Female Leadership: The Family Secret for a Successful Business

Close your eyes for a moment and picture a leader in the hardwood lumber industry. Chances are, you pictured a man, and that is pretty accurate. However, make no mistake, while female leaders are few and far between, they are making an impressive mark on the industry.

The Pew Research Center reports that 40 percent of the global workforce is female, yet women only make up 13.8 percent of top management. There is a long way to go before the playing field is leveled in the business world, but there is a business sector where women already play a significant role: family businesses.

The world’s largest, most successful, and historic family businesses are advancing women much faster than traditional companies. Women hold twenty-two percent of the top management positions in family businesses. So, what makes family businesses more willing to promote and foster female leaders? It all comes down to what the company envisions as its primary goals.

Family businesses tend to focus on long-term success and growth because they want to ensure a legacy for future generations, while other companies favor concentrating on short term gains. This focus is evident when you consider the average tenure of a CEO for a family business is about 20-years, while CEOs for public companies average about six years. Family businesses also focus on providing a more inclusive environment than non-family companies because they tend to be more invested in people and relationships as well as profits.

Thompson Appalachian Hardwoods is a family business that exemplifies this approach. Twenty-six years after being founded by Nordeck and Mary Claire Thompson, three of their six children now work in the family business, with seven grandchildren coming up behind them.  Two of their daughters have leadership roles at the company:  Mary Lee McConnell serves as the Chief Administrative Officer while Claire Getty serves as the Chief Financial Officer. They both continue to build on their father’s vision: produce the highest-quality products and provide outstanding customer service.

Left to Right: Nordeck Thompson, Mary Claire Thompson, Mary Lee McConnell, Claire Getty, Nick Thompson of Thompson Appalachian Hardwoods

Claire Getty believes that by focusing on long term growth, the business her parents started will continue to grow stronger each year. She ensures future growth through an understanding of the value of having happy, long term employees. Claire invests in her employees – both family and non-family – by running her department in what she calls a “female-forward” manner.

“I want my employees to love their job. I want them to have a healthy work-life balance, and to do that, we, as a company, understand that life happens – kids get sick, spouses have medical issues, school lets out early. We build-in time for people to take care of personal issues, which creates a healthy work-place environment. This is also why we train and promote from within.”

This female-forward planning works well for them. Most of their staff have been long-term employees, with many celebrating over 20-years working for Thompson Appalachian Hardwoods this year.

As more women enter leadership roles, family businesses are thriving. When companies take a long-term approach with management, both family and non-family employees enjoy the benefits of working at a more inclusive organization with a significant commitment to long-term success. While gender equality remains elusive across the globe, family firms act as a greenhouse for women leaders, giving them everything they need to grow and succeed in achieving their goals to lead. Family businesses are setting a new standard in leadership: if you want to succeed, you must include women in your leadership structure.

From left to right: Troy Boriskey (seasonal signs) Son-in-Law, Kerra Boriskey (sign sales) Daughter, Lilee Boriskey (their daughter), Bev Sampson (signs – ties strings) (Rhonda’s mother), Tim Kendrick (Log Buyer) Founder, Rhonda Kendrick (Project Manager) Founder, Morgan Christen (HR) daughter, Cory Christen (Head Sawyer) son-in-law, Riley Christen (their daughter), Andrea Harbaugh (Sign production) daughter, Eric Harbaugh (Log Cutter) son-in-law, Norah Harbaugh (Their Daughter), Mary Kluesner (Event Planner) Kirby’s girlfriend, Kirby Kendrick (Log Sales) son | Photo courtesy of Cumberland Weddings

Another outstanding female leader in a family business is Rhonda Kendrick, the Project Manager of Kendrick Forest Products. However, her title doesn’t reveal how much the company depends on her. She is the problem solver. Some issues take a day or two to solve, while others can take months, or years to get a handle on. Currently, she is focused on improving the efficiency of their cabinetry division and sign products.

Kendrick also sets out long term plans for the company, saying, “We care about the timbers we harvest, and we do it sustainably. Company profits don’t go toward luxury items like yachts for the family. Instead, they are reinvested in the company so we can afford to hire the quality people and equipment we need for success.”

To ensure a future for the company, Kendrick Forest Products offers tours of their building twice a day. Rhonda reveals the goals behind the tours is to, “promote the use of hardwoods, create brand recognition, and educate people about careers in the hardwood lumber industry.”

All of the Kendrick family’s kids and spouses are involved in the business, so safeguarding the company’s long-term success is paramount. The average tenure for employees at Kendrick Forest Products is 13-years or more.

When asked what advice she would give to other women in the hardwood lumber industry, Rhonda said, “It is important to stand firm on your core values and beliefs. Don’t think about how things were in the past, but how they could be in the future. Women have different inspirations, and that is okay, we just have to be willing to speak up and share our ideas.”

Female leaders are role models, and their visibility plays a significant role in inspiring other women to pursue similar careers within the hardwood lumber industry. With that in mind, the National Hardwood Lumber Association will present the first annual “NHLA Women in Leadership Award” during the Convention and Exhibit Showcase in New Orleans, Louisiana in October. The first recipient is the late Patricia Crites.

Patricia and her husband, John, founded Allegheny Wood Products in 1973 with a single sawmill located in Riverton, West Virginia. In the 46-years since its founding, Allegheny Wood Products has grown to be one of the largest producers of Eastern U.S. hardwoods. The award publicly recognizes the exemplary performance and contributions that Patricia Crites made as a female leader in the industry. She was a woman who stimulated networking opportunities for other women, and in doing so, facilitated their career growth within the industry.

Moving forward, next year, NHLA will be taking nominations from members for the next recipient of the “Women in Leadership Award.” So, close your eyes once again and think about a female leader you know — a woman with a proven track record of contributions within the industry, who inspires others through her work, and gives back to the hardwood community through her time, talent, and resources. The woman you picture could be the next recipient of this distinguished award.