Being “super busy” isn’t a sign of success. There’s a season for chairing that board, or leading that volunteer group, or running for office, or whatever. But you really can’t do them all at one time and do them well. So recognize that — there’s a season for it, and maybe it’s not right now.
As a part of our series about strong women leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Meagan McCoy Jones.
Meagan is a fourth-generation leader of McCoy’s Building Supply, where her roles have included receptionist, advertising intern, inside sales, assistant store manager, director, vice president, senior vice president, and now President and Chief Operating Officer. She believes in the purpose of McCoy’s — to make life easier and more fulfilling for those who build — and in the purpose of business and business owners to care well for people and communities who are impacted by their work. Meagan is married to Richard Jones, her best friend and partner in life, and they have two children.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
From a very early age, I’d asked my Dad to take me with him to work. He gave me my first opportunity when I was 10 to work a few days over the summer, learning how to be the receptionist at our Headquarters, for 1 dollar/hr. There was no voicemail or email then, so we took a lot of calls, and it was really exciting! I felt like I was doing something important, and I felt like part of a team, and I’ve been passionate about McCoy’s ever since.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
We have 88 stores, two door assembly shops, and a rail-served distribution center. I travel these locations throughout the year, and there’s never a trip where I don’t learn something new. Isn’t that amazing — there’s so much to learn.
A few years ago, a store employee asked to show me a part of the store he had been working to re-merchandise. We went down the aisle, talked about the improvements he had made, and then he paused and gave me a long look, and he said, “You were so lucky to be born to your parents.” And he is so right. We don’t get to pick our families, and he blessed me deeply with that reminder. We’re all given such different starting places in life, and that has nothing to do with our value or worth. I’ve revisited that conversation in my mind a lot.
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?
I was working on the sales floor when a gentleman walked in the doors. I asked, as I was trained, “Can I help you find anything today?” I was so new…I asked that question of customers all day, and every time I said a little prayer that I would know what they asked for and where it was. It’s so overwhelming to be in customer service and have so much to learn.
He responded, “Come along.” So I came around the counter ready to follow him to some aisle that was important to him. He just stood there. Then he repeated, “come along!” And I said, “Okay — where are we heading?” And, exasperated with me, he said, “NO, I need a come-along, you know, a fence puller!” Oh my goodness…I didn’t know that a cable puller or fence stretcher was also called a come-along. There are so many different names for things in our business, and each time I’ve learned one I’ve had a story to tell and some embarrassment laughter! Somewhere I hope that gentleman is laughing too about the time he taught the young gal at McCoy’s about a come-along.
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 am, without a doubt, the product of a lot of mentors. And I hope that will continue. I was Assistant Store Manager working for a long-tenured Store Manager, Rob Perrone (33 years with McCoy’s). Rob is still a manager at McCoy’s, and he grew up in the business too — in fact, his Dad worked for McCoy’s over 20 years. I made a lot of mistakes working for Rob, and he was patient with me about each one. I mis-ordered a mahogany door unit for a customer — a very expensive door with side lights — and because I didn’t read the order confirmation carefully, the wrong door came in. The customer wouldn’t buy it (Why would she? It wasn’t the door she wanted!), but he wasn’t upset with me. I think he said something like, “Well, you’ve got that one out of the way!” Mistakes are how we learn, especially if we can make them and learn from them without feeling shame. Rob let me make mistakes but, more importantly, helped me learn that mistakes are part of trying. And that wasn’t the last one I made.
I have so many mentors, I wish I could tell you about each of them. I can’t leave the topic without also telling you about my Dad. Brian McCoy is our Chairman and CEO, and he’s one of the most generous people I’ve ever known. Dad believes the best in everyone and looks for the best even in people who are struggling mightily. His consistent example has probably touched nearly everyone at McCoy’s, either directly or indirectly — his ripple effect is so wide.
In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?
I need quiet time each day, usually in the very early morning. On my best days, I take time to pray, ask the Lord to remind me that I’m imperfect and will struggle and not to let that struggle become pride or hinder my vulnerability or connection with others. On days I have meetings, I try to think about them in these early mornings. On the days I travel stores, I try and ask the Lord to lead me to the people and discussions I need to have. There’s usually a story in the field I really needed to hear — either because it’s uplifting and encouraging or because it’s difficult and there’s something we could be doing better to serve our team or our customers. I don’t want my distraction or lack of preparation to make me miss that story.
Being organized relieves my stress also. I have a system to keep notes of each of my meetings with my team and what I want to make sure I ask them about, follow up on, or ask to better understand something. I don’t want to inundate my team with lots of calls/emails/questions throughout the day and interrupt their own work, so I work hard to keep my thoughts organized so each one on one, team meeting, or project meeting is intentional. I use OneNote and keep a running agenda of every meeting or active topic to keep these thoughts organized.
As you know, the United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?
If you’re data driven, there’s good research that illustrates that diverse teams are stronger teams. If you’re anecdote driven, here’s a simple illustration: When I started working on the sales floor, I was required to wear a uniform, like everyone else. I’m kind of a small person, so I ordered the smallest uniform size I could — a Men’s Medium. It looked ridiculous on me. Well, see, diverse uniform sizes never really occurred to anyone on the leadership team, because they were all men at that point, and they were all average sizes. But wearing an ill-fitting uniform shirt every day — for years and years as some of our folks had done — is irritating. It’s more than irritating, actually. It is disrespectful and discourteous to our team. Now apply that same logic to work from home policies, family leave policies, market strategies, and company culture…different perspectives, if you’re willing to slow down and listen to each other on the important two-way street of understanding, make us stronger, more relevant, more honoring of others, and more successful.
This all starts, though, with having to believe I don’t have all the answers and I might not always know what’s best. And then be willing to listen to new ideas, have complicated conversations, and be willing to emerge differently. That takes space, time, and trust. Discussions of diversity won’t be helpful unless we all slow down and admit we don’t understand everything.
As a business leader, can you please share a few steps we must take to truly create an inclusive, representative, and equitable society? Kindly share a story or example for each.
I have a co-worker who says that you have to keep smelling like sheep. It’s a reference to the shepherd in the fields…he can only lead the sheep if they’re familiar with him, and to be familiar with them, he has to spend time with them. I want to preserve time in my schedule to spend time with our team, to travel to their stores or departments or facilities, to understand how complex their jobs are, how connected we all are to each other, and be reminded of what I may not understand. When I picture a store, I picture either the stores where I worked or the last store I was in. But the challenges in south Texas aren’t the same as Oklahoma or Mississippi or Arkansas. The challenges in central Texas aren’t the same as east or west Texas or New Mexico. The trap of my desire for a prototype, as efficient as it is for decisions, is that I’ll create a story about what’s happening or what’s working/not working that is irrelevant on the whole but relevant in the specific. This takes me a lot of time to travel, ask, and integrate those new discussions into the pictures I’m carrying around of how our business fits together. But I’m convinced that process must always be a part of my weeks, because the business continues to change, and if I’m not careful, I’ll keep thinking about it as it was 13 years ago when I last did a special order door. And I’ll get it all wrong.
If I am making time to be in the field and learning more and more, a by product is that I will not spend time doing other things that are less meaningful to my team or our business. Are you surprised by how many different ways we can distract ourselves with conferences, mixers, webinars, roundtables, books from people we don’t really know and aren’t vetted, podcasts, etc. instead of being better students of our own business? We can start believing we’re missing out if we don’t listen/attend/read all those things. Another by product of being in the field more is that it reinvigorates me about why we’re in business at all. I love the people of McCoy’s! I love our customers! I love that we’re a part of the supply chain of housing, community building, homemaking, and ranching. But if I don’t spend time with all the people connected to our business, listening to their stories of life and work, I’ll be distracted and start elevating my own ideas, my own reputation, my own image…and then forget it. I’ll end up more miserable (because that race isn’t really that much fun), and our team won’t be heard.
A few years ago we added two weeks of paid paternity and maternity leave to our benefits plan. That came from conversations with our team about how important it is to be with our littlest ones in their early weeks and figuring out how we can implement something that is better than what we have but still affordable for the company. In October we’ll roll out paid time off for part time employees and PTO that employees can take in two-hour increments instead of day or half-day increments. We’ve made changes to internal processes, online orders, delivery and logistics software, and more…these ideas all come from the visits with people doing the work. If you’re a shepherd, you have to smell like sheep.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?
When I’m at my best, I’m holding a picture, a feeling, of the entire company in my mind so I can think about how one thing impacts all the other things. How a decision impacts stores or teams differently, how profitability is improved or reduced based on the decisions we’re making, how customers can thrive in their own business more or less based on our decisions, and what additional information I need to better think these things through. I can’t be an expert about all of that, but I need to be able to feel where there will be impacts, and lead with our team how to handle those impacts. Because we’re a private company, Dad and I also set the profit targets for the year and the priorities for our major capital projects, like new markets or store relocations. Deciding how profitable to be or what growth targets make sense for the time are harder questions than they first appear. And they will impact so many people in the aim to achieve them, so we owe our teams to be thoughtful about these targets.
Senior leaders must also be thinking about and studying our industry and our customers and thinking about ways to be relevant to both or to ensure the voices of those who are good at this kind of thinking are being heard. We’ve been in business over 90 years, but we aren’t doing things like we did 90, 60, 30, or even 10 years ago.
And I hope this is all leaders, but I hold one on one meetings with every one of my direct reports nearly every week, and our senior team meets every Monday morning. Being on the same page — both about work and emotionally together — is my top priority every week. My team has heard me say it often — if we have conflict between us, the most important work of the day is to understand and heal that conflict between us. If our team isn’t connected, we have no hope of our company being connected. You can carve that in concrete, because it is Truth.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?
I’m not sure what the myths are.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
Women, not just executives, think about our personal safety a lot. Working late in the office, walking through the parking lot, attending functions, etc. I don’t think men think about that as often. And women are asked a lot about how they balance work and family, and men aren’t asked that as often. That’s funny to me. They’re balancing it too, and we’re better when we’re all talking about that together.
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
Learning how to keep prioritizing all the things that are important — family, work, reading, exercise, sleep — without letting my failures to prioritize each week get me down.
Certainly, not everyone is cut out to be an executive. In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive? Can you explain what you mean?
I hope no one aspires to be an executive in general. That’s missing the point. Do you love to work hard? Are you organized? Do you love people and seeing them succeed? Do you love complicated problems and figuring them out with a team of disparate opinions? And do you LOVE your work and the impact it’s making on the world through the people it serves and the products it creates or sells? I think the lure of fast or big success, pride in fancy industries, and even the thrill of intellectual challenge has stolen some great minds out of purposeful work and employed them in less than stellar industries or missions.
Love your work. Believe in what you spend your time doing. And maybe you’re an executive, maybe you’re not. No matter — your life and work is important. Don’t waste it on something you don’t really believe in.
What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?
Be confident in what you know but not too prideful to admit when you don’t know.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
I hope when you’re a part of the McCoy’s team or our customer, you feel less alone and more known than before. Our purpose at McCoy’s is to make life easier and more fulfilling for those who build. So many of our neighbors are terribly lonely, and when we’re at our best, McCoy’s is a place where you are known and cared for.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Have a good handshake. Practice if you need to.
- Figure out a system to stay organized that works for you. If you get behind, don’t fret. Just get back on track.
- Tell the truth, all the time. Even if it is embarrassing or it means you’ll have to admit you don’t know. Being a person known for telling the truth is a person people love to follow. (My Dad says this often to our team, especially students and new managers)
- Being “super busy” isn’t a sign of success. There’s a season for chairing that board, or leading that volunteer group, or running for office, or whatever. But you really can’t do them all at one time and do them well. So recognize that — there’s a season for it, and maybe it’s not right now.
- If you write a monthly update (which I recommend) to your team (or something similar), forward it to your spouse or close friend. It’ll let them in on what’s happening in your work life, and it’ll keep you honest about who you really are. My hope and my goal is that I am the same person at home as I am at work.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Do work you love and you believe adds value to people and to the world. And consider looking hard for a company that is worth it, and build your career there. For the entrepreneurs, I’d add, consider building a company to grow not to sell. There’s great joy in building something over a long time, seeing it struggle, seeing it thrive, and providing your team and communities a stable job and stable community partner. I’m saddened by the energy that goes into making the deal for the sake of the payout…I think we’d be better stewards of people, of resources, and of our communities and relationships if we knew we had to live with the reputation of our companies for a long, long time.
And for those about to sell, consider that when you sell and walk away, a lot of people helped get you there, so find as many ways and as generous ways as possible to contribute to the people who made that possible. Or maybe reconsider — owning and growing a business over decades is a blessing and joy. It’s not a liquidity event, sure. But it’s much, much more rewarding.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My academic advisor at the University of Richmond, Dr. Scott Johnson, quoted from an Eddie Bauer ad: “Never confusing having a career with having a life.”
He gave me the original ad when I graduated, and it sits on my desk at home, reminding me that vocation is more than career. I’m so grateful for his investment in me at 18 and ever since.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them
Oh, that’s so kind. I’m a reader, and so probably Jon Meacham, Erik Larson, or Johann Hari. I’ve been very impacted by their books and work.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.