Kathleen M Mazzarella
Chairman, President & CEO
Location: St. Louis, MO
Industry: Wholesale Distribution
*SECOND YEAR HONOREE*
Asked to recall a pivotal moment in her career, Kathy Mazzarella points to the role she never wanted as the one that helped her grow the most.
“I moved from a hard-driving sales role to lead Graybar’s human resources function. I turned the job down multiple times,” she said. “I was concerned that leading HR would derail my career progression and that I would be perceived as less influential within the business.”
As Mazzarella remembers it, she needed a lot of convincing before she reluctantly accepted the job. And yet — “It turned out to be one of the best decisions of my career. I learned many aspects of running a corporation, including corporate governance, compliance and financial reporting. I gained a greater appreciation for our employees and the value of Graybar’s employee ownership culture.
“I became a more well-rounded leader. And while I didn’t realize it at the time, the knowledge and experience I gained from this position was instrumental in preparing me to take on the CEO role.”
Today, Graybar is one of the largest employee-owned companies in the country. It has more than 300 locations across the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico. It ranks #399 on the Fortune 500 list and has been named to Fortune’s World’s Most Admired Companies list for 20 years. The company consistently ranks as one of Seller Power magazine’s list of 50 Best Companies to Sell For, and in 2002 it was named to Newsweek’s Top 100 Most Loved Companies list.
“Over my nearly 43-year career, I have navigated six recessions, three in a senior leadership role,” said Mazzarella. “Through those experiences, I learned to identify the early signs of a downturn and to prepare for it well in advance. I also learned that when companies are able to invest during difficult economic times, they tend to gain market share and emerge stronger than before.”
With signs of a softer economy ahead, she’s focused on ensuring the company is in a solid financial position, while continuing to make long-term investments to diversify and grow. That includes strategic acquisitions, a long-term business transformation road map and technology investments to position the company for success in a digital world.
Reflecting on the challenges of recent years, Mazzarella said it’s important to stay grounded.
“Graybar is having a great year and achieving record results. But we also know that what goes up will eventually go down. We prepare for the worst when times are good, rather than getting caught up in the exuberance of the moment. Then, if economic conditions decline, we are often in a stronger position to weather the storm and invest in growth opportunities that lead to a faster recovery.
“Staying grounded is also important for leaders, particularly when your organization is achieving positive results. It’s very easy to fall into the trap of believing your own press or thinking you have all the answers,” she said. “That’s why I try to surround myself with people who will give me honest feedback and challenge my thinking. I also work hard to stay connected to our front-line employees, because they’re truly the reason why our company is successful.”
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