the San Francisco bay area, I was delighted. First of all, I live in Berkeley and shop at my neighborhood Andronico’s, so I’m personally looking forward to upcoming changes.

Second, did I mention that the new CEO is a woman? And that most of her leadership team is female? This would be unusual in any industry – and it’s almost unheard of in the grocery business.

So when given the opportunity to interview Suzy Monford, I jumped at the chance. Suzy most recently held the role of Head of Innovation for Woolworth’s, the largest retailer in Asia Pacific, where she was recruited to lead strategic change and international joint ventures. Previously, she founded Food Sport International, working with Coles Supermarkets in Australia as her primary client. Other clients include Cheers Inc., a restaurant corporation in Texas, where she worked as CEO/president. A certified health coach, Monford has served on the executive board of directors for both the San Antonio Mayor’s Fitness Council and the YMCA, and actively teaches fitness and health in her community.

Here are a few excerpts from our recent phone conversation:

Carol Kinsey Goman: Why do you think you were hired as CEO?

Suzy Monford: I think I was chosen because Andronico’s need is indicative of what a lot of companies are looking for: A leader who can synthesize the best-of-class innovations that are relevant and current today (what you might call “on-trend thinking”) and balance those with brick and mortar strategies. That’s what my background and experience provides.

Goman: How would you describe your leadership style?

Monford: It’s what I call “modern leadership” and it’s based on values – those things that are always important, such as integrity, honesty, loyalty, and teamwork. That takes a courageous leader with a honed ability to communicate. I think that today it is easier than ever to skirt issues (through social media) and not speak directly to your audiences.

We live in an extremely competitive time of dynamic and rapid change in which the goal is to innovate and grow. Leaders need to inspire people to perform each day with the present in mind and the future in view.

My greatest leadership skill is an ability to communicate, to tailor and craft messages that resonate with audiences, whether I’m in the backroom talking with truck drivers or in a meeting with the executive board. And, by the way, the boardroom is where a leader needs to be the most courageous and forthright, and always speak truth to power. She needs to provide an articulate and data-driven story of where we are now, where we want to be, and how we’re going to get there.

Goman: You are the senior leader, and you have females in most of the senior positions on your staff. Did you purposely hire for this?

Monford: No, it wasn’t a hiring strategy. In my career, I was typically the only woman in regional operations – and I was fine with that. I have never conducted myself as a woman in business, but as a business professional in business. That said, I do think that in a customer-focused, retail business, women bring some special insights and talents.

First of all, 80 to 90 per cent of our customers are female (which is true in the grocery business worldwide). So it’s not a bad idea to have a management team that reflects this base.

Second, although I hate talking in generalities, I find that females by nature are more often in tune with all five senses. They notice the flow of the store, the lighting, the temperature, and how the atmosphere makes them feel. Since we are selling an experience, not just a product, it is an advantage to work with a team which understands what constitutes that experience and which can work holistically to create an experience that delights and (by its nature) asks for return business.

Goman: How did you develop as a leader?

Monford: My parents raised my siblings and me to lead, to advocate and look out for others. My dad was a self-made man and a very successful businessman. I used to go to work with him and watch how he managed people.

Then, of course, I’ve always been a competitor. My sport through grade school, high school, and college was as an equestrian show jumper. And I learned from the start the importance of envisioning an outcome and creating a plan to achieve it. I’ve experienced the success that comes from a plan well executed as well as the negative result of a plan poorly done or changed mid-course. I learned the power of resolve. Many times I had to (literally) dust myself off and get back in the saddle.

I’ve also worked most of my life – starting at 14 when I Iied about my age and got a job working at a plant nursery. I had fast-food jobs in high school and college. And there I learned that food has a short shelf life and you have to be smart and quick to deal with it.

But most of all, I am relentless at self-improvement. My goal is to be better today than I was the day before.

Goman: What is your advice to females who want to be senior leaders?

Monford: It’s the same advice I’d give to anyone who aspires to a leadership position: Take a deep breath, trust your instincts, and don’t overthink it. You need to show up each day the way you want to be perceived – which is simple to say, but difficult to accomplish unless you do your homework and really know yourself. When you trust your instincts, your true self bubbles up in the most authentic way.

Goman: What was your biggest setback?

Monford: I don’t believe in setbacks. I try to fail quickly, learn from it, shake it off, and move forward.

Goman: What was your greatest accomplishment?

Monford: I recently returned from Texas and the graduation of my eldest niece. It is tremendously satisfying to me to be a part of a smart, talented, lovely family.

In a similar way, it is most satisfying to look back and see the growth of people I’ve worked with – people who may have started working part-time as cashiers and are now running departments. My job is to inspire the folks around me, so my greatest sense of accomplishment comes from seeing members of my team succeed and the business grow.

Goman: Thank you!

Monford: You are most welcome.

Troy Media columnist Carol Kinsey Goman, PhD, is an executive coach, consultant, and international keynote speaker at corporate, government, and association events. She is also the author of The Silent Language of Leaders: How Body Language Can Help – or Hurt – How You Lead.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

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