Maria Mullen, left, Hubbardton Forge; Laurie Tokarz, Restonic Mattress Corp.; Melinda Whittington, La-Z-Boy Inc.; and Caroline Hipple, Norwalk Furniture at the WithIt education breakfast.
HIGH POINT – Three leading home furnishings executives took the stage at the WithIt educational breakfast and shared three key tips for climbing the corporate ladder and ways to charge ahead through adversity.
Moderated by Caroline Hipple, president of Norwalk Furniture, the panel included Melinda Whittington, president and CEO of La-Z-Boy; Laurie Tokarz, president of Restonic Mattress Corp.; and Maria Mullen, president of Hubbardton Forge.
Under the banner “Broken Ceilings: Lessons from the Top”, the executives talked about their individual career journeys and the lessons they learned on the way up the ladder.
All three of the female panelists acknowledged that they had not aspired to become a company president or CEO early in their careers, but instead were driven to do a good job and have growth opportunities.
3 key takeaways
1. Take chances
Mullen, who was named CEO of Hubbardton in 2020, said taking risks pushes people toward success and encouraged attendees to be resilient and fearless. “Earlier in my career, I didn’t take a lot of chances,” she said. “Taking chances is not a cakewalk, but it does have its rewards. Good things happen from doing hard things.”
2. Find good mentors
Each member of the panel is a staunch supporter of mentorship and shared experiences in being mentored throughout their careers. Whittington, who took the reins as La-Z-Boy’s CEO in 2021, said two mentors were instrumental in encouraging her as she advanced: one in pushing her for a job overseas and another who pulled her into a new position.
“She always talked about the future with me and about my next position,” she said. “She was always pointing to the next thing, and the next step in my development. I think it’s important for mentors to paint a picture for a mentee. I encourage everyone to build a cultivate those strong mentor-mentee relationships.”
3. Fail forward
Some of the best lessons come from failure. Tokarz was also named to her position last year, and she encouraged attendees to learn from their mistakes and allow their teams to do the same.
“Fail forward; sometimes you have to make your own mistakes,” she said. “Now that I am in a leadership role, I have to be able to let my employees make their own mistakes and learn from them.”