Stephanie Leader had never considered a career in sales until she began work at Ohio Specialty Products, selling screen-printed and embroidered apparel to the Greek market at Ohio State University. As a senior at OSU, she had begun preparing for law school. Instead, her boss offered to make her a partner in the business.
“It taught me that I had sales aptitude, which I never knew. I don’t think anyone grows up saying, ‘I’m going to be in sales.’ You just sort of find your way,” Leader says. “I never thought of myself as an entrepreneur in my life until I started down this path.”
In December 1995, Leader bought out her former boss. She opened an e-commerce division in 1998, renaming the business Leaderpromos. The company, of which Leader is now president and CEO, specializes in promotional advertising products, custom gifts, and accessories for the beauty, fragrance and fashion industries. Leaderpromos has grown from $4,000 in annual revenue to $25 million and has 70 employees.
Leader, 40, sits on the boards of Flying Horse Farms, OSU Hillel and the Quality Certification Alliance.
What’s the best part of your job? “What I do is fun, so we’re talking about things that help promote sales in people’s business and help promote brand awareness.”
What’s your biggest challenge? “We buy product from other suppliers and that’s a challenge because, while our quality is always first and foremost of importance to us, sometimes we don’t get that from our suppliers and it’s hard to depend on other people.”
How do you maintain a work-life balance? Leader’s first priority is spending time with husband Brian and their children, Andrew, 13, and Lexi, 11. “When you have great people at work and a great team … you have to learn to let go a little bit. That is one of the things that I’ve been able to do as I grow.”
What strengths do women bring to the workplace? “In general, I think that women are really good listeners. In a working environment, I think it’s really important that you have the ability to listen not only to your customers’ needs but to your employees’ needs, and people appreciate that.”
Who or what has been your biggest inspiration? “My inspiration to get this company where I want it to go is coming from within,” Leader says. “People can influence you, and there are a lot of people who you would like to emulate … but you need self-drive and you need to look within and say ‘I can do this. I can get it done.’ ”
What are your goals for the next five years? Making more time for family, maintaining a good culture and work environment and making Leaderpromos a $100 million company, Leader says.
How can employers ensure that more women achieve high-ranking positions? “As mothers, we need to encourage our daughters who are going to be the women of our workforce coming up that they can do whatever they want,” Leader says. “I also think that it’s important to get involved in different organizations—like the Women’s Fund and YWCA—and help mentor women to get back into the career force.”
Michelle Davey is an editorial assistant and Jennifer Wray is a staff writer for Columbus C.E.O.
Reprinted from the May 2012 issue of Columbus C.E.O. Copyright © Columbus C.E.O.