Be a positive light to your team and to the whole company. As a leader, your teammates and the whole company will take cues from you based on how you behave. I’ve noticed that how I feel and what I radiate makes a BIG difference to the morale of the company. This is a big responsibility that I take very seriously.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Diana McPheeters is CFO and shareholder of UEB Builders, Inc., where over the last nine years she has overseen UEB’s growth from a company of $16 million gross revenues to an expected $250 million this year. McPheeters has been in the real estate and construction industry for 33 years, holding senior management positions for construction, property management, development and real estate brokerage firms.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
It was serendipity that I ended up in the real estate and construction industry! I was working for Deloitte in Dallas as an audit senior staff accountant, when I was presented the opportunity to work for the suburban city of Coppell, Texas, as an assistant finance director Coppell was undergoing tremendous bedroom community growth at the time, and many developers would be traipsing in and out of the city offices. One of these developers introduced me to Judi Phares, president of CMA, Inc., which managed apartments, commercial buildings and homeowner communities in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. I was offered the position of vice president and director of finance, and my career in real estate was off to the races! By the way, Judi was very much a mentor to me. She showed me what it meant to be both a tough and kind business woman.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Unfortunately, I didn’t learn from my biggest mistakes until the middle of my career! My fiery temper has gotten me in trouble at times. When I was CFO for MC Companies in Scottsdale, Ariz., I was in a conference meeting, getting quite heated, when my then-boss, Ken McElroy, took me outside and said to me “Remember, Diana, emotions high, intellect low. Emotions low, intellect high.” He taught me the very important lesson that my temper did not achieve what I wanted it to. From that time onward, I have tried to be very cognizant of the importance of controlling my emotions.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Besides building first-class and beautiful projects, what makes my company stand out is how we treat our employees. We realize what a tremendous asset they are to us, and we try our best to treat them with respect and fairness.
An example of this is one December, during the height of the Great Recession, in spite of the low profitability we were experiencing then, we pooled enough money to give each of our employees a small holiday bonus. We wanted to show them that they meant the world to us, and that we appreciated their hard work.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I’m not exaggerating when I say I think all our projects are exciting, but two stick out in my mind. The Stewart is a high-rise apartment complex in downtown Phoenix, in which we are incorporating a historic building into the project. This project, along with another high-rise apartment complex in downtown Phoenix called The Link, will help revitalize and bring energy into Phoenix’s urban core. In a city known for urban sprawl, this is exciting development! Also, this project is saving an old Studebaker dealership building. I love history and feel it is imperative to save historic buildings whenever possible.
The second project is the Marriott Hotel and Conference Center in downtown Odessa, Texas. This project is eagerly awaited by the city to inject new life and act as an economic catalyst downtown.
Both of these projects will help people by providing economic growth and revitalization. These ultimately lead to more and better jobs!
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
Follow the Golden Rule: Treat others the way you want to be treated. Everyone deserves respect and kindness. There is no unimportant job. Every position is vital to the success of your team. Walk the fine line between being tough and kind; encourage and expect excellence but also be empathetic to an employee’s struggles and issues.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
No matter how large your team becomes, try to reach out personally from time to time to each team member. Truly care about them and show it!
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I mentioned Judi Phares earlier in this interview. She was an incredible role model to me. She showed me how to balance between being hardnosed and soft hearted. As a practicing Christian, I cannot speak of gratitude without acknowledging that my faith has been the primary reason for everything I’ve achieved.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
As a full-time career woman and mother of three, I haven’t always had all the time I’d like to volunteer. I’m looking forward to retirement for that! I have always tried to pitch in whenever I can, such as working at the Paz de Cristo Food Kitchen in Mesa, Ariz., volunteering for positions at church, school and for my kids’ sports teams.
I strongly believe in “sharing the wealth.” I donate 10 percent of my income to various charities, so I’m happy to say that as I have “scaled the ladder,” I’ve been able to give more and more!
Lastly, I have tried to show to my kids that it is possible to balance a successful career with family life. It’s never easy or perfect, but nothing worthwhile ever is. It is my hope that through my kids I can “pay it forward” and make this a better world in the future.
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
1. Believe in your team, empower your team and delegate. Early in my career, I tried to be the lone ranger and handle everything myself. As I matured, I discovered it was far better to train and encourage my staff to be independent and grow. This is much better for the team member, the company and more rewarding for me too!
2. Be a positive light to your team and to the whole company. As a leader, your teammates and the whole company will take cues from you based on how you behave. I’ve noticed that how I feel and what I radiate makes a BIG difference to the morale of the company. This is a big responsibility that I take very seriously.
3. There are no “wrong” people. When dealing with poor performance issues as a supervisor, it’s important to keep in mind that an employee just may be in the “wrong seat of the bus” or belong on a “different bus.” I read “Good to Great” by Jim Collins about 15 years ago, and this principal really struck a chord with me. One time, I had an accountant who was having a tough time being subordinate to her accounting manager (who reported to me). I sat her down and, after talking to her, it became evident that she was ready to take on a managerial role. At the time, our company didn’t have that position available for her. I’m happy to say she found a controller position with another company, which I’m sure suits her much better.
4. Don’t be afraid to make difficult decisions. I’ve learned that procrastination or burying your head in the sand is the worst possible tactic a leader can take. As a leader, you sometimes know in your gut something needs to be done. It’s always better to act. I’m not advocating “shooting from the hip” or not putting careful thought into actions. I’m talking about letting fear of facing a situation keep you from acting. I’ve sometimes have procrastinated in addressing a toxic employee situation, for example, which is never good!
5. Don’t burn yourself out. A lot of us high-achiever, type-A types tend to overdo it and not realize that we can stress out and burn out. I was at the point of burn-out a couple of times in my career and it took a long, hard toll on me. I’ve now learned that balance is critical. Since then, I’ve often counseled team members that they’re no good to anyone — not the company, not their family, not themselves — if they burn out.
Thank you so much for these inspiring insights!