Tom Perić sat down with Lauren Roberts, Chairwoman of the Board, CEO and president of Kansas City, MO-based cfm Distributors. They discussed what it’s like to begin your career in the HVACR industry, the challenges of running an ESOP company and making headway to the top as a female executive.
1. What is your favorite possession?
A beautiful painting that my late grandmother painted. It’s in my home office, and it always reminds me of how amazing she was.
2. What is a secret that you don’t usually share?
While I enjoy playing a lot of games, I’m terrible at Euchre, but I insist on playing it whenever the opportunity arises.
3. It’s February and it’s cold in the Midwest. Do you have a warm refuge someplace?
My husband and I went to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, for a week in January, so that was our warm refuge this winter.
4. If you weren’t the president of a wholesale business in HVACR, what would you be doing?
I would love to be able to do more work with charitable organizations. It would be more in the weeds work and fundraising work than leadership of those organizations, though.
5. What’s your favorite way to relax when work stresses you out?
I enjoy playing golf, which allows me to get stressed about my weak golf game instead of work.
6. What’s your background?
I grew up in Kansas City and have lived there my whole life. I went to school full-time nights and weekends while working full-time during the day at cfm while earning my Bachelors of Science in Business Administration degree from UMKC. After a brief stint in the accounting department, I worked my way up through several roles in Marketing, from marketing assistant to marketing manager to marketing director to VP of Marketing and customer experience to Executive VP, then President and CEO and recently also became Chairwoman of the Board of Directors.
7. How did you get into the HVACR industry?
My grandfather co-founded our company, cfm Distributors Inc. in 1969, and my father went to work there before I was born. [The company has seven locations.] My dad asked me if I’d like to work at cfm, and I agreed. This was in 2004, and I’m really glad I decided to join the company and the overall HVAC/R industry.
8. In business, what do you find most rewarding?
The most rewarding part of business for me is working with so many great people inside and outside of our company. I have really found it rewarding to mentor and help others grow and learn our industry. I have also enjoyed working hard to help our whole industry advance together through involvement in HARDI, Blue Hawk, Women in HVACR, EGIA, and ACCA.
9. What’s your motivation?
I’m highly motivated to help our employee-owners at cfm be successful in their work lives and personal lives through mentorship, driving toward results that help them boost their share value and providing a great culture where we have a family feel while achieving great results and having a lot of fun. Outside of my day job, I am motivated to help everyone in our industry get better together because I truly believe in the concept of a rising tide raises all ships.
10. Who was your business mentor?
I’ve had a ton of wonderful business mentors in my life, so this is hard to narrow the list. Many of them may not have realized they were my mentors, but I learned so much from them just through observation. Some of my biggest business mentors have been both of my grandfathers, my dad, my executive coach, and too many industry leaders and peers to name here.
11. What business principles guide you running the company?
I’m strongly guided by my own core values, which align very closely with our company core values of Integrity, Teamwork, Transparency, Intentional Communication, Continuous Improvement, Innovation, Giving Back.
12. What aspects of running the business do you enjoy the most?
I truly enjoy working with our employee-owners and customers. They are all like my extended family, and working with them inspires me to be better all the time.
13. What do you least enjoy?
I least enjoy it when big problems arise, which fortunately are few and far between, but after we work through them, it’s also rewarding and always provides a great learning experience.
14. How difficult or unique is it being a woman in a male-dominated industry?
Early on, I found it difficult to have a voice that was listened to compared to my male colleagues, but as I grew in experience and knowledge, being a woman in this industry has largely been fun. I really have enjoyed working through Women in HVACR to work with more people who look like me toward their important mission of helping bring women into the industry and provide education, mentoring and networking opportunities for them to learn and grow in this industry. I’m not sure I would have been able to participate in such a great group if we didn’t have the large disparity between males and females in the HVAC/R industry.
15. What advice do you have for encouraging women to join the executive ranks of the HVACR business?
Join Women in HVACR and get involved in their committees and attend their wonderful events. Find a mentor who is a female executive in our industry and find a sponsor who will give you space to show your capabilities to key decision makers and support you along the way. Determine what skills are required of the executive positions you are aiming for and take classes, read books, attend conferences and listen to podcasts to help obtain those skills and perfect them.
16. What advice do you have for our audience?
I think we are all well-aware of all of the vast changes the HVAC/R industry faces in the next five to ten years with the refrigerant changes, move toward higher efficiency furnaces and eventually toward full electrification, so with that being said, my best advice to this audience is to stay very connected to your respective trade associations and HVAC groups.
17. What is the center of your business philosophy?
The Golden Rule really is at the center of my business philosophy along with an “others first” mentality that my dad instilled in me.
18. What’s the best business advice you’ve received?
My grandfather who co-founded our business always said, “Always remember, things are never as bad or as good as they seem.” That advice has regularly served me well, particularly when things seem bad, throughout my almost 20-year career in HVAC/R.
19. Are there any special challenges leading an ESOP company?
One of the challenges of leading an ESOP company is trying to explain how powerful the financial benefit of it can be to a person who has 30 to 40 years before they can receive the money. When they start to see their ownership grow, it changes everything for them.
20. What’s the key to good wholesaler-contractor relations?
Organizational engagement is key to those relationships. Having your wholesale executive team regularly communicating with the ownership and leadership of contractor customers, and having your department managers and salespeople engaged with similar positions at the contractor companies is the best way to support them strongly on all levels.