Top Women Profile: Margi Vagell
The home improvement industry continues to increase its number of women in leadership positions, and one such leader sat down with HBSDealer to discuss her experience within the business and how culture, diversity and inclusion are business imperatives at Lowe’s.
Margi Vagell is senior vice president, merchandising, home décor, with Lowe’s Companies, Inc. Vagell discussed her own career development in the hardware and building supply industry, and she shared insight into how she reads a room.
“Discussing culture, diversity and inclusion (CD&I) isn’t an exception but rather a constant, in a positive, productive way,” Vagell said of the Mooresville, N.C.-based company, adding that the conversation begins with the company’s commitment to recruiting diverse talent and continues with its pledge to keep CD&I part of every business strategy on retaining diverse leaders.
“Bringing different viewpoints to the table – embracing real diversity of thought – gives any company an advantage when tackling projects and challenges,” Vagell said. “With our President and CEO, Marvin Ellison, Lowe’s leadership is living and breathing culture, inclusion and diversity as a pivotal mindset for good business. Marvin understands the importance of diversity of experience and diversity of expertise.”
As one of the industry’s Top Women in Hardware & Building Supply, Vagell’s own career, which includes nearly 11 years at Lowe’s, has encompassed what she described as five lateral moves before a promotion to the vice president level. At each position, she gained experience that prepared her for greater responsibility. She shared her approach to growing in a career.
“You can’t fixate on the job you want,” she said. “Instead, I think you should focus on excelling at the job you have. Early on, my mentors encouraged me to dive into each new role with that perspective, and as a result, I’m a better, more productive leader. Then when I’ve taken on new roles, I went in with a fresh hunger to work hard and excel.”
As mom of two school-age children, Vagell dismisses a global definition of work/life balance. “The word ‘balance’ is subjective, and gender equality has to go beyond a paycheck,” Vagell said. “We need to hold associates to the same standard of performance while also providing associates the tools to succeed at both work and home life.”
Vagell tries to keep a pulse on how she feels she’s contributing. “If I feel good about how I’m contributing at work and my family is thriving, then the effect is cyclical. I feel better about coming to work every day, and my husband and children feel positive about our daily lives. But it’s impossible to keep a constant balance – the idea that work and home life are existing at exactly the same levels of harmony. Life doesn’t work that way.”
Vagell’s husband is a stay-at-home Dad who oversees the remote learning a global pandemic has required. They have an autistic child who has helped them understand how pivoting from the expected can deliver levels of pride, joy and love neither may have ever envisioned otherwise.
“When my children need me, I am confident enough in how I deliver at work that I can shift my focus to where it’s needed most. And yes, we all have moments when both parts of life – work and family – are in a tug of war. So much comes down to communication and giving grace.”
Vagell’s leadership philosophy is to look outward and try to understand what motivates each team member. “My responsibility is to bring out the best in my team, which takes earning trust and maintaining communication. I’m not perfect at it, but I’m always trying.”
She talked about having the right mindset before even entering a room full of colleagues – which means not feeling a need to prove something. “It's less about proving yourself and more about understanding who is in the room. And it's less about you showing them what drives you. It's about you figuring out what drives them. And so, you have to be really unselfish in order to figure out how best to work with a team and to achieve your team goals.”
Vagell shared her pride in Lowe’s accomplishments through the pandemic, an environment few could have ever predicted. “Establishing a leadership foundation focused on how culture, diversity and inclusion have to be embedded in the business makes it easier as a company to pivot when that’s needed. We feel privileged to be able to stay open and serve customers who need the products and services we offer, and I know every day we’re making decisions backed by the right actions.”