Title: CEO, Wooldridge Heating,
Air & Electrical
The title of “CEO” is relatively new to you. When did you become the top person at Wooldridge?
I hear there is an interesting story of how you came to work at the family business after high school.
I graduated high school in June 1989 and had planned to enjoy my summer on my graduation money then start college and part-time work that fall. In the later part of June my Dad woke me up and said, “You’re coming to work as dispatcher today. Mine just quit.” June is normally the kick off to hot, summer weather and is typically one of the busiest months for HVAC companies. So, of course, I did what my Dad instructed me and went to work in June 1989 full time. I had worked part time for him typing proposals and doing computer data entry during my high school years three years prior. This past June marked my 31 year anniversary with the company.
Tell us about your furry coworker. There is some history there, right?
We have a workplace dog—a Boxer named Duke, named after the James Madison University Dukes where my daughter attended college when we got him. He is our third-generation office Boxer. Having a workplace dog is awesome. He fills the building with love and relieves stress by getting many people to play ball or chase with him.
It all began with my first Boxer, Tyson (named after the boxer Mike Tyson). Tyson began coming to work with me in 1990 due to having a seizure as a small puppy. The veterinarian did not want me to leave him alone so I got permission from my parents to bring him to the office so I could watch him. Everyone loved him and it brought a different atmosphere to our office by just having him greet and play with co-workers and walk-in customers. Our second boxer was Bodie (named after Patrick Swayze in the movie Point Break). He laid in the foyer most of the time and slept—customers and co-workers would pass by him or step over him while he would nap. When he passed away we got cards, flowers, pies, etc. from vendors, co-workers and customers. Our office dogs have been loved by many!
What do you enjoy about being a part of a family business?
I have always enjoyed that our family started this business and we grew it together from the basement of my childhood home to the beautiful office building where it is located today. It is something created by my father with my mother, then I joined the team, then later my husband. We transitioned from a family business to an ESOP (employee stock ownership plan) in 2007, however, it has never lost its family feel with the growth and changes.
On the flipside—what kinds of challenges do family businesses face?
There are several challenges. For example, I was always held to a higher standard to perform—expected to give 110 percent at all times, be a mentor to others to believe in our company as much as the family members, and to prove I care about my job and am not just here on a “family card.” Also, just like many business owners, you sometimes tend to take work home with you whether its physically or mentally.
What do you do to stay organized?
I have always been an organized person. I drive my family and co-workers crazy sometimes! I am always cleaning, organizing or throwing things/clutter away. As far as staying organized in my professional career, I greatly depend on my Outlook calendar. I put EVERYTHING on it—reminders for meetings, events, and my things to do so I don’t forget anything. I believe it is very important to do what you say you are going to do and this helps enforce that.
Conflict in the workplace is inevitable. How do you handle it?
Handle it immediately—don’t hesitate or avoid it! Most of the time it boils down to something simple and I am able to correct and settle quickly what the employee should have handed off to myself or another leader from the beginning. I have found it builds a stronger relationship with my co-workers and earns a lot of respect when I solve a problem and follow up with them. They know I care enough to take action so they can enjoy coming to work every day.
How would you define your leadership style?
I had to get a little help on this one so I walked through my office and asked my staff how they would describe my leadership style. The words they used were: firm, low key, to the point, and open-door. They said, “You are firm, but you are always professional when you are.” They said, “You always listen and take action so we feel like your door is always open and you stop and listen to us then you follow up on our ideas or concerns.” I was hoping this is what I would hear because this is truly how I would describe my leadership style.
Work/life balance is a big topic for women. How do you find your balance between work and family?
I think the biggest challenge is keeping work from family time. What I’ve found prevents this is making sure your employees are cross trained as much as possible to cover for each other. This way, we can all be there for family as needed or if we want to attend special events. It also gives us peace of mind that we have someone we trust handling our responsibilities without the weight of worrying about work or work interfering while we are with our families.
As a female CEO, what is your advice to women in the workplace who want to climb their career ladder?
You must enjoy what you do, and you must be a fit for the position. I highly recommend doing a personality profile on yourself to help identify your natural strengths and weaknesses when it comes to laying out your career path. This helps you place yourself in a career where you are naturally comfortable and it sets you up for success. I truly believe admitting your weaknesses is your biggest strength; you must surround yourself with people that can compensate for your weaknesses to build a strong team.
What do you like the most about working in Central Virginia?
The people and the small-town feel this area has. This is a very supportive community!
What’s life outside of work like for you?
I love being outside! We enjoy going to the lake in the summertime—just being on and near the water is so relaxing. I also enjoy going to the mountains, especially in the fall when the foliage is so beautiful in this area. Our family spends a lot of time together. I have one daughter (Ashtin) and a son in law (Jake) that live close by so we enjoy having cookouts together. I also recently became a grandmother so now I enjoy spoiling my new granddaughter, Lennon, every chance I get!