Focus on Leadership: Jeff Meadows, Mohawk’s president of residential sales - July 2019
Interview by Kemp Harr
Jeff Meadows, president of residential sales for Mohawk, entered the flooring industry after college and has spent his career with Shaw, Beaulieu and Mohawk, working in a wide variety of positions across the industry. Meadows, second generation in flooring, possesses a keen business intellect and has chalked up some impressive stats over the course of his career, such as increasing Shaw’s rug business from $35 million in revenue to $200 million in five years. Meadows and his wife JoAnna live in downtown Chattanooga.
Q: What are the highlights of your college days at Kent State?
A: I majored in marketing and management at Kent State, though playing sports was definitely the highlight of my college days. I played basketball on two teams. One was made up of mostly inner-city kids, and the other was made up of country-club kids. I wasn’t really a part of either world, so it was interesting to learn how to play and interact with everyone.
Q: Do you think being a starter on a college basketball team contributes to your success in business today?
A: While playing basketball, I learned a lot about each of my teammates. When a game was on the line, there were certain people who would take the shot, not knowing whether they would make or miss it. No matter the consequences, which sometimes came down to winning or losing, they would take the shot. Others would only take the shot when there were no consequences. It’s the same way in business.
Q: What led you to focus your career in the flooring business after college?
A: My parents had a flooring store, so pursuing a career in flooring was the last thing I wanted to do. I wanted to get into the oil business, which probably had something to do with the TV show Dallas. J.R. Ewing was the show’s most popular character, and I wanted to be like him, so I took a job with Standard Oil in Lexington, Kentucky.
While I was in their training program, one of the Shaw sales reps who worked with my parents asked my parents if he could meet with me. He and I knew each other because I used to let him into my high school gym to play basketball when he was in town. He was always good to my dad, so I did my dad a favor and went out to lunch with the rep. That lunch resulted in me deciding to get out of the oil business and into the flooring business.
Q: Give us a brief synopsis of the roles you've held over the years.
A: At Shaw, I was a territory manager, district manager, regional vice president. I then ran the residential sales business, the retail business for two years, and during my last five years with Shaw, I ran the rug business.
At Beaulieu, I ran their sales business. After a year there, I oversaw everything but manufacturing.
I came to Mohawk as the vice president of national accounts. I then took over residential sales for open line accounts and home centers. I’m now the president of residential sales.
Q: What is the most rewarding role you’ve had up until now?
A: The rug business was very rewarding. It was a business of about $35 million when I took over, and it was worth over $200 million five years later. We entered a lot of channels that we weren’t in initially when we were focused solely on open-line retail.
We took the business to the big box and Walmart, and we made a bath acquisition along the way. It was fun to have an entire business. We had manufacturing, marketing and sales-the whole piece.
Q: I’ve heard that you and Bob Shaw got along very well. Why do you think Bob respected you as one of his go-to managers?
A: Mr. Shaw was one of my mentors in this industry, and I’ve always respected him. I learned a lot from him, and we had fun along the way.
Q: You’ve always had a good business sense. Who taught you how important it was to understand the big picture?
A: I think good business sense is one of those things that you have or don’t have. It’s an instinct, not something you learn. Not everyone can understand the big picture view of where a business is headed from a blank piece of paper. It takes a lot of vision and strategy to convince people-to paint the picture for them-of the right way to go.
Q: What challenges do you face as you step into Tom Lape’s former role at Mohawk? Where will you spend most of your time?
A: I’ll spend most of my time diving into each individual channel-figuring out the way to take share in those channels using brands and innovation and creating a good mix so that we can do more business. I’ll be focusing on providing perspective, context, strategy and vision for our go-to-market strategy while also coaching and growing future business leaders.
Q: Why does hard surface flooring continue to take share from carpet? Are we close to equilibrium?
A: Carpet will never drop below 40%, which means we are close to equilibrium. The industry is close to leveling out. In some areas, carpet is going to make a comeback. It all comes down to innovation. Consumers love innovation with meaningful benefits. Carpet still provides warmth, sound reduction and comfort, and people don’t want to give that up.
Q: How will Paul De Cock’s strategic business unit strategy improve Mohawk’s performance?
A: Paul’s focus is on the customer. He has a drive for innovation, and he is placing a critical importance on talent development. People are at the center of our strategy and drive all our priorities.
Q: How has the Internet changed the floorcovering business?
A: The Internet has radically changed the business. The consumer today is more knowledgeable and versed in different floorcoverings and brands. Even though consumers spend more time online researching flooring today, there is still a significant number of transactions done offline in a store environment.
Q: What is the most effective way for Mohawk to get its brand message to consumers?
A: Our website. We get millions of hits on our website every year, and we have a ton of content there, so consumers can find out about our products.
We try to direct customers and respond back with more information, and, a lot of times, we have a coupon we’ll give them to apply to a purchase. Our website is where we have the biggest bang for our buck in terms of direct communication with consumers.
Q: Do you think the floorcovering business will continue to be a great career focus for people who are just finishing college?
A: Flooring is a great career for those just coming out of college. While it’s traditionally regarded as a building products industry, it’s very innovative and dynamic. And it’s going to be around forever: everyone needs flooring.
Q: What character traits are important for successful leadership in the business world?
A: My view is that people need leaders, not just managers. It’s important today, with so many diverse backgrounds coming together in the workplace, that value should be placed on the emotional intelligence of leaders.
Q: Who do you consider to be your mentor?
A: My dad. Even though he never went to college, he knew how to relate to people and take something that was complex and make it simple. And he happened to be my best friend along the way.
Q: How old are your grandchildren now?
A: I’ve got three now. Two three-year-olds and a newborn. I’m on my way to having a basketball team.
Q: What do you do for fun?
A: I spend time with friends and family, including chasing down my grandsons, who are always on the move.
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