Andrea Greenleaf: Maintaining a legacy

October 31, 2014

October 13/20, 2014; Volume 28/Number 9

Leading family-owned mill on the path of continued success

By Jenna Lippin

Screen Shot 2014-10-31 at 10.30.53 AMSpearheading a revamp of Royalty Carpet Mills that began last year, Andrea Greenleaf has developed a respectable reputation of a no-nonsense businesswoman and leader in the flooring industry as president and CEO of the company. She was thrown head first into this leadership role after Greenleaf’s father, Royalty founder Mike Derderian, passed away last year.

Although Greenleaf ascended to the top spot last year, she was certainly not new to the company. In fact, she joined Royalty’s team in 1972, just six years after the company’s inception. However, after doing regular office tasks and working at the order desk, she decided her niche was not in carpet. So, in 1978 Greenleaf left Royalty to earn her gemologist degree.

“I’m a gemologist at heart,” she said. However, after about 12 years working in her preferred field, Derderian approached his daughter about returning to the family business.

“My father called in 1992 and said, ‘I think it’s time you stopped fiddling around with gems and came to work here.’ I started laughing because I thought he was joking, but he wasn’t. He said he needed someone in the family to come into the business, and I guess I was that person.

“That’s the only thing that drove me to leave a career I was perfectly happy with,” she continued. “My father built something from nothing, and I didn’t want to let that fall by the wayside. I came in and got involved on the commercial side, and with corporate issues, legal aspects, insurance, etc.”

When it comes to Greenleaf’s position as a female in a male-dominated industry, she believes gender isn’t the main issue. The flooring world itself is a challenge, she said, and constant innovation and development is imperative to remaining relevant. “[Flooring] is a bit cutthroat,” she said. “I think the carpet industry as a whole should do more to improve the products it delivers so consumers are happy with their carpet selection, and not look to hard surface because the carpet does not hold up. We need to improve our product quality so we can give the value [consumers are] expecting. People want value for what they are purchasing, and it’s up to us as an industry to provide them with that value.”

So, how does leading a carpet mill compare to working as a gemologist? “Jewelers can be difficult, too,” Greenleaf said. “There are challenges you face in all businesses, whether you are a man or a woman. I think we need to constantly strive to improve our industry.”

What has helped Greenleaf avoid some of the obstacles women face in a male-dominated business is her straightforward attitude. Her reputation as a direct, respectable, knowledgeable industry leader has allowed her to do business efficiently and with confidence.

“I can be somewhat intimidating,” she admitted. “But I don’t necessarily mean to be that way. I’m very direct. I’m not a good chit chatter. I know what I want to achieve, but I’m always willing to listen to other opinions; no one is right all the time. I’m just a bottom-line person. I’ll talk to a customer and say, ‘What do I have to do to get more business from you?’ I just want to get to the point. With customers, I just need them to tell me what I need to do to make them happy.”

Screen Shot 2014-10-31 at 10.31.50 AMWith that, she has universal goals and foundations for relationships, regardless of gender. “The men in the industry I’ve talked to, the other mill owners, have all been very pleasant. I haven’t really faced any issue with men specifically. I’ve made calls to customers, I’ve met husbands and wives who run companies—they are open. It doesn’t matter one way or the other that I’m a woman. My message is, ‘Listen, [Royalty is] a woman-owned company manufacturing in California. We need to take care of each other.’ And that’s kind of a big deal, that we are woman-owned, because that makes us a minority in the world of business. I think women-owned companies should promote that as much as they can. It helps with some people, but others just don’t care. They just want the nicest product.”

If you ask Greenleaf what kind of advice she can offer women trying to earn a reputation as prestigious as the one she holds, she advises simply being yourself. Admitting to mistakes and realizing you won’t win with everyone are key points to acceptance in any industry, whether you are male or female, in gemology or flooring.

“I think for women in general, you need to understand that in some cases you will have an uphill battle; in some industries you will be met with resistance,” she explained. “You need to be yourself first and foremost. You can’t be what other people want you to be. But you must be willing to adapt, be flexible, and you must be willing to fail. Everybody makes mistakes. If you think you are perfect all the time you are setting yourself up for disappointment. You learn from mistakes and you grow. That’s how you become more accepted. You accept blame, move on and move forward. You have to be prepared to take the pits along with the cherry, and sometimes there a few more pits than you expected.

“A good support system is also very important. I was lucky to have a very supportive husband and I think family support is critical to success in any venture.”

For the flooring industry in particular, Greenleaf does, in fact, see an advantage to being a female as she herself is her target consumer. To have a perspective of what’s important from the inside helps develop and provide the products shoppers are seeking. “The shoppers of home products—whether carpeting, paint, furniture—are women. Most of the time it’s not the husbands making these selections. I have a great team of people here, women and men, working to make a great product line. As a woman owner I bring a different perspective because I know what it is like to do the shopping for the home, and know what I want to see. For the most part, men leave this process up to their wives or girlfriends. Being the manufacturer as well as the target consumer can offer us an advantage in the marketplace.”

As a leader and a target customer, the focus for Greenleaf today is what she can do next to help Royalty continue to grow and stand out from other mills. The company has recently completed the acquisition of carpet company Moda, which will help further expand its relationships in the industry. “I’ve known Don and Ken Kazarian [principals of Moda] my entire life, so it’s like bringing more family into the business. I’m very excited; I think it will be a big plus for us.

“I would like to develop long-term partner relationships,” she added. “I’m not interested in one-off deals. We have to develop good, strong relationships with customers that we can sustain, especially in California [where Royalty is based]. It’s a horrible economy here. We need to work together to not only keep our business healthy, but also to keep business viable in this state. I’m very optimistic about the future, that’s for sure.”

Royalty has plans to launch “unique and interesting products” at Surfaces 2015 thanks to two newly acquired machines and a third on order.

Continuing to look ahead, Greenleaf hopes to fulfill the vision her father had for her and Royalty as a whole. “My father had enough faith in me to leave the business to me to run. That was quite a compliment. I’m very proud of the people here at Royalty who have helped me turn the company into what it is today. I’m proud of what Royalty has been in the past and what it can be in the future.”

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