I had the pleasure of interviewing Veronica Londono Schnitzius, American Leather President.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
My name is Veronica Londono Schnitzius. I am originally from Medellin, Colombia. I am 40 years old. I grew up in Medellin and came to the US to attend college. Upon graduating as an industrial engineer, I accepted an internship in Dallas, Texas. After the internship ended, I was offered a full-time position. I moved to Dallas to begin my career in 2001 with only $500 and two suitcases to my name.
After only seven months on the job, the company declared bankruptcy. When I arrived for work that morning, all of the doors were sealed with little explanation. I then had little time to find a new job or moving back to Colombia was my only other option. Thankfully, I applied and accepted a position with American Leather, and the rest is history.
I started as an engineer and climbed the ranks through many different roles throughout my tenure. I have served as Maintenance Manager, Cutting Manager, Assistant Plant Manager, Director of Product Development, Vice President of Operations, Chief Operating Officer, and now serve as President of American Leather.
Outside of work, I am married and have a beautiful daughter named Hannah. I enjoy competing in triathlons and watching soccer.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
One of the most impactful things that have happened to me during my tenure at American Leather is seeing the impact that I’ve had on some of our employees. I was walking through the factory, and one of our sewers came up to me to explain that because of me that her daughter was enrolled in college and was going to get her degree. This wasn’t the only story either. We have many employees who have attended college, became a supervisor and are now leaders within American Leather. I believe in education, and sometimes all it takes is for someone to see that it’s possible to succeed and break the barriers from previous generations.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
American Leather is based on manufacturing excellence, innovation, and most importantly people.
Employees are our biggest asset, and diversity is ingrained in our culture. We employ people from 35 different countries, and we raise a flag to represent each country and employee in our lunch room. With such a wide range of culture and diversity, we are fortunate enough to have a global outlook on our processes, and it makes it easier to become more efficient.
American Leather has grown very quickly, but family and wellness have remained a constant. We provide a wellness center equipped with personal trainers, a scholarship fund, and monthly employee appreciation events.
We are continually upgrading the equipment, tweaking our processes, and listening to feedback from our employees to make things better.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now?
We just finished expanding the American Leather manufacturing facility. We added 100,000 square feet of additional manufacturing capacity, which will translate into hundreds of new jobs. We also launched the Comfort Air Chair, a project we believe will revolutionize the seating category. It’s based on Ergonomics and the idea that seating should move with the way that your body does. We worked on this project for more than four years with several of the industry’s top designers to create a motion experience like no other.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
I would encourage them to ask questions and create an environment that fosters creativity and individuality. Also, I believe it’s important to hire great talent and to listen to their feedback. I believe in always investing in employees, and challenging them to find what they love. Asking for feedback is also vital, but even more critical is willing to hear hard criticism.
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?
Bob Duncan, the founder of American Leather, has been the most prominent part of my career path. He believed in me from the beginning and has served as a mentor throughout the way. When American Leather initially hired me, I failed the psychological test that they gave to help select ideal employees. He believed it was because it was in English, so I took it in Spanish and failed again. Bob still believed in me and hired me, and that was also the last time that the test was given. He helped me further my career and education by getting me connected with the Stagen Leadership Academy which has helped me grow exponentially in my career.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I am a firm believer in education. One of the ways I try to lead is by example. I continuously help and encourage employees to further their education. I also sponsor kids from home country, Colombia, to attend college. It’s so important to show children and even adults that they can go to college change their families’ path.
Can you share the top five ways that increased diversity can help a company’s bottom line.
-Diversity of ideas: When you have people from different backgrounds, races, sexes, countries, it just helps you see a broader view on how to get initiatives successfully executed. Diverse workgroups can be more innovative because they bring more perspective, insights, and experiences from their worldviews of various industries.
-Develop a hiring strategy to make your workforce resemble the community you operate in: We hire for fit more than for technical abilities. We want employees to fit the culture, and we can teach them the rest. We want employees to be open-minded, which helps them succeed along with the company.
-Ask existing employees for referrals: It is a family at the end. If you work with people you like, you are happier. Also when you refer somebody, it creates accountability for you to make sure that person is successful. The longer an employee is with us, the more efficient they become. We are heavily influenced by our family culture and have several generations of family members working for American Leather. This helps with engagement because the more engaged employees are, the more they contribute and become part of defending the company.
-Give new hires a reason to stay: spend time in getting them familiar with the company culture, the job. Make sure they understand the intangible benefits. Reduce turnover which costs money and negatively affects the bottom line. Spending money to train someone and having them leave is a bad decision.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. …
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this 🙂
I would love to meet Melinda Gates. I admire her for so many reasons. She is such an inspiring mother, professional, and advocate for women. She could use her success to do anything in the world, but instead, she uses it to change the world. I admire the Gates Foundation greatly and everything she does to empower women.
Originally published at medium.com