Top women profile series: Jean Fahy

Do it Best’s building materials division manager is an advocate for the industry.

Regardless of gender, Jean Fahy is one of the lucky ones – a leader who has been able to take her passion and turn it into her profession. She’s been looking at floor plans since she was a little girl, a byproduct of living in a series of houses built and designed by her father.

a person posing for the camera

“It was really comfortable for me to go into LBM,” said Fahy, the building materials division manager for Fort Wayne, Ind.-based Do it Best Corp. “I mean, it was just absolutely a perfect fit.”

Fahy was also a perfect fit in the inaugural 2019 class of Top Women in Hardware & Building Supply. She respects authenticity. She encourages leaders to make the extra effort to bring “diversity of voice” into the corner office. And she uses the phrase “bad ass” to describe some of her female peers and mentors in the industry ­(cases in point: Renee Coffman of Vancouver, Wash.-based TAL Holdings and Marianne Thompson from Canada’s Home Hardware.)

In an interview with HBSDealer she shared some LBM insights and how to approach closing the gender gap.

• Her advice to those climbing the corporate ladder:
It’s important to understand your strengths and focus on them. It’s also important to know that the most important thing in business is collaboration and teamwork in support of a mission.

• On the ability to appreciate clashes with job-site building superintendents:
I love those confrontations. It used to fire me up, in a good way, to find the root cause of a problem and de-escalate an emotional situation with facts. And once you go head-to-head with a superintendent, 99% of the time, it will only improve your relationship with them. They’re checking for weaknesses, and once you know that you can be strong, direct and factual, then you can handle those situations. Be confident, but at the same time, be willing to admit when you’re wrong. That combination works so well in this industry, and that’s one reason I love it.

"Once you go head-to-head with a superintendent, 99% of the time, it will only improve your relationship with them."
Jean Fahy

• On early career influences:
Karen Strauss [of Merillat/Masco Cabinet Group] was the first female executive that I ever knew and worked with. She was very professional, extremely smart and held her own in the boardroom. She was often the only woman in the room and always did so well — I really looked up to her. From working with Karen, I developed an understanding and appreciation of being authentic. Karen carried herself with strength and authenticity. She also encouraged and supported me in the organization. And that meant quite a lot.

• On the difference between a mentor and an advocate.
An advocate is different than a mentor. An advocate is someone who says, ‘I’m going to help you get to the next level because I believe in you.’ I think that is how we actually break through to the next level across the industry. And I would imagine that the majority of women, wherever they are in their leadership role, had somebody advocating for them.

• On steps toward diversity
I really do believe that we – the people in power, including the men in power -- have to make a stand. They should want to diversify, because it’s proven over and over in scientific studies that the more diverse voices you have in a company, the more financially successful the company becomes. And so we have to specifically make this intention for diversity, and advocate for those people and get them to the next level.

• On realizing that other people in the industry might be watching:
After I left Petty Windows & Cabinets (in Tucson, Ariz.), a former Petty co-worker shared a story with me. He said that as he was mentoring a young female associate at Petty, he used my career path as an example of what she might accomplish. ‘She started in the same role as you, and now she’s a national accounts manager,’ he told her about me. When he shared that story, it was such an aha moment for me. I thought to myself, ‘Wow. Someone’s looking up to me now.’ That’s when you realize that you have a responsibility to help people and be a mentor.