Her Voice: Game Changer at the Top

There are very few women at the top of EMS companies. Can you name one? It’s hard to find women in top positions within this industry. Socially, women are taught to nurture and boys are influenced to lead. Today’s women can excel and lead, yet the statistics show otherwise. Women comprise 51% of the U.S. population yet only 4% are in CEO roles. They fill more than 60% of all entry-level positions but only 28% rise to manager-level roles; this number decreases at every subsequent level. While many Fortune 500 companies are moving in the right direction, this is not true for the EMS industry. Being at the forefront of technology, one would think that they would embrace female leadership, yet surprisingly the industry is lagging way behind. 

mhknox.jpgSince executive women in the EMS industry are few and far between, I researched women who have succeeded in other industries. I wanted to learn from them and be inspired by them. One is Maggie Hardy Knox. Many of you may not know that name, but why would you?  She is in the lumber business (another "man’s industry"). She is the owner and CEO of 84 Lumber Co., the largest privately-owned building materials supplier in the U.S.

Although Maggie didn’t start the company on her own, she has been the CEO for nearly 30 years. It was founded by her father Joe Hardy in 1956, in the village of Eighty Four, Pennsylvania. Maggie is responsible for making it what it is today, an estimated $4 billion market leader, a journey that began in 1992 when her father skipped over his eldest son (the COO who had worked his way up to that position) and handed the reins to his youngest daughter Maggie, who was only 26 years old at the time. This unprecedented move was a game changer for the lumber business.  

Maggie immediately refocused the company to serve the needs of the changing market. She expanded into custom door shops and component manufacturing plants alongside their engineered wood product centers and custom millwork nationwide. This move drove revenues up over $1 billion for the first time in 1993. She steered the company in an era when the industry was changing its entire culture.  She listened to her associates and plotted a new course for the lumber company. According to her Linked In page, her nurturing leadership style includes promoting from within and treating associates with dignity and respect as members of a family. 

During the 2009 housing market, she was fearless. Going against all odds and against her father’s advice as well as her advisors, she barely missed bankruptcy. Using her own personal finances and borrowing at loan shark interest rates, she began to close select stores to stave off a complete disaster. This move ultimately proved to be successful and by 2012 she had brought the company back up over $2 billion.   

Maggie is the youngest of five children and has a 48-year age gap between father and daughter, but she was raised free of stereotypes. Growing up, she preferred playing with the boys and it wasn’t unusual to find her at a young age tagging along with her father to the lumberyard, a store grand opening, or a board meeting. One of her early memories, according to the Wall Street Journal[1], is pushing open her father’s office door and seeing him standing on his chair, screaming, and hurling clumps of papers at a bewildered lawyer. In her current office hangs a picture of her at age five, wearing a rumpled hat and holding a shovel alongside her father, who was holding an ax. His influence obviously made a big impression on her.  

Still today, society influences our daughters to nurture and our sons to lead. Maggie’s father didn’t see her as a daughter but only as his child. He saw no boundaries. Maggie escaped social influences and has proven repeatedly her business smarts, ability to lead, make tough decisions, and to win. In November 2020, the company hit a record-breaking $4 billion in annual sales, with Maggie at the helm. 

Women should not be discounted. Like men, they have the talent and desire to win and excel. They should not be stereotyped, for they have the potential to be the next leaders of the EMS industry—a game changer at the top.  

“I don't pretend there aren't biological differences, but I don't believe the desire for leadership is hardwired biology, not the desire to win or excel. I believe that it's socialization, that we're socializing our daughters to nurture and our boys to lead.”  —Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook

Christine Davis is a woman leader in today's electronics industry. She founded and successfully ran an EMS company, CAMtek, for 20 years before selling to Zentech Bloomington.  



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