At that time, Mark Lee was named president and Brenda Slacum became operations manager. Two years ago, she was promoted to COO—perhaps making her the only woman in the country to head a trade bindery operation.

“It was a natural progression for me. I started in the MIS department eight years ago,” Slacum explains. “I oversaw the MIS department and provided analysis on what direction each department needed to go, which sort of evolved into overseeing operations.”

For Lee, though, it was Slacum’s work ethic and managerial skills that made her the natural choice for the job. “She has the drive, the ambition, the persistence and the willingness to take on anything that needs to be done,” remarks Lee.

Lee and Slacum have a rather unorthodox management style. “Mark and I run the business simultaneously. People told us that it wouldn’t work, but it seems to work very well for us. Mark brings industry experience to the table, and I have a lot of business experience,” she claims.

Slacum also prefers a team approach to managing the company rather than a traditional hierarchy. The management team meets every morning. “We have a chance to touch base about customer needs for that day and go over any scheduling requests,” she remarks. “Any problems in production are reported and we discuss anything else that needs to be addressed.”

Slacum also meets with her team every two weeks for a manager’s meeting, where more long-term concerns and issues are aired and discussed. Before each meeting, attendees are required to submit discussion points. “Everyone has experience and approaches problem solving from a different angle. Collectively, we come up with the correct solutions. Every department is represented and every need is covered,” she notes.

Team Approach Works

Slacum admits that her tendency towards a team approach partly comes from being a woman in corporate America. “Men tend to be more comfortable with a more hierarchical management style and very defined positions. They tend to be conscious of that structure. Women who have come up through the ranks, on the other hand, tend to look at co-workers more as equals.

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