Lesson on Leadership | Inspiring Women in Business | UIowa American Marketing Association

A Lesson on Leadership Taught by Three of the Most Inspiring Women in Business

Written by: Rhiana Chickering

On Friday, September 30, 2016, three inspirational women of Von Maur, a billion-dollar retail company, visited The University of Iowa: Melody Wright, Chief Operations Officer; Gayle Haun, Director of Human Resources; and Amy Rotert, Vice President of Stores.

In order to have an intimate discussion with the Von Maur business leaders, 10 American Marketing Association members and 10 Women in Business members met Melody, Gayle, and Amy at The Iowa Memorial Union for a lunch discussion.

Dressed in professional business attire, and fashionable heels (of course!), they stood at the front of the room, and spoke to us regarding their roles at Von Maur.

Gayle, Director of HR at Von Maur, shared her experiences from her Human Resources perspective. Her HR position consists of many human resource details such as hiring, training, employee benefits, and handling any issues that arise.

Amy, VP of Stores at Von Maur, ensures that the security and needs of each Von Maur store is met. For example, if there is a break-in at a store, she must drop everything she is working on at that moment and travel to the store as soon as possible.

Melody Wright, Chief Operations Officer of Von Maur, explained what her position entailed as a COO as she oversees the business operations of Von Maur. Melody ensures that business operations are running smoothly by making crucial decisions that affect everyone in the company and by communicating with her employees.

The discussion was quite personal and advice driven, which was interesting and beneficial deriving from their work life experiences that we could learn from.

A key topic in our discussion was in regard to work-life balance. Melody’s questions for us was, “How important is that to you?” As it turns out, financial stability is more important than work-life balance to the three Von Maur leaders, as it is for much of us who attended the Von Maur lunch.

Melody gave us valuable advice to travel somewhere for your career, regardless of your boyfriend or husband’s resistance because relocation helps people develop mentally and socially. Many of us know someone who has given up an extraordinary opportunity to stay with her boyfriend, so this was a piece of advice that many women need to hear.

However, one should not be busy trying to “climb the career ladder.” Titles of positions never mattered to Melody, Gayle, or Amy. They should strive to succeed by working to the best of their ability while enjoying their work, and success will follow.

No matter how successful a person becomes, he or she must stay grounded. Never think lowly of anything or anyone.

One should always feel that no job is too lowly. As Melody advised, “If you see a gum wrapper on the floor, pick it up.” Never think you are above any task.

In addition to general career advice, they spoke to us about more specific aspects of careers and internships.

No matter what position individuals are in, they must always take notes to refer back to when a manager or coworker provides them with instructions. However, most importantly, we must be able to accept feedback. Instead of becoming defensive, we must ask how we may improve. Constructive criticism should be considered a form of training.

Even managers have room for improvement, which is why Melody believes managers must learn from those they manage.

Ultimately the key to success is to work hard.

The most successful people in life never feel completely prepared for their next promotion; they may even feel scared because they understand that they must learn, change and work extremely hard throughout their position as they prove that they can succeed in their new career.

All of us were extremely pleased with the expertise of three of Von Maur’s inspirational leaders as they explained their careers throughout the discussion.

Melody, Gayle, and Amy equipped us with knowledge that students cannot obtain from classes, but only learn from experience and from those who have experienced such a variety of leadership and non-leadership positions. We can use the additional knowledge they have shared with us through their expertise to improve ourselves in our future career.

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