Stefanie Lucas: “Your career is a big part of your life”

Your career is a big part of your life, so you have to feel passionate about what you do. It will help you grow, will help you drive your mission, and it will help you face challenges easier. You can identify a passionate person by their actions. You must also find balance in your personal […]

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Your career is a big part of your life, so you have to feel passionate about what you do. It will help you grow, will help you drive your mission, and it will help you face challenges easier. You can identify a passionate person by their actions. You must also find balance in your personal life and work-life…ultimately this will make you happier.

As a part of our series about strong women leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Stefanie Lucas, Chief Revenue Officer of American Leather Holdings.

Stefanie is Chief Revenue Officer of American Leather Holdings, which is the parent company for leading furniture manufacturing brands American Leather, Lee Industries, Brookline Furniture and Bench Made Modern. She brings more than 15 years of experience in the home furnishings industry to her current role.

Prior to American Leather, she was CMO and board member at Bassett Furniture, and previously served as CEO of Boston Interiors. She has also held multiple C-level or senior positions at companies in both the home furnishings and retail industries, including Rowe Furniture, HTL International, Reebok International and Chico’s Causal Clothing.

Stefanie began her career in advertising and owned her own agency. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree as well as Marketing Certificates from Harvard and Dartmouth. She has two sons, one a recent college grad and one still studying.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

I started in advertising and owned my own agency. During that time, I went after Chico’s as a client (which I won) and eventually was offered an in-house job with them.

After selling my business and leaving Chico’s, I was hired by Reebok International and worked my way up through the organization to be Vice President of Global Marketing on the Rockport brand. I also worked with retailers such as Nordstrom, Macy’s, Dillard’s, and many specialty stores. I was ultimately responsible for marketing in 29 countries around the world.

I was recruited into the home furnishings industry by Bruce Birnbach and his father Gerald at Rowe Furniture, leading all of their marketing, sales and merchandising. When the company was purchased by Sun Capital Partners, I became President and CEO of Rowe.

During my 9-year tenure there, I worked closely with many furniture retailers, including Pottery Barn, West Elm, Homegoods, Haverty’s, Scandinavian Design and Boston Interiors.

After that, I worked with HTL International, a global leather furniture company, helping them run their North American business. Following that, I worked on the retail side of the business as I became CEO of Boston Interiors, a northeastern chain, and CMO at Bassett Furniture, which has over 100 stores, where I also served on their board.

That experience led me to my current position as Chief Revenue Officer of American Leather Holdings, where I love being able to use my retail and wholesale experience in this industry.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

In my most recent role, it was the coronavirus! I joined American Leather this spring, two days before the world shut down, and we all began working from home. Needless to say, this is most challenging when starting in a new role!

As a company that really values our team like they are family when the City of Dallas ordered a citywide shutdown, we decided that it was best for our employees that we also close our manufacturing operations. It was just too risky and we wanted to put our employees’ safety first.

As we saw how serious the situation was and heard about the significant shortage of masks, gowns and other PPE for healthcare workers on the front lines, we knew we had this amazing in-house capability to cut and sew.

Through our various leadership networks and friends in the industry, we started calling everybody and we got through to FEMA, and we were able to get a contract with our local hospital, Baylor Scott & White.

So we shut down our furniture manufacturing operations on a Tuesday, and by Wednesday, we were already revamping our operations to start making masks and gowns. And we are very proud that we manufactured more than 360,000 masks and 82,000 gowns.

It was very rewarding to be part of that experience and it further exemplified American Leather as not only a leader but as a company that cares, which means a lot to me personally.

OK, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. What is it about the position of CRO or executive that most attracted you to it?

If you look at how people come up through the ranks to CEO, they come up through different paths — sometimes it’s operations or maybe it’s finance. I developed my career with a focus on the front of the business: sales, marketing, merchandising. This path offered me a unique perspective as a CEO, and now a CRO, and I was excited to see how I could move the needle with a company that has multiple brands, multiple challenges….all while still keeping this focus.

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 a Chief Revenue Officer does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?

Leadership and strategy come with the position. C-level executives always help point the ship in the right direction — a ship that everyone sails on. So you need to be a big-picture thinker that must identify strategies and then lead, but you must also balance that strategic thinking with successful execution to make it work. And as a CRO, my job is to think about growth — how, what, when, all that goes into it — while keeping a focus on profitability.

What is the one thing that you enjoy most about being an executive?

It’s really two things: the relationships you build with your team (internally) and the relationship you build with your customers, who become your “partners”. Internally everything seems to gel best when you build a great team around you. I found that my most successful periods at any company, financially, was when I was able to be part of a great team and we were all in sync and focused. That is rewarding on a number of levels.

What are the downsides of being an executive?

A downside right now is the lack of in-person face-to-face time during this coronavirus pandemic and the challenges of traveling.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive? Can you explain what you mean?

It is a myth that in the C-suite that you’re just dealing with strategy and living in this esoteric strategic world — it all has to tie back to how it’s executed and everyone plays a role in that. It is not all about planning and strategy, but also how our goals and plans can be successfully implemented throughout the whole organization.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

Coming from apparel and footwear — that industry was much more progressive in terms of female leadership. When I became the CEO of Rowe, I think I may have been the only female CEO of a furniture manufacturing company at the time. That was a very different experience. But as the industry came to understand, women are the primary buyers of home furnishings, and so that has slowly started to change the influence women have had in our industry.

When I arrived in the home furnishings industry, I also noticed how it moved at a different pace. Diversity and adoption of innovation were not prevalent across the industry. And even though over the last 10 years the industry has embraced more diversity, American Leather was always a forward-thinking organization in terms of technology, diversity, and culture, and that is definitely part of what attracted me to the company.

Retailers also want to work with us because we’re forward thinkers and we embrace innovation, sustainability, and equality. Unfortunately, not all businesses in our industry think that way even today.

What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?

My title is Chief Revenue Officer, which makes you think it’s only about selling. But it is really much more all-encompassing and focuses on what it takes a company to grow overall. I saw that this position afforded me the opportunity to enact real growth and help build a strong team around me. That’s what really interested me about this position with American Leather Holdings.

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?

You have to be focused, driven, and be able to balance that with detail and follow-through. You have to be honest and forthcoming, whether that’s to people who work for you, with you, or to a customer. The fact that you are up-front is critical. You will always experience challenging times, but if you can be transparent and open, you can bridge those challenges easier.

What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?

Your career is a big part of your life, so you have to feel passionate about what you do. It will help you grow, will help you drive your mission, and it will help you face challenges easier. You can identify a passionate person by their actions. You must also find balance in your personal life and work-life…ultimately this will make you happier.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person to whom you are grateful for helping you to get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I’ll always be extremely grateful to Gerry and Bruce Birnbach for bringing me into the industry and training me on how the industry works. I still lean on many of these learnings today.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

I have a son in the biotech industry that is working machines to target and kill tumors, and I always think that the work he does is so important to people’s lives. Yet I also know in my line of work, furniture has an impact on your life and your home. How you feel about your home reflects on the happiness and peace you feel when you are in it — and that can make a difference in people’s lives…especially right now.

Also, I always wanted to work with companies that care about sustainability and manufacturing practices, which American Leather Holdings’ companies all do. These kinds of practices matter and leave a positive footprint on the world for years to come.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

I think I would rather spin it to “5 things I would always want to remember that helped me along the way,” which are:

  1. Be passionate about what you do
  2. Be fair and honest — this will follow you through your whole career
  3. Work hard — it sets a great example for the team around you
  4. Don’t settle — always look for ways you and the company can improve
  5. Don’t be afraid of the unknown…it’s exciting.

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.

Related to our field, I’d like to help other women become leaders in an industry that for many years was male-dominated. Women make passionate, hard-working leaders, and I think our industry needs more of them.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I always liked the John Lennon quote “Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans”. To me, it means that you have to make the most of each day because life is short,

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, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

If I could speak to anyone today, it would be my mother, who sadly passed away way too young. But from anyone living today, I would say Michelle Obama. She’s a lot of the things every woman hopes to be: open, honest, powerful, but down-to-earth, relatable, kind, and caring. She has a lot of qualities that matter.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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