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Paula Marshall's Blog

The musings of a female CEO, trying to change the way business is done.

I get asked about my experience as a female CEO frequently. I have a unique perspective on the world of business because I run a large company that deals with some of America’s largest food franchises. I deal with small suppliers and big customers. I am somewhere in the middle. I took over my family’s business in 1985, and it has been a crash course in Management and Ownership ever since. I was prepared for the role, and I had a good support system, but there were a few things I simply couldn’t be prepared for.

1. Laying Down the Hammer

The general idea of being a boss and being an owner is that you are the one to blow your top when things go wrong. Screaming, yelling, firing, and throwing papers around seems like the way to get things done. Being a woman, I thought I had to be extra tough to be taken seriously. I learned later that being a woman gave me the great advantage to be able to listen, hold back my assumptions and anger, and make rational decisions. I now know that laying down the hammer is not something that should be done on a regular basis, if at all. It stifles people’s productivity and makes them scared for their jobs.

2. Throwing Spaghetti at the Wall, to See What Sticks

Like most CEOs I am an idea person. I surround myself with a team that can execute my ideas at a moments notice. But, I also expect them to be able to tell me when an idea isn’t plausible. I don’t like to hear ‘NO,’ but I also need to know my limitations. When the economy began to turn for the worse, I began to realize that throwing our resources at some of my random projects was causing unnecessary waste and slowing down some of our more lucrative projects. I had to learn to limit myself , instead of running with every idea that enters my head.

3.  Slurp Your Soup

When dealing with international customers, in my case the Chinese, it is important to respect and honor local customs and ways of life. Not following suit can cost you a huge account. In Hong Kong it is customary to bring your soup bowl to your mouth, and slurp. This shows you appreciate the cooking, and are enjoying your food. You could offend someone by not researching the customs of a foreign customer.

4. Photograph the Roses

Work-life balance is important, but having a very stressful job can cause you to lose yourself. You feel as though your identity is wrapped up in your job rather than who you are, or what you enjoy. A few years ago I found  I wasn’t sleeping, I just worked and emailed through the night, and continued to work the next morning. I decided something had to change. I began drawing and taking photographs, because I was in search of some beauty in the world. I realized that through interacting with the world around me in a creative way, I began to find myself again. It was a wonderful feeling. I am still drawing and taking photographs, and I have also begun writing short stories.

5. You’re so Vain

When put in a position of power, the mind begins to play tricks on you. You begin to think you are the center of the world. Since your company revolves around you, everything else must too. When you say something, people scurry to make sure it gets done. This is a very dangerous place for a CEO’s mind to be. Every person has a unique contribution, and a unique set of experiences to add to an organization. Not one of them is more valuable than another. A CEO must keep their feet firmly planted on the ground in order to make realistic business decisions and forecasts. Find your center, and realize that you are the best leader when you are grounded and confident in your own experiences.


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