Laura Ritchey, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, Radial Inc.

Read the full interview here

  • Laura Ritchey

    Q. What were some of the important early influences that really shaped who you are as a leader today?

    A. I grew up in Ohio. My father was in law enforcement — the Ohio State Highway Patrol. So I moved quite a lot growing up. I went to five different schools by the time I graduated from high school. I always needed to make friends when I went to a new school. That shaped a lot of my personality in terms of how I interact with people and my comfort in new settings and getting to know people.

    I also joined the Girl Scouts, which focuses on teaching you life skills, courage. I learned how to build a campfire, for example, and then as a young leader, I was able to help other young women learn that.

  • Laura Ritchey

    Q. Where does your drive and stamina come from?

    A. I have a knack for going into situations, diagnosing what the issues are, and solving problems. I get a lot of energy from improving things, and getting things back to a healthy state if they are not working so well.

    I also grew up in a competitive family, and we played a lot of sports. So you develop that team spirit that wants to win. You also learn what it’s like to lose, and how to come back and get better.

  • Laura Ritchey

    Q. Have you faced any headwinds in your career because you’re a woman?

    A. There were not a lot of female executives as I was coming up in the supply chain. So for me, it was more about being the only female at the table. It was challenging to make sure that my voice was heard. But I got really good feedback early on from a boss who said, “You don’t have to prove you’re smart.”

    I was so eager to have my seat at the table that I thought that meant sharing ideas often. But that feedback made me sit back and think, why am I talking? What do I have to add to the conversation? The lesson was, don’t speak up just to prove that you can speak up, but speak up because you are adding value.

    That was a great insight for me. I still coach people on that today, both men and women, because when you’re ambitious, you can be blind to the fact that you’re maybe talking over people or that you could come across as a know-it-all, which actually diminishes the chair that you’ve earned.

    You also have to make sure that you can prove yourself. You don’t get a seat at the table and then not deliver results. It’s really important to make sure that you are advocating for yourself. That’s a bit of a contradiction. You have to be careful that you’re not a know-it-all, but you also have to advocate for yourself and say, “I earned this chair. I’m going to earn the next chair. This is how I’m going to bring the team along with me.”

  • Laura Ritchey

    Q. Other key leadership lessons?

    A. When the team does well, you stand behind them. When the team doesn’t succeed, you stand in front. People watch to see how you react in times of success and in times of difficulty. It’s about striking the balance of wanting your team to shine, but that reflects positively on you as a leader.

    When you face challenges, you have to hold the team accountable, but at the same time, you have their back while you figure out what you need to fix or how you need to pivot. Being humble as a leader helps you strike that balance.

  • Laura Ritchey

    Q. What is the most common advice that you share with other women?

    A. I always start with build your network, build your network, build your network. It’s very easy to get heads-down. You might have a family, so that’s going to take additional time. But it’s really important to build that network. If you can, squeeze in a not-for-profit board, so that you meet people in the community and give back.

    Make sure that you’re talking to people in other departments at your company. Join a networking organization and maintain those contacts, because at some point you may want to change careers and someone in your network will know someone. Don’t be afraid to ask the people you’re networking with to connect you to that next person.

    The other advice I share is to focus less on achieving certain titles and more on building your toolkit. I started in finance, then I went into supply chain. It’s important to know something about technology. Think about really being a well-rounded person.

  • Laura Ritchey

    Q. Was there a moment when you feel like you made the jump from manager to leader, not in terms of title but in terms of mindset?

    A. I had been in finance for many years, and I moved to a retail company. My boss at the time, who was the COO, said, “I think you really could do well in operations.” So he pulled me into our emerging new businesses and said, “You’re going to start this.”

    You can imagine that as a finance professional, I said, “Where are my numbers? Where is my business plan?” They said, “You don’t have any. You have to make it happen.” So that was a defining moment for me as a leader because I really was out of my comfort zone. I had to challenge myself to think through things differently, to ask for help in a different way.

    That helped hone my problem-solving skills, which has helped me be a more effective leader. I coach people to have that same skill, to navigate difficult times and to accelerate in good times. That’s what leadership is all about.