Amy Miller on the value of female leadership
By Amy Miller
As the CEO of two printing companies, people often ask me what it means to be a woman at the helm in a male-dominated industry. As I’ve thought about it, the answer is: more diversity – but not in the ways that some might assume.
Diversity is not an easy topic to talk about. Especially right now, with the rise of the #metoo movement and other flashpoints across the country and around the world.
It’s a topic many CEOs and business owners don’t want to touch. However, diversity isn’t just an ethical issue.It’s a bottom line issue, too. Studies have shown that diversity has a documented tie to profitability. For those of us in the C-Suite, this is something we can’t ignore. Profitability is part of our mandate. So what specific, identifiable steps are we taking, both now and in the future, to be intentional about diversity?
Let’s look at the data. Although I believe that we gain benefits from all aspects of diversity, not just gender, some of the clearest numbers come from studies on women in leadership:
According to a recent study by human resources consulting firm Development Dimensions International (DDI), companies in which women hold at least 30 percent of leadership roles are 1.4 times more likely to have sustained, profitable growth (tinyurl.com/ForbesFiveWays).
A study of 21,000+ public companies by the Peterson Institute, a U.S. think-tank, and EY (formerly Ernst & Young), a professional services firm, found that companies with at least 30 percent female leadership added six percentage points to their net margin compared to those without (tinyurl.com/FTFemaleLeaders).
Early in 2018, McKinsey, a management consulting firm, found that companies in the top 25th percentile for gender diversity on their executive teams were 21 percent more likely to experience above-average profits. This is up from 15 percent in 2015 (tinyurl.com/ForbesMoreEvidence).
I discovered that nearly all the younger people
are in the process of moving.
Diversity of opinions and approaches has always been good for business. At Castle Press Printing and Marketing (Los Angeles, CA) and Trinity Graphics (Cerritos, CA), where I serve as CEO, I see that first-hand. I know that, as a woman, I have brought a new way of doing things that has benefited both companies.
Here’s the story of how I came to take on these roles. Throughout the 25 years of our marriage, my husband, Rob, had been the COO or CEO of the family-owned printing businesses into which I married. In 2013, when Rob was CEO and I was marketing manager of Lester Lithograph (now Castle Press), I went back to school and earned an MBA from the UCLA Anderson School of Management. In late 2015, we purchased Castle Press, a woman-owned company. Suddenly, we had a decision to make. Do we drop the woman-owned business certification? Or do we find a female CEO? If the latter, should that be me? In January 2016, I took on the role of CEO. Early in 2018, we purchased Trinity Graphics, and I became CEO there as well.
Since assuming these roles, I have seen that I do lead differently than my male counterparts. Many of these differences are consistent with what the studies are finding. For example, the DDI study cited earlier outlines five ways that women lead differently than men and that positively impact the bottom line. Let’s take a look at each and how they have impacted our companies.
1. More data-driven hiring and promotion decisions
For me, team development is a top priority. One of the key changes I’ve implemented at both companies is our interview process for new hires. We created an interview worksheet based on the “5Cs” (character, competence, chemistry, contribution, and calling), developed by the C12 Group, as well as the “Hungry, Humble, Smart” framework for building strong teams developed by Patrick Lencioni, author of the groundbreaking book The Ideal Team Player: How to Recognize and Cultivate the Three Essential Virtues.
The goal of applying these principles was to help us move beyond the usual hiring preferences and biases and truly recruit the best people for our teams. The end result has been very different hires than we might otherwise have made without these approaches.
For those not familiar with the 5Cs, they were developed by the C12 Group, which helps companies develop a “predictive hiring process.” The concept is to assess candidates based on five distinct, strategic attributes instead of simply relying on our assumptions and intuition. Here’s a closer look at the 5Cs as defined by C12:
Character: The features and traits that form a person’s core nature. This might include honesty, courage, or being a team player.
Calling: A strong compulsion toward a particular way of life or doing things. For example, someone who feels compelled to always do things with excellence.
Competence: This is the person’s fit for the job based on his or her training and life experience.
Chemistry: The intangible quality of being able to “fit” within the existing team.
Contribution: What this individual will be able to contribute both to his or her individual team (for example, production or sales) and to the company as a whole.
An effective interview process based on exploring these attributes can lead to very different hires than evaluating skills alone. As a side note, C12 Group has also created “Six Disciplines of Predictive Hiring” that I also highly recommend.
Lencioni’s Hungry, Humble, Smart is a complementary approach. He argues that an ideal team player embodies these three virtues:
Humble: Looks out for others and not just for his or her own self-interest. In a team environment, this person puts the team first.
Hungry: This person will be proactive. Her or she won’t sit back and wait for someone else to come up with ideas or solutions. Instead, takes initiative.
Smart: This person is intuitive and understands how to work and interact well with others.
The 5Cs and the Hungry, Humble, Smart framework together help us ask the right questions, such as, “Is this person a good fit for the core values of the company?” and “How will this person interact with the rest of the team?” This has resulted in unexpected hires that have been real wins for our companies.
2. Tendency to seek out overlooked talent
While we don’t have quotas related to the traditional understanding of diversity (gender, ethnicity, age), one of the interesting and natural results of hiring this way has been a more diverse team. Our hiring practices have opened our eyes to candidates that don’t check the usual, traditional boxes we’ve all learned to screen for. An example is a recent hire we made in our pressroom.
We had narrowed our candidates to two. The first seemed like the more obvious choice: He had more experience and was better with color. However, as we went through our worksheet, the more unexpected candidate rose to the top. While our first candidate had the right technical knowledge, his answers revealed that he wasn’t onboard with our core values and wasn’t as strong of a team player. The second candidate had less experience, but his answers suggested that he is teachable and has the right core values. He also has a LEAN certification. We hired him, and sure enough, he has learned quickly and has a real eye for bringing efficiencies to the shop.
Since assuming these roles, I have seen that I do
lead differently than my male counterparts.
Another example comes from our sales department. At first blush, one candidate didn’t seem like someone the management team would typically have chosen. She’s a sales veteran, but she’s new to the print industry. While she doesn’t have print experience, she is aligned with our core values, is a hard worker, and is a team player. She is gaining her footing in the industry and has boosted the morale of the team just by being here.
The practice of seeking out overlooked (or unconventional) talent is already proving to be a win for us.
3. Building knowledge through mentoring
Mentoring has always been important to me. The employees at Castle Press are older and more established, making mentoring less practical there, but the younger demographic at Trinity Graphics has created great opportunities for me to develop a mentoring program.
When I started this initiative, I didn’t have a roadmap. But it’s been said that if you don’t have tolerance for failure, you won’t try anything new. So I tried it. I asked for volunteers to participate in the program, and now these mentees and I meet once a week. We get together and talk over business issues, like leadership and work-life integration.
Initially, I received a lot of pushback from the rest of the management team— resistance to change.
From me, the mentees learn what it takes to run a company, the value of being mission-minded, and about various leadership issues. From them, I learn how I can better understand their generation. I want to employ more people their age or younger. I have the opportunity to ask: What would make Trinity an ideal workplace for them? What would prompt them to seek a job elsewhere? Or even outside the industry? Can they help me understand how to capture and retain other Millennials (and post-Millennials)?
I’ve learned important things from this program that impact how we recruit and train. I discovered that nearly all the younger people are in the process of moving. A lot of us, the older generation, are settled and want to stay in a job long-term. Younger employees are open to moving across the country or taking time off to travel. They want flexible schedules. We’ve never required all of our employees to work nine to five as long as they get their work done, so this doesn’t affect our current policies. However, it does reinforce that work schedule flexibility is a strategy that helps us retain existing employees and that makes us more attractive to future hires.
We also learned that many Millennials are not necessarily long-timers. In fact, recent research from global staffing firm Robert Half found that 75 percent of Millennials (those aged 18-34) think that “job hopping,” defined as having at least five positions within 10 years, may be good for their careers (tinyurl.com/LaddersJobHopping).
This breaks my heart. I’d love for these talented young people to live out their careers with us, but that’s not the way they think. This means that I’m regularly thinking about recruiting, training, and cross-training. We have to make sure that more than one person can do each job. This is always important, but with this younger generation, it’s that much more critical. We have to constantly focus on developing people.
The more I learn from the mentees, the better positioned we are to capitalize on the tremendous talents and enthusiasm of our younger employees.
4. Seeking “out of comfort zone” opportunities.
Part of the value I bring to our companies is always asking “whether there’s a better way.” Always making sure we don’t do something only because we’ve always done it.
The changes I made to our hiring practices are a case in point. Initially, I received a lot of pushback from the rest of the management team on that strategy – resistance to change. But it has been a very positive change. And I’m constantly challenging our team. Right now, we’re talking about a new way to structure our sales compensation. Jobs are more collaborative than they used to be. It takes an entire team to get them done on time and done well. What kind of compensation structure works best in this environment? How do you reward the team member who writes the code for the job setup? Or the CSR production team and pressroom for getting the job done on time? How do we incentivize a whole team rather than just the salesperson who brought in the job?
This is another area where mentoring pays off. The younger generation has different priorities than other generations, so we’re discussing creative incentives that don’t always have to do with pay. Some younger sale reps would rather have time off, or if the team meets the company sales numbers, maybe the whole team and their families take an excursion.
The compensation structure may even look different at each of our companies. At Castle, we have more experienced sales reps who are happy with the full commission model. Do we need different compensation models for each company? Or, is it better to offer multiple structures at each company and allow employees to choose?
Another way we’re pushing outside of our comfort zone is looking to invest in nonprofit missions in disadvantaged areas. Not only do I believe this is the right thing to do, but it’s part of engaging the younger generation. Younger employees believe it’s important to be good global citizens, and they feel more positive and engaged with companies that do good. In fact, research of 2,000 individuals conducted by Fortune found that nearly two-thirds of Millennials were more likely to want to work for a company that gave to charity over one that did not (tinyurl.com/FortuneMillennialsCharity). In response to these priorities, we’re looking into programs like job training or financially supporting schools in disadvantaged communities. One of my mentees is investigating supporting a school for lepers in Nigeria.
We want these talented young people working for our industry, and more specifically, working for us. Programs like these make our companies more attractive.
5. Incorporation of more diverse perspectives
Companies benefit when they draw in multiple voices, eyes, and perspectives. At Castle, one of the ways I have implemented this is by having weekly “feedback feed-forward” meetings with our supervisors. Every Friday, we look at all of the projects we completed that week and ask, “What are the projects that went really well this week? What could we do better next time?”
We’re pushing outside of our comfort zone…investing in nonprofit missions in disadvantaged areas.
One of the persistent challenges we’ve talked about is how to best respond to clients who don’t have print experience and ask us to “match the sample.” As printers, we understand the complexity of this request, especially as it relates to jobs that are moving from offset to digital (or vice versa), but our customers often don’t. If the salesperson doesn’t know the right questions to ask, frustration and unrealistic expectations can result.
Based on one Friday discussion about matching samples, one of our supervisors came up with a solution: Give the sales reps a set of yellow tags. When a customer asks us to “match the sample,” the rep attaches a yellow tag to the sample to be matched. Then he (or she) writes on the tag what’s truly important to the client. Is it the blue that matters most? The yellow? The skin tone? This way, everyone on our team knows what the specific targets are and why.
Feedback Fridays has become a critical tool for brainstorming, solving problems, and tapping the collective creativity of our team. It’s living proof that we are all better together.
As a CEO, I want quantifiable results, but we are in the beginning stages of many of these initiatives. Here are the results we can see already. We are building a stronger, more diverse team by hiring employees that might have escaped our notice before. As we improve as a team, our service and products improve and create better outcomes for our customers. Our customers rest assured that we are committed to providing the best value. That we’re going to keep improving and pursuing excellence.
Already, our teams come from different backgrounds, cultures, and ages, and we’ve seen how this makes for better decision-making. It takes time to build these kinds of team. It takes more conversation. But it also allows for greater creativity at a time when we need to come up with new ideas to continue to grow the company, push forward with improvements, and engage a new generation. I firmly believe that with this investment will add value to our marketplace, and this focus on diversity will in time lead to an even
Amy Miller is CEO of Castle Press Printing and Marketing in Los Angeles, CA, and Trinity Graphics in Cerritos, CA. Her willingness to test norms and try new things is not only bringing change at both companies, but infectious enthusiasm.