Friday, July 22, 2011

Woman Business Leader Inspired Professionals

Yesterday, the Young Professionals Network in St. Joseph County presented Karen Barnett, President and CEO of the local area business Valley Screen Process as part of the Executive Conversation series of roundtable discussions.
A successful mix of information combined with inspiration was shared with 15 professionals during a Q & A session. Karen shared an overview of her 30-year career path starting from her job at McDonalds to working for her father at the family owned printing business. Her  steps continued in her father's company as she proceeded to the lead role as a stakeholder and CEO, responsible to growing the family's company to over a business that attracts over $2 million annually.

The candid conversation continued as she shared her biggest challenge that she was faced with during 2009 when her company went from a thriving staff of 50 to a slender seven. She is happy to announce she has rehired most of her workforce back and now has factors in place that will help her to see the risks so she is better prepared for any future decline in the revenue.

How did this business owner turn the company from failing- into thriving mode in the midst of a declining economy where the RV industry is hit the hardest? By tightening up her shoestrings (by the way, this woman is a remarkable dresser too!), Karen led her company through the recent time of a dying economy by diversifying into new markets. As a second generation owner of a company that had provided decorative graphics for recreational vehicles for decades, Karen worked with her team to brainstorm on new ways to use the existing equipment and bravely launched two new divisions within her organization including vehicle wraps and residential decor graphics.

Fascinating questions were posed to Karen by the audience members during the afternoon's session such as:

Q: Do you have tips in how to succeed in a male-dominated industry?
Karen recommends that you assert yourself by serving on boards. There are so many opportunities for networking and growing your confidence by serving on boards. She recommended women to get involved on the Women Business Owners of Michiana. WBOM is a monthly networking group that meets over lunch while leaders share and present on topics of interest to women business owners.

Q: How is online social media changing face to face sales? 
Karen relies on each of the brands to provide the proper marketing and sales for the diverse product line. She shared an example on how she marketed her children's decor through the use of mommy bloggers. Most likely, she wouldn't reach out to mommy bloggers to sell vehicle graphics however.

Q: How do you manage your time?
She admits that she's still working on the juggle act of the volunteer work with her personal and professional time and tells the group that she's tried using the iPhone, iCal, iGoogle, etc. to manage her schedule and to-do lists but still relies on the good ol piece of paper.

Q: Of all the roles in your career, which one helped prepare you for a CEO role?
Karen has worn multiple hats from working in the plant, to managing traffic in the plant, to processing and admin, she claims the most helpful position was the training and experience in sales. Sales taught her that "no never means no. No means, not now." For sales, she recommends to maintain contact, top of mind and make the calls by playing the number game.

There were more suggestions shared that enlightened the up and coming leaders in the audience. The most remarkable were words that Karen no doubt lives by, "Take the initiative and network. Be genuine." 

Thank you for walking the talk and exemplifying success along the way Karen! Keep up the hard work and pure heart.

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