Corporate Leadership from a Fresh Perspective: Dean Markley CEO Lori McCallian

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By the fourth quarter of 2012 there were 20 female CEOs running the largest companies in America, accounting for less than 4% of the total number. Although this is a record high (in fact, more than half of those were appointed between 2011 and 2012), it still displays a stunning deprivation of female presence in corporate power positions. Moreover, according to Catalyst, a non-profit organization seeking to expand women’s roles in the workplace, research indicates that one in ten Fortune 500 corporations have no women on their boards, and women’s share of board seats (16.6%) has not grown since 2004.

Music companies have evinced a similar abysmally disproportionate representation. Recently however, Dean Markley introduced Lori McCallian as their new CEO.  Ms. McCallian brings to the company significant experience in management, sales, as well as music.  Ms. McCallian took time out of her busy schedule to discuss with me her background, women in the corporate world, and her vision for Dean Markley.

First, I wanted to congratulation you on your success.

Thank you!

Can you tell us about your background (education and how you started in business)?

My career started in the insurance and financial services industries. I was fortunate to work for some large, successful companies where I learned a lot about management, operations, sales, and business ownership. I also had the opportunity to earn an MBA from Washington University in St. Louis. I spent the most recent few years as a consultant helping companies that needed a “turn around” strategy and execution plan for the future.

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Did you have a particular mentor who really influenced you, and how did that affect your life?

My initial interest in business and entrepreneurship came from growing up in a family business. I spent many school holidays and summers working closely with my dad in his community pharmacies, doing everything from stocking shelves to sweeping the floors to helping with inventory and financial reports. From my dad I learned the value of providing exemplary customer service, doing good work, the importance of commitment, and above all, being ethical in all interactions. My dad was my first example of a strong leader.

When did you decide that this was the path for you?

Though I enjoyed the corporate world, I come from an entrepreneurial family who owned their own businesses and I have continually felt the desire to be part of a private company. I was especially interested in the innovative products that Dean Markley offers and the fact that the products are made in the USA.

How did you become involved with Dean Markley?

A mutual friend introduced Dean and I. Through conversations, I was asked to consult for the company to develop a future strategy. Becoming part of the Dean Markley team was appealing to me because I valued and identified with the 40-year successful history of the company and I appreciated the team’s commitment to the customer through providing quality and innovative products.

Do you play any musical instruments?

Yes, I play the piano. I took lessons for 10 years, while growing up, and played competitively. I have been away from it for some time, but working in the music industry has been great encouragement for me to start playing again.

What were some of the first things you wanted to accomplish upon taking this position with Dean Markley?

Our initial initiatives have been centered on fine-tuning and building upon the 40-year foundation that has been built at Dean Markley. Some of our areas of focus have included reinvigorating our advertising, capitalizing on our enviable artist list, implementing additional customer service and interaction initiatives, and decreasing costs internally to pass along the savings to our distributors, dealers, and customers.

What challenges have you faced being one of only a few women in CEO positions?

I have found most of my challenges to be business related, as opposed to gender related. At the end of the day, it is about bringing value to the marketplace and driving a business result.

In your experience, have you noticed a change in perception of women in the business world?

There seems to be more of a recognition and appreciation in the marketplace that, by their nature, women offer a different, yet valuable perspective to business situations. This can include our ability to multitask and organize large amounts of information, our approach to managing and developing people, and our style of leading a cause. My experience is that, in resolve to this change, it is our responsibility as women to continue to step up and bring our unique talents and abilities to business opportunities by being true to oneself and one’s abilities.

What business leaders do you admire and what lessons have you taken from them?

I tend to study leaders who have circumstances similar to mine, especially when going through times of change and transition. Initially, I was drawn to more traditional stories of proven leaders, such as US Presidents, icons of business, and those advocating for societal change. I have always been drawn to stories of advancing a cause and overcoming odds. More recently, I find myself following stories of mid-sized companies in emerging industries and with new product development. These stories interest me because of the vision and determination needed to evolve a product or a service from simple beginnings to something that the world soon feels it can’t live without.

What advice would you give to a young woman hoping to emulate your success in the business world?

Conduct yourself ethically. Know your strengths and capitalize on them. Continue to develop, learn, and take on new experiences to be the best candidate you can and to contribute in a way that is uniquely you.

In what ways have you been able to empower female employees and help them reach their potential?

Similar to most managers, I look to hire the best candidate—which, many times, has been a female. I tend to hire candidates who are proactive and entrepreneurial, as I prefer to work as part of a team with several strong members, instead of a traditional hierarchy. I look to match talented employees, regardless of gender, with opportunities aligned with their strengths, while looking for projects to further develop skill sets and being an active, available mentor.

What do you see in the future for Dean Markley?

Our emphasis will continue to be on American-made high quality products. We are considering adding some new products such as instruments and accessories to our portfolio very soon. It is also important to me to continuously elevate our level of customer service in day-to-day interactions and through offering value-oriented, innovative products. Further developing our Distributor and Dealer relationships, both domestically and internationally, is a priority, too.

Finally, what kind of music do you listen to?

I am a fan of almost any music from the 80s or 90s. My “go to” music is 80’s rock—especially hair bands (did I just I admit that?).

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For more on Dean Markley and their artist roster (including Lita Ford, Orianthi, Malina Moye, Carl Verheyen, and many more), visit their site here.

Photo credit:  Dean Markley

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