Focus on Leadership: Elizabeth Hurley brings a wealth of experience to her VP role at Shaw – January 2023
Interview by Kemp Harr
Elizabeth Hurley, vice president of retail and national accounts for Shaw Industries, was born in Chicago and attended DePaul University. Elizabeth spent four years with Interface in business development, then transitioned to Allsteel, a manufacturer of office furniture and architectural products, as business development manager. At Kimball, another workplace furniture manufacturer, she served in various roles over the course of 11 years, before rejoining the flooring industry with Tarkett and, now, Shaw.
Elizabeth lives in New Alexandria, Virginia with her husband and teenaged son.
Q: How did you end up focusing your career on the flooring/interior finishes business?
A: Growing up, my dad was in commercial property management, and my mom was in residential design. I was always tagging along to NeoCon and design show houses. I loved design, but I also loved meeting new people. For that reason, many of my early jobs in high school and college were customer-facing. My favorite job was waitressing because I got to meet so many different people and learn so much from them. It was why I studied communications in college. I had a strong desire to not only understand people but also to figure out how I might be able to help them.
Q: You started with Interface, moved to the office furniture sector, then transitioned back to flooring but shifting from commercial to residential. Tell us about those transitions.
A: My early career was mainly in the commercial furnishings industry. I started in furniture as a project manager with the desire to move into sales. I worked for one of the best salespeople in our market and learned quickly that the more you know, the better equipped you are to respond to the needs of your customers. So, I learned by doing. I met furniture trucks at 4:00 a.m.; I helped installers assemble cubicles; and I worked on specifications and drawings into the late hours of the night to truly understand our product and know how it was the right fit for the customers we were servicing.
Once I felt I was proficient in one area, I sought the next challenge. I took a sales role in a new city, moving from my hometown of Chicago to Washington, D.C. I didn’t know anyone, but I wanted to try something new and hone my skills in business development. Looking back on it, that was a turning point for me. I left my comfort zone, and I truly believe that is what allowed me to trust myself and opened my mind to real growth and change. It is okay to have butterflies about new beginnings-that is a sign you are about to experience growth.
After I found success navigating a new city and networking to meet new customers and friends, I had a solid foundation for whatever opportunity would come next. I was careful in selecting the best opportunities for not just my skillset, but ones that would push me and drive me to the next level in my career. I gravitated towards any role that allowed me to either enhance my own perspective or bring a fresh perspective to a new team. Having the courage to take risks and try new things has provided me with a rewarding career that has taught me a multitude of perspectives-and I believe they’ve all had an impact and a hand in shaping who I am today.
They’ve also set me up for success in my new role leading Shaw’s retail and national accounts. Consider the product portfolio now under my sales team(s), which includes Anderson Tuftex, Coretec, Philadelphia Commercial, Shaw Floors and TotalWorx. Look at current interior design trends and the emphasis on resimercial spaces. Success in my position requires a diverse background that includes knowledge of both residential and commercial customers. I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I also know I bring a lot of tools to the fight-and I’m ready to win.
Q: How did your time at Interface, Kimball and Tarkett prepare you for your current role at Shaw?
A: We learn through our experiences, and mine have shaped me into who I am today. The bulk of my career has been in the home interiors industry, and each of the various leadership positions I’ve held has taught me to lead by example. Be responsive. Follow through. Listen and learn. These skills translate to success no matter where you apply them.
While I’m thrilled to be part of the Shaw team and find myself truly at home with Shaw, I’m exceptionally grateful for the time I’ve spent learning and growing with other flooring companies. The exposure to the inner workings of our industry, as well as the customer and vendor relationships I made are invaluable.
Q: What were a few of most noteworthy achievements in your 23 years focusing on this business?
A: When I think back on the achievements I’m most proud of, they mostly fall into a few key areas that I believe drive success.
The first is working to fill a gap or need. Often in life, we don’t have the answers or tools we need to achieve our goals. Where I’ve experienced success in these instances is when I decided to step in and do something myself rather than waiting on someone else to do it. One specific example that comes to mind is when I took a proposal to the boardroom recommending that my team manage two additional departments. It was very much an unsolicited proposal. And I, admittedly, wasn’t an expert in either new discipline I was volunteering to lead. But I knew it was what the business needed to help tear down silos and improve accountability. And I knew I had the skills needed to bring people together to solve the problem. I saw a need and took a leap of faith-and it worked.
Another example is when I stepped in and formed a networking group for the Commercial Real Estate for Women (CREW). I was a member, and, again, I saw a gap, so I worked to fill it. I went on to serve as president of CREW, and I actually held that role while I was working in the furniture industry, not commercial real estate. For me, this proves the impact you can have if you simply speak up and share your ideas. I’m reminded of a Lily Tomlin quote that I’ll leave your readers with on this topic, “I always wondered why somebody didn’t do something about that. Then I realized I was somebody.”
The second key area I prioritize is continuous learning. During my career, I had the great fortune to lead a distributor business. I worked in lockstep with the president and learned all the ins and outs of their operations. I saw how different aspects of the business worked together, or didn’t, and really got to dig in and problem solve at every level. I even helped with the hiring of a new president, managing the transition of power and information to ensure continued success. I learn continuously to keep myself and my skills fresh. I’ve studied at the London Business School, and I do my best to help future leaders through teaching courses in cold calling, cognitive ergonomics, and networking, accredited by IIDA.
Finally, I believe in the power of people. And I’ve seen success in my career when I’ve invested in myself and, perhaps more importantly, when I’ve helped elevate others. A great example of this is when I led the merger of different sales teams after an acquisition. To be successful, I had to focus not only on the needs of the business, but also the needs of the people. It required empathy and the ability to effectively communicate, not only to reach my audience but to motivate and inspire them to change and work towards a new, shared purpose. I’m also honored for the recognition I’ve received throughout my career (salesperson of the year, rookie of the year, and team of the year), but I’ve found my true passion is helping others, particularly other women, succeed in their careers.
Q: What attracted you to Shaw Industries for this stage in your career?
A: The people. Shaw has the best talent in the industry, and I knew that to be true even when I worked outside of flooring. When I returned to the flooring industry, I knew Shaw was where I wanted to be. After I experienced Scott Sandlin and his team’s passion firsthand, it was clear that Shaw’s residential division was where I fit.
Beyond being the best in the business, Shaw associates are caring. We give back to the communities we serve, and we live Shaw’s core values of honesty, integrity and passion. Through organizations like the United Way, Homes For Our Troops and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Shaw gives its associates-and our customers-a way to make a positive impact in the lives of others.
Q: How do you balance the demands and needs of your retail and national account customers?
A: When serving a diverse customer base, it’s important to surround yourself with a diverse team of people with strong individual skillsets and unique perspectives. From there, you coach and develop to gain alignment on a singular vision and ensure you keep the shared needs of your customers at the center of everything you do and every decision you make. It’s critical to research and ask questions to understand the hardships and the desires of your customers. Listen and learn, then prepare the plan and, if it’s a good one, stick to it. If you’ve done your homework right, your strategy is set. Your strategy informs your priorities, and then you execute flawlessly. Of course, life rarely follows any plan perfectly, and there will be challenges and setbacks. But you keep an open, honest dialogue with your customers and make strategic, not reactive, adjustments as needed.
Q: What are the biggest challenges you face in your role at Shaw? And what are your goals in this position?
A: As with any large organization, prioritization and alignment will be the biggest challenges a leader faces. That’s why having a clear strategy that the whole team understands and believes in is so important. And you must have strong relationships built on candor and trust to achieve that. So, I’ll try to keep a wide-angle view to ensure I’m considering all perspectives, and cross-functional collaboration will be non-negotiable.
Q: Tell us why it’s important to not try to be all things to all people when it comes to your relationship with your channel and customers.
A: It’s important to set realistic goals. Why work hard at something that you can’t achieve? We will never be all things to all customers, but we can set ideals and standards. What I can promise all customers is that I’ll be responsive and transparent, and that I’ll listen to, respect and leverage diverse perspectives.
Q: Who would you say were your mentors, and what did they teach you?
A: I’ve been lucky to have many mentors throughout my career. Countless family members, coworkers, teachers, coaches and friends have all shaped who I am today, and I’m grateful for the impact each has had on my life. One mentor in particular is Max Holland, COO of FEI Group and president of Home Solutions. Max recruited me into the flooring industry and taught me so many valuable lessons, like not to take myself too seriously or forget that I have the tools and the aptitude to succeed.
Q: Over the course of your career, I am sure you have seen many changing opportunities for women in senior leadership roles. What are the greatest lessons you’ve learned, and how have these lessons changed your approach to business?
A: Here’s what I want women to know: 1) Ask for what you want. 2) Have the confidence to be yourself. 3) Have-and be-advocates! Let’s face it, with fewer women seated around the table, we need the support of advocates. One way I help advocate for other women is through Chief, a private network for women in business. Members come together monthly to learn from one another and discuss various business topics. But don’t get me wrong, men should advocate for women too, and many do. I’m proud of Shaw for having associate resource groups (ARGs) like our Women’s Innovation Network (WiN). WiN is comprised of men and women across the enterprise who have come together in support of each other, and I look forward to getting the opportunity to work closer with them.
Q: How do you balance your work life with your family life?
A: I think the false notion that you can have this perfect balance actually drives more stress in our lives. As women, we tend to think we need to do it all to achieve balance. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. Balance, if it can be achieved, is reached through learning to let go. I travel a great deal for my job, and so my husband, my 16-year-old son and I approach things as a unit. We plan ahead, and we divide and conquer. They’re my biggest fans, and I’m theirs, and because our goals are shared, we figure out the rest, and we make it work.
Q: What do you do for fun when you’re not focused on the success of Shaw Industries?
A: I run to stay strong and have some time to myself. Exercise clears your head, and I often use the time to reflect on challenges or to listen to podcasts or music that inspires me. I also play golf to spend time with family and friends, and I think it’s important to have hobbies that require you to constantly hone your skills. I like to paint to express my creative side. It’s rewarding to see a vision come to life or just play and experiment with color and texture, without judgment, to see what you might create.
Q: What would you say is the secret to your success?
A: Caring about people has led to my success. The golden rule is what I was taught to live by, and today we take that one step further with the platinum rule that states you do unto others as they would like done to them, regardless of your personal preferences. It’s about respecting the wishes of others and then acting upon those wishes with empathy and inclusion to show them they are seen and valued. As a leader, it’s important to create the right environment where associates feel safe, empowered to embrace change, and connected to something bigger than themselves.
Q: What big challenges do you foresee on the horizon for the flooring business?
A: The biggest challenges facing the flooring business are the same challenges all businesses are facing right now. Workforce dynamics and expectations are shifting, and inflation is impacting consumers. Rising costs will force many homeowners to prioritize other needs over flooring. We must work alongside our customers to drive demand for our products and tell the value story that flooring adds to a home or space. We must also work together to attract and train installers to build the next generation of talent in that vital labor pool.
The silver lining is that housing is in high demand and our industry is already making strides in installer talent acquisition through organizations like the Floor Covering Education Foundation. It will take years of building at our current production rates to even begin to make up the housing deficit in this country. While that means continuous activity in our builder channel, it also bodes well for multifamily housing and retail renovation. Low inventory and high interest rates mean people stay in their current homes and look to update those spaces to accommodate their needs.
Copyright 2023 Floor Focus