May 9/16, 2016; Volume 30, Number 23
By Jenna Lippin
Jeanne Matson, president and CEO of Starnet Worldwide Commercial Flooring Partnership, credits her father’s wisdom as inspiration for becoming an independent leader. Though he was born in 1906, he had a more modern, progressive view of women in the workplace. “His mother and sister didn’t work and my mother didn’t work, but he used to tell me and my sister when we were young, ‘Never depend on a man. Get educated and become self-sufficient,’” Matson reflected. “This didn’t mean we couldn’t get married and have children, but he wanted us to be financially independent. This inspired me to pursue a career and make that a priority in my life.”
After graduating college with a degree in English, Matson worked as a secretary for a trucking company. Without any opportunity for advancement in the organization, she decided to leave and join The Drackett Company, a division of Bristol-Myers Squibb, a consumer product company based in Cincinnati. She progressed from human resources to sales training and, ultimately, landed in brand marketing. Matson decided to take her next step in the Big Apple.
In New York City, Matson worked in brand marketing for Clairol and over a period of 26 years with the company, ascended to the position of general manager for Clairol Professional. After Procter & Gamble acquired Clairol in 2001, Matson stayed with Clairol for six and a half years. Ready to leave the demanding world of corporate America, Matson’s next move led her to a career in the commercial contract flooring arena.
“I came to Starnet in 2007 with no flooring experience; however, I knew how to manage P&L, lead a team of people and work in a multi-functional environment in a leadership role,” she said. “I worked with customers and end users with salons and professional hairstylists at Clairol. Even though this was a very different group from Starnet members, they are all entrepreneurs. I enjoyed learning a new industry, of course; I worked in hair color for so many years so it was nice to do something different.”
Matson succeeded Lori Dowling, who served as Starnet’s president and CEO for nine years. During her first year with the organization, she analyzed its programs, spending plan and overall mission—to equally support members and Preferred Vendor Partners. Previously, “we were promoting Starnet only. After a strategic dialogue with the Board of Directors and other members-at-large, we agreed that Starnet should be the endorser for both the members and Preferred Vendors to ultimately help their businesses increase revenue and profitability. We are dedicated to helping our members and Preferred Vendor Partners to work together more effectively.”
Another significant change Matson instituted at Starnet was to move away from a small staff supported by outside agencies and instead implement a larger internal team dedicated to better meet members’ needs. “We’ve doubled the size of our staff over the past eight years, but have saved considerable money for Starnet by doing the work more efficiently and effectively. Each staff member has an individual role to play and we work very well as a team and we support each other.”
As far as being a woman in the traditionally male-dominated world of flooring, Matson said she hasn’t faced much adversity in her current role given the fact that another woman previously led the organization. “There are female business owners, executives and leaders at Starnet. In fact, our current chairman of the board of directors is a female owner, Cheryl Acierno from Acierno & Company in Denver. I have never felt any difference as a woman in this group. There’s a respect for experience and what an individual brings to the organization; being a female doesn’t change that.”
However, in the early days of her career in a more corporate environment, Matson was often the lone female in the group. “There were occasional jokes and comments about women, but I didn’t let it bother me. I didn’t appreciate it, but I’m not very sensitive. I’m just not easily threatened by people. I have learned not to take it personally.”
Matson does, in fact, believe there are advantages to being a woman in a leadership role, particularly because she feels females have a much more consensus-building approach. “We are also great multi-taskers,” she explained. “I was attracted to brand management because you never know what crisis might hit on a given day. You are always juggling. My job at Starnet is the same. The ability to juggle and multi-task is important in these types of roles.”
Her advice to other professional women—and men—is to be willing to work hard and learn new things. She also suggests avoiding the phrase, “That’s not my job.” “So much of what we do in a multi-faceted work environment involves pitching in and doing what you have to in order to get things done, regardless of your job description. That willingness has truly helped me in my success.”
Matson cites a book that particularly resonated with her, “Why Good Girls Don’t Get Ahead…But Gutsy Girls Do” by Kate White, which encourages women to create their own journeys, not sit back and let things happen to them or keep quiet to avoid a difficult situation. “Every move I’ve made in my career has come because I’ve pushed my own opportunities,” Matson said. “I haven’t waited for anyone to open the door for me. Several times at Clairol, I had to take the initiative to ask for a new position in the company. I would say, ‘I want that job, that’s what I need for my career,’ and I pushed myself to get it. If you don’t, you’re left in the wake. ‘Good girls’ who sit in their offices and accept whatever comes their way—who don’t push or stand up for themselves—miss out. I’ve had to speak up and take advantage of opportunities in some intense circumstances.”
For example, while on maternity leave during her employment with Clairol, she found out her division was up for sale and, as a senior member of the team, Matson would be “sold” to the new owner with the business. Plus, Clairol had a new president who joined the company while she was on leave. Two weeks later, she returned to work and made an appointment with Clairol’s new president for a face-to-face meeting despite the fact she had never met him. During the meeting, Matson, who had been with the company for about 17 years, simply walked into the boss’ office and said, “‘I need only five minutes.’ I explained my history with Clairol and how committed I have been to the organization. It would be difficult to find another employee with my experience and loyalty. I told him I wanted to stay with the company and would be happy to do any range of jobs.”
The company president didn’t know Matson at all, but the next morning he called and asked her if she was willing to move to a new position within the company. She said yes and moved.
“If I had not done that I would have been long gone, sold from Clairol and who knows where I’d be today?”
Making it ‘work’
Just as her dad told her, Matson worked hard to remain independent in her career while she was married and raising her children. Female friends saw her as a role model, she said, as a working mother who “made it work.” But advancement came at a price. “I gave up a lot of my own free time because I worked very long hours,” she said. “But I also always followed some personal ‘rules’ when it came to my children. I never traveled on birthdays, I was home for holidays and I included them as much as I could. Today both of them are successful people.”
Reflecting upon her accomplishments, Matson said she is most proud of entering the business world without any preparation yet continued to strive for and achieve success and respect. “At this point I’m very sure of what I’m doing. I feel like I have the reservoir of experience and skills to face almost anything. I have also ended up doing work I love. For me, the focus was not on financial return. My goal is always to do the best job in my current role. From there, everything else followed.”