Leadership Lessons Learned by a Manufacturing CEO in a Post-Recession World

From fostering better communication to learning the art of survival after layoffs and business unit shut-downs, Sheri Andrews, president and CEO of Lozier Corporation, a mid-market manufacturer of retail store fixtures, has learned how to roll with the punches. Her story will likely sound familiar to your own.

May 5 2014 by Lynn Russo Whylly


Andrews rose up through the ranks of finance, first as tax partner, then treasurer. She admits to always having strong customer service skills; it was those skills that landed her the role of VP of sales and marketing for the privately-held company. She was given her current title in 2010. We spoke with Andrews about her leadership style and how it has changed over time.

1. FOSTERED BETTER COMMUNICATION

“Ten years ago, I was very hands on and deep into the details, deep into figuring out what our culture was, what it was going to be and how we were going to get there. I viewed us as a lot of different departments and a lot of different plants. No one got along. We argued through everything and that had to stop and be broken down. I learned how to bring groups together and facilitate and at some times just put down my foot and say we’re going to do this together. We have to learn how to operate together. We need to communicate well, understand the world we operate in both internally or we’ll never be able to do what we have to do to grow.”

2. LEARNED THE ART OF SURVIVAL

“Our customers are retailers, so we saw a drop of about 18% to 20% in sales after the Great Recession. We had just opened a new plant in Utah two years earlier. Everything stopped when the recession occurred. We had to close the plant. We did layoffs in a couple of cities, and we had never done layoffs before in our 50+ years. I learned about being very direct but with empathy, and how to talk to people about the difficult things you were doing, how it was going to impact their lives, why we were doing it and that it had nothing to do with them. Then we helped them find employment or get retrained in skills.”

“Our senior management went to all the plants because we felt it should be done by us and not by the folks they work with every day. There was a mourning process that everyone had to go through and we had to recognize that. We also quickly recognized that we couldn’t let it go on for very long; we had to present a plan as to where we were going and how we were going to get there. Then the senior VP of operations and I went to every manufacturing plant, went down on the floor and talked about where we’re going and took questions. We needed to get everyone’s mind on where we needed to change going forward, and everyone had to participate, or we wouldn’t be successful.”

3. GREW UP/MATURED

“That was a growing up period for me. I had to be excited about where we were going, but I had  to go through the mourning phase, too. People were watching my face, eyes, actions, if they saw negativity, then they would think, what else was coming, so I had to be very cognizant of that. In that whole process, I became comfortable with myself and who I was. I felt, we can get through just about anything now. I also learned to “know what I don’t know” and surround myself with folks who know what I don’t know. That’s when I joined the Chief Executive Network, because I needed folks to bounce things off of.”

4. LEARNED TO ASK BETTER INTERVIEW QUESTIONS

“As the company grows, we have some other businesses I will need to run. There has been a domino effect of shuffling people up and replacing them with new hires. I’ve learned to judge people a little bit faster. I also conduct a deeper interview now, asking questions I might not have asked five years ago. I ask a lot more about previous experiences, especially where an individual failed, what happened after they failed and how did they react. How an individual deals with failure tells you more about them than how they deal with success. And I ask more probing questions and try to slot people into the right places, making sure we’re not all looking for people who are just like us and ensuring that they bring something to the table that I don’t.”

A WORD OF ADVICE TO UP-AND-COMERS

“Love what you do. If you don’t love what you do, go do something else. You have to be committed, physically, mentally and emotionally. And be direct and honest. There is no time to play games. Our world moves way too fast today. And be competitive. Leaders have to have a competitive spirit. Partner with the inside world, but compete with the outside world.”

“Also, I would tell younger folks, put down their smartphones once in awhile, meet with people  face to face, or pick up the phone and talk to them. I think a lot gets lost in translation through emails and texts.”