Leaders of CIS | Womens History Month
In March, we celebrate Women’s History Month. This month highlights the contributions of women to events in history and society. CIS is a woman-lead, woman-owned business, created by President & CEO, Lisa K. Johnson – we are using this month as a time to reflect on the amazing & talented leaders of CIS.
We asked a few of our leaders, what does it mean to them to be a woman leader, and what does it mean to work for a woman-run, woman-owned business?
“When I started at CIS roughly 17 years ago, I was thoroughly intimidated by the female presence in these four walls. Having grown up with strained female relationships, I’d never really become comfortable in a nearly all-female space. I’d always been friends with boys, had three brothers, and considered myself proudly as a “tomboy”. I distinctly remember walking in for my interview seeing the women in the office walk briskly around in their well-tailored, expensive, yet effortless looking business wear going “yikes, I’ll never fit in here”. However, I was offered the job and I accepted confident that my experience in residential furniture would give me the knowledge to start a new path in commercial furniture.
Over the years, I learned not only about all the ways commercial furniture is so different yet still the same as residential, but also how to apply makeup, foster female friendships, and essentially how to be comfortable in my own skin. I’ve had so many female leaders here at CIS, and not simply the ones that managed me. The women at CIS taught me how to forgive, how to grieve, how to dust off my britches, and get right back up again. They taught me how to let the dismissiveness of others roll off my back and how to write a well-crafted email so concise that the receiver has little option but to concede to our wishes. I’ve truly grown up here in this building, come into my own, and become proud of who I am today.
Now that I’ve become a leader in the office it’s my sincere pleasure to pass on the lessons that were given to me. I just recently recommended the very same book that was given to me some 10 years ago by one of my old account managers. I offer advice on not only how to properly curate communication to our clients, track down missing shipments, and process punch but also how to select the right health insurance plan and what to do when crate training your new puppy. Being a leader at CIS isn’t just about training on specific tasks and holding employees accountable, it’s about fostering community and giving everyone the tools they need to succeed not just in the office but also in life. Standing firm in the confidence of your worth is not just a female thing but a human thing. I just so happen to be lucky enough to have learned the lessons to allow me to do that from the countless women that have served as role models to me here at CIS.”
— Carrie Mathis, Director of Project Services
“Being a leader at CIS is a privilege and an honor, not a birthright. As the daughter of the founder, some think that the road to leadership has been easier for me. Thankfully it has not been. I started my career at CIS, “for real” in 2004 after growing up watching my mother breathe life into this company every day at our kitchen table, or at the very small office space that was first CIS. Then I worked hourly in college as the intern/librarian. After college, I decided to try other opportunities for a couple of years until I finally got the inclination to try out commercial furniture. My mother said “No” at first! Our current COO actually convinced her to let me try and asked to start me as a junior salesperson. I had everything to prove. I worked hard, but as leaders do, I wanted more – more experience and more traction in my career. After 6 and a half years, I let my mother and my boss know I was going to pursue a career change in another city across the country, working for a major manufacturer. I did not actually know if I would ever end up back at CIS, but if I did I knew that experience would prove invaluable.
7 years, 2 Cities, and 2 kids later I was blessed to have the opportunity to come back to Phoenix and apply the lessons I had learned in larger markets, with major manufacturers, and mega dealers. Because I grew up with a trailblazer female, who also was raised by a business owner and trailblazer, my grandmother, I sometimes take for granted what it is to be a woman in leadership. As a child, it was the expectation, not the goal; which says something when you look back at women in leadership 40 years ago. When I actually take the time to reflect on my career and my opportunity to lead I am grateful to my mother and my family. I never knew that it was harder as a woman. I never knew that there were barriers that existed or “glass ceilings”. It never dawned on me to feel like I had something to prove to the world; Just myself. As a leader, (period, male/female) my goals are to drive innovation, growth, and opportunity for all, thought leadership, and community. I want to create a wake so large behind me that all the female leaders coming up in the next 40 years never have to write a paragraph on what it means to be a woman in leadership. It’s just LEADERSHIP!”
— Kara McNamara, Vice President of Sales
“I feel honored and proud to be a woman in a leadership position. I was in a leadership role as VP of Sales for a long time prior to being in the position of COO. I have worked hard, put my head down, and focused on all things related to making CIS a success. I have devoted lots of time and hard work and feel that I have earned everything I have. I started as the receptionist, worked my way to sales, sales manager, VP of Sales, and then to the COO position. I hope it inspires others to know that hard work pays off regardless of your gender and in today’s society it is more acceptable to have women in leadership positions.
I really appreciate working with strong-minded women. It is inspiring and easy for me as working with women is very relatable. I have worked primarily with women my entire career of 30 years and it is now second nature. I am not sure how it would be working for a man-run company – I feel it would depend on the person but could be a very different dynamic.”
— Stephanie Bourland, COO
“Like so many other women who hold executive leadership roles, I know I owe a debt of gratitude to the generations of women before me. I think all of the amazing women at CIS—Kara McNamara, Stephanie Bourland, Carrie Mathis, and especially the trailblazer, Lisa Johnson—would agree; it was hard work getting to where we are. But think back just a few decades: having the opportunity to work hard in an executive leadership role would have been incredibly rare for women. Helping this company move forward and to know that we have collaborated to achieve its success, it’s an incredible feeling. As a woman working for a business owned by a woman, I have to admit that it’s very gratifying to know the entire leadership team of women may inspire little girls to pursue professional dreams that, decades ago, wouldn’t even have been possible.”
— Janice White, CFO
“I love my job. I have always enjoyed it because every day is a new learning experience and it never gets old. I am very fortunate to have had the opportunity to start my business and be in it for the last 37 years. It never gets old. Again, the responsibilities that come with it are also great learning experiences. And it also helps to have a great team that works beside you every day. That is the key. I have always learned from other leaders, such as Stephanie, Carrie & Janice. I think women just have a natural ability to lead and also to share in leadership experiences. We all learn from one another and want to learn and teach others. I am pretty sure I learn from others more than they learn from me!”
— Lisa K. Johson, Preident & CEO
While we live & celebrate the contributions of women every day, it is important to take March to reflect on the sacrifices made by women all over the world. CIS is honored & proud to be a woman-lead, woman-owned business, and we are truly grateful for our President & CEO, Lisa K. Johnson!
Happy Women’s History month from all of us at CIS!
“Here’s to strong women. May we know them. May we raise them. May we be them.”