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Strategex Celebrates Women in Leadership
How Strategex VP, Carmelle Giblin shattered the glass ceiling and rose to leadership on her own terms.
Carmelle’s career in financial and analytical leadership began at ITW where she worked for more than two decades. She earned her stripes in Group Finance where she specialized in acquisitions and 80/20 execution. After a successful tenure in Group Finance, Carmelle was promoted to VP/General Manager of a global business unit. In that role, she improved operating results using 80/20 principles and achieved an operating income CAGR of 31%. After ITW, Carmelle spent seven years at IDEAL Industries, Inc. There, she was Group President & General Manager and succeeded in helping to grow the company over $1B during her tenure.
In the following interview, Carmelle opens up about her rise to leadership as a woman, a wife, and a mother. She reveals what she has learned, her obstacles, and how management teams can empower women in leadership. She may have started as the only woman in the room, but she has paved the way for more women to rise to leadership.
1. Let’s start at the beginning (a very good place to start). Tell us about who you are.
I am the middle child of three girls. My parents were farmers from North Dakota and came from very hard-working families. My dad was the first of 14 kids to leave North Dakota and go to college; he was the first to hold a professional job in his family. So, I was raised with a lot of work ethic. My parents expected their girls to be strong, independent people; we were raised to believe success is achieved only through hard work.
2. You are also a mother of four – How did you balance career and family?
I was very lucky to have tremendous support from my family and ITW when I was early in my career (when I was having babies every 16 months). I had a job that required significant travel and I would often take my small children on long trips. The company was very flexible with me, I could reduce my hours to part-time for periods, and I even took 15 months off completely when I had my fourth child.
Eventually, it all got too hard to juggle with four kids and two careers. So, my husband resigned and stayed home with our children for 10 years. They went with me on my long overseas trips, so I never had to go too long without being with my family. I also prioritized getting home for dinner every night, even if I had to pick up work later after they went to bed. I rarely missed the big stuff, but I missed a lot of small stuff.
3. You are a natural leader. What makes you a good leader?
Being a good leader to me is to create an environment where people want to follow you and are not afraid to make mistakes. I always prided myself in the fact that I genuinely cared about my team and I would do anything to support them. “We are all in this together” is my leadership style which really helped me to succeed. This was modeled by my boss and mentor at ITW, David Flood (who led many of the Strategex Experts as well). He gave us each a lot of independence and responsibility, but we never felt like he didn’t have our back if we made mistakes.
4. What was it like for you coming up in your career?
I was very young when I was getting promoted to big jobs that I was not totally ready for and I was often the only woman in the room. I relied heavily on my ITW mentors that went over and above to support me. My mentors were male, and although none of these men understood the real juggle of being a mom and a leader, they were all invested in my success and really helped me learn and succeed. They also did not expect me to stay in my “finance box.” I was able to stretch and explore operations; I was able to work on acquisitions. Being able to expand to new territory propelled and accelerated my learning.
5. How did you rise to leadership? Did anyone help you along the way?
I had only been a controller for two years when I was asked to be a group controller for David Flood’s businesses. I turned the job down four times because I was pregnant with my third child, I didn’t feel ready for the role, and I didn’t want to travel. But, they did not take no for an answer. Leadership was very invested in promoting a woman into a key role and they really wanted me to do it. They promised ample support to minimize travel and I eventually took the job. But, shortly after I accepted the job, we had fraud in our largest business, and I spent several days a week in Boston helping to sort it out for months. That experience, although was more travel than I wanted, really helped me to lean into the role. I learned a lot and I was adding value. My career took off from there. The other business leaders were a real family to me. They all took me in, helped, and supported me early in my career. I learned from each of them and I was lucky to have them.
6. Describe an obstacle that you overcame in your rise to leadership?
The biggest obstacle that I overcame was getting out of Finance into business unit leadership. I had been trying for a couple of years to make the move and kept getting pushback from executive leadership. It was not good timing; David Flood had terminal cancer and it wouldn’t be good to leave him; there were other top-level management shuffles that kept getting my move delayed. I had to push very hard with our CEO to make the move. They finally agreed and offered me three opportunities to pick from. I accepted the role working for Joe Hahn at Kester, a new acquisition and it was the best decision that I made! I was finally able to lead a business and a complete P&L. It also changed my approach to 80/20 as I had to do it and live with it myself for the first time. It was much harder than I thought it would be, especially to sustain it, but it is one of my most proud accomplishments.
7. What kind of adaptations did you have to make as a woman in leadership?
I asked to have my family travel with me early in my career, which was unheard of. I also took time off when I had my children. Overall, I tried to be "one of the boys" and just fit into the team we had. I would read the sports section every Sunday so I could talk intelligently on Monday morning at the lunch table.
8. Do you think women in leadership are shielded from sexual discrimination?
I do not think I was held back in my career advancement because I was a woman, at least not early in my career. I feel that I was originally promoted BECAUSE I was a woman, and I even got a chance that I was not quite ready for. After the initial promotion, my advancement was due to my work and my efforts. I do think my salary was less because I was a woman. Throughout my career I was paid less than men doing the exact same job (but not at Strategex).
9. Do you think your path to leadership was harder because you are a woman?
It was not harder early in my career, it got harder as I strived to get bigger and bigger roles late in my career. It is hard to get a CEO job or a board position for anyone, but harder for a woman. There just are not a lot of women on the nominating committee so it is harder to find a relatable ground and to breakthrough.
10. You are a champion of women in business and leadership. You were a founding member of the Women’s Leadership Team at ITW. Paint a picture of how you have helped empower other women.
I went to an MBA program at Kellogg School of Northwestern University for women in leadership. It was the first time I had deliberately surrounded myself with women that were in high-stress roles, as nearly all my colleagues at ITW were men. It really opened my eyes to how many struggles that I was dealing with, that I never talked about, were also felt, and experienced in nearly the same way by all these women. It was incredibly empowering to be in a group that really empathized with the struggle. It made me double down my efforts at ITW to mentor other women, look for women mentors for myself in executive roles and help to start a group for women. I was one of five women that started the women’s group at ITW and it is going strong today.
11. You are a graduate of Kellogg’s Women’s Leadership Executive Education Program and you completed the Leading Women’s Executive Program. What were some of your takeaways from those programs?
I learned so much from both programs. I learned about myself from 360 feedback and coaching programs. Many women share the same development issues including lack of negotiating skills, lack of influencing skills, difficultly in networking, etc. The curriculums were centered around developing these skills which were invaluable to me. The Leading Women’s Executive Program included a mentoring aspect, where I was paired with an ITW Executive during the program. This was my first experience with a woman mentor, Sharon Brady. She continued to help me and support me in my career even after I left ITW.
12. What can management teams specifically do to promote gender equality?
Be deliberate about having women on the slate for job opportunities. If they are not on the slate, they will never be hired. Also, be deliberate about being inclusive. Oftentimes, male-dominated rooms of people defer to talking about sports or other male-dominated topics that women do not often have equal footing in the conversation. It is very challenging for women to network in a male-dominated industry when they cannot even participate in the conversation.
13. How does Strategex stack up in terms of gender equality?
I have only been with the company for a short time, and I have been 100% remote...but, so far I have a great impression.
Strategex only hires the best and brightest, so naturally, gender equality is a non-issue. Strategex has women in leadership and on its board which is very rare for a company of its size. There are women at every level of the organization, and often, I am not the only female in the room. It's refreshing, and I think it serves the company and its clients very well.
14. What advice would you share with young female leaders?
First and foremost, kick-ass at the job you have. Often young people think there is some magic bullet to getting ahead. It is now, as it always been, about achieving results with hard work.
Do not be afraid to ask for what you need and deserve to succeed including resources, support, time, money. There is a book by Linda Babcock called Women Don’t Ask. It talks about how women hold themselves back by not asking for what they need. My early-in-career son who works in investment banking fought really hard this year for an earlier in-cycle promotion. I would NEVER have had the courage to ask for an early promotion or more money early in my career. Men are far less afraid to do it and often get what they ask for.
Finally, surround yourself with great male and female advocates to help you navigate your career. Mentors talk TO you, advocates talk ABOUT you. You need both and you need to deliberately develop them.
15. What was the best piece of advice you have ever received?
Never forget who your priorities are. I had a framed picture in my office of my 4 children and the frame had the word PRIORITIES on it. As a joke, every time David Flood would enter my office, he would put the frame face down. To this day,
Rick Budweg (Strategex VP) still asks me about my “priorities.” The best leaders with whom I have worked demonstrated time and time again that they understood my need to have good balance and I returned the favor with really hard work. It actually made me work harder for them.
16. If you could go back in time and tell a 30-something Carmelle one thing, what would it be?
Surround yourself with more professional women that understand what you are going through and don’t be afraid to ask for what you need.
Carmelle is a Vice President | 80/20 Profit & Growth Expert at Strategex.