I have many “Life Lesson Quotes.” I have a daily email of quotes that I send around the office to serve as inspiration for my colleagues! My favorite quote that I take the most motivation, inspiration and pride from is Amelia Earhart’s quote: “The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity. The fears are paper tigers. You can do anything you decide to do. You can act to change and control your life; and the procedure, the process is its own reward.” This quote is the best reflection of who I am as a person. I have it hanging on my office door as a constant reminder that I can decide something and just go for it. This mindset is hardwired into my DNA and has become my mantra.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Chris DeMeo, the Vice President of Global Sales & Marketing at Staples. Chris is a Fortune 100 Global Sales & Marketing Executive, General Manager, and senior cross-functional leader. With over 20 years’ experience leading national sales initiatives across Marketing, Merchandising, Business Development, E-Commerce, Supply Chain, Corporate Mergers & Acquisitions, and Sales & Operations — Chris possess a unique ability to deliver growth — able to lead and collaborate broadly across an organization and key external partners, to translate sales goals into actionable strategies and sustainable selling programs, while generating an unparalleled level of excitement for program launches through creativity, communication, motivation, and a close connection to front line sales teams and customers.
His multi-discipline, multi-channel background in the Office Supply, Apparel, Consumer Packaged Goods, and Management Consulting industries means he brings a strategic and pragmatic approach to problem solving. And having led marketing efforts in both B2C and B2B customer segments he is acutely aware of how to understand client needs, and in turn, develop and deliver a compelling value proposition, that is on target and on brand.
Thank you so much for joining us Chris! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I’ve always loved products and the retail experience. I started my career in retail as a store manager at Gap. I knew that I wanted to pursue a career that involved launching new products and creating exciting experiences for customers. While searching for my next job, I thought about companies that made products that I admired and used daily. Staples was at the top of my list. Now 20 years later, I am still drawn to Staples’ passion for products and the commitment we have to our customers.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
When I started to lead the Channel Sales Organization for Staples Brand products, I had to take a step back and look to the basics of aligning our products with our customers. The Channel Sales Organization covers many different categories and is a huge business across North America. We knew we had to focus on our most valuable resource, our people. We started with our sales organization because they are the face of Staples to our customers. They are engaged, excited and passionate about the impact our products can have on our customers.
Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We are focused on where the world of work is heading so we are always developing exciting projects. One of our new projects is our own line of office chairs under the Workplace Series seating line. This line reflects our commitment and focus on the customer because it was exclusively designed to meet the unique needs of each commercial customer. Whether the office is in a healthcare setting and they need specific materials and durability requirements for their seating or a general office that needs to standardize their seating across conference rooms and office suites, our Workplace Series seating line can be customized in over 500,000 different ways. This allows customers’ financial and personal needs to be met quickly and efficiently.
According to a study cited in Forbes, more than half of the U.S. workforce is unhappy. Why do you think that number is so high?
I think the number of unhappy employees in the United States is so high because companies aren’t adapting to the needs of their employees. Workers want to know that they have choices within the workplace. In our 2019 Staples Workplace survey, we found that 52% of office workers were distracted by an open office layout. Distractions lead to less productivity and in turn will make employees unhappy. Creating modular workspaces — layouts that utilize a combination of both collaborative and private spaces — adds a level of privacy and choice that employees crave and that increases their happiness.
Based on your experience or research, how do you think an unhappy workforce will impact a) company productivity b) company profitability c) and employee health and wellbeing?
An unhappy workforce will undoubtedly impact company productivity, profitability and employee health. According to our Staples workplace survey, 90% of respondents said that allowing for more flexible work arrangements would increase employee morale and 67% of employees would consider leaving their job if their work arrangements became less flexible. Clearly, adapting to meet employees’ needs creates a happier workforce.
We also found that almost 80% of respondents felt that their employers have a responsibility to keep them mentally and physically well, while only 42% said their employers offer wellness programs. The evidence is clear — companies that value employee health and wellness have happier employees.
Can you share 5 things that managers and executives should be doing to improve their company work culture? Can you give a personal story or example for each?
1. Operate with authenticity
2. Create an open, trusting, collaborative environment
3. Be aware of unconscious bias
4. Be inclusive
5. Develop an emotional intelligence
Staples is a large organization with thousands of employees and millions of customers and sometimes it can be hard to wrap your head around those numbers. Often, I tell my team to think as if it was just the six of us in the business. We scale the size of impact down to think about how we would approach the problem. This also allows everyone to think with their heads and their hearts instead of thinking about what might be “the right option.”
It’s very nice to suggest ideas, but it seems like we have to “change the culture regarding work culture”. What can we do as a society to make a broader change in the U.S. workforce’s work culture?
A major factor to improve any company work culture is being willing to make changes. Executives and managers need to be open to the fact they need to change to create a positive workplace culture. The best thing that businesses can do today is be open to hearing feedback and be willing to change the culture based on their employees’ needs. Organizations need to keep the conversation going by having open doors and open minds.
How would you describe your leadership or management style? Can you give us a few examples?
I consider myself a pragmatic leader. I articulate a vision, collaborate to develop strategies and empower people to execute plans that ladder up to the strategy. I believe that a leader at any level needs to operate with a lateral mindset by starting with the customer needs and working backwards. Leaders thrive when they are inclusive and hear other opinions.
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 grateful for many people in my life who have helped me get to where I am today. I have a wonderful and supportive spouse and having that support system outside of work helps to fuel me at work. I have strong and longstanding relationships with several mentors who have given me guidance and counsel during different points in my career. I like to gain the perspective of those who are not in my field because those mentors allow me to see other ways of solving problems. One of my mentors once told me “the best way to save someone drowning in quicksand, is not to jump in.” That quote has always stuck with me because it made me realize that it is more important to be reflective rather than acting upon impulse. Most recently, I have partnered with leaders who are compassionate, supportive and focused on managing the associate as a whole, not just between the hours of eight and six.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
In my career, I’ve had success developing and executing against business strategies and I’ve been able to translate these skills from the for-profit world to the non-profit world. I serve on a number of non-profit boards and this has allowed me to facilitate success for others outside of my workplace.
At Staples, I bring goodness into the world when I can hire or promote someone. The best way to pay it forward is by taking all the support and mentorship that I have received and passing it on.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I have many “Life Lesson Quotes.” I have a daily email of quotes that I send around the office to serve as inspiration for my colleagues! My favorite quote that I take the most motivation, inspiration and pride from is Amelia Earhart’s quote: “The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity. The fears are paper tigers. You can do anything you decide to do. You can act to change and control your life; and the procedure, the process is its own reward.”
This quote is the best reflection of who I am as a person. I have it hanging on my office door as a constant reminder that I can decide something and just go for it. This mindset is hardwired into my DNA and has become my mantra.
If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
One of my passions is helping under-served youth in my communities. I am very active with the Boys and Girls Club of America in my hometown as well as Junior Achievement. The Boys and Girls Clubs of America focuses on giving children a structured and safe place to go after school. The stories that come out of their programs are extremely touching and push me to do more in my community to serve at-risk youth. Junior Achievement is a non-profit that teaches financial literacy, entrepreneurship and workforce readiness to students, starting as young as kindergarten. The program teaches skills around money management that aren’t typically offered in a classroom setting. If we empower our youth, I believe we can bring the most amount of good to several generations to come.