08/29/2013 11:35 am ET Updated Oct 29, 2013

Women in Business: Q&A With Meg Roberts, President of Molly Maid

Meg Roberts, 40, is the President of national cleaning franchise Molly Maid, who worked her way up to earn the top spot at a company that she grew up down the street from.

After realizing that an advertising career in Chicago wasn't conducive to a family life or social life, Meg packed her bags and moved back home to her native roots in Ann Arbor, Michigan -- not far from the Molly Maid headquarters. In 2007, Meg was hired as Molly Maid's Director of Marketing, where she immediately put her sharp marketing acumen to work and introduced an online customer-building campaign -- resulting in a 150 percent increase in lead generation. For three consecutive years after, Molly Maid surpassed double-digit sales growth under Meg's leadership.

In 2011, Meg served as Vice President of Marketing for Molly Maid, and sister company Mr. Handyman, and was promoted to President of Molly Maid in September 2012. Currently, the company has more than 450 U.S. locations and sales are up six percent from last year.

How has your journey from the bottom up made you the leader you are today?

I have always worked with great people on very well-balanced teams. I had some great bosses early on who asked my opinion when I was the most junior member of the team -- that built my confidence, challenged me and made me feel like a contributor. As I've had more opportunities, both official and unofficial, to lead and guide teammates, I've used the "inclusive" approach to build stronger, more collaborative and enthusiastic teams. I learned early that including people is the best way to learn, and that "exclusive" leaders might suffer from too much distance between their ideas and the great ideas of their staff.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?

It's very difficult -- and for anyone who says it's not, I'd like to know their secret. For me the critical piece is putting the phone out of reach, out-of-pocket, out of sight. Those hours between work, school and bed time are too precious to winnow away on emails that can wait. I do my very best to focus those hours on spending time with my sons, truly hearing their stories and just sharing easy time together.

What is the secret to successfully changing careers at any point in your life?

I think it's important to think about what you really enjoy doing and what your skills are beyond your academic training. For me, my emphasis had always been on advertising and marketing with my early career starting in the agency world. When I dug deep into where I excelled in my advertising career, it wasn't really the creative per se, but in how I used creativity to better collaborate, coach, influence decision making and help develop and direct people to success. I continue to use those skills to tap into talents of our employees and lead our franchise business owners to embrace new ways to grow. It's been exciting to help people transition from working in a corporate environment, serving in the military or even those who have already retired into owning their own businesses. Though their backgrounds are diverse, those who are great at leading teams, serving customers and have high standards can follow a proven operating model and accomplish their lifestyle and financial goals.

What advice can you offer young individuals hoping to start a career in a company or industry similar to the one that Molly Maid operates in?

In my opinion, there are two keys things for young people starting out. One, keep an open mind -- you never know what job might lead to another opportunity and what opportunity could turn into a career. If there's an industry you're certain you want to be part of -- consider different paths to getting in that door. Two, make real sincere connections. Young people today may have lots of connections and they know the drill of adding "friends," but the key is to develop real relationships with meaningful dialogue. Identify a few possible mentors within a company and ask for their time, their guidance or some simple coaching.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure as President of Molly Maid?

It was quite the leap from my role as Vice President of Marketing to President of a brand who has been around for nearly 30 years with some of our very first customers and employees! There were a lot of expectations and many people depending on me and this team to maintain our focus on attracting new business through industry-leading web initiatives to continuing our positive sales growth momentum by delivering consistent high-quality house cleaning and exceptional customer service. The first challenge, personally, was really getting my arms around all the other departments, their deliverables and recasting energy to the right priorities. Pushing through that challenge delivered the greatest highlight of the year -- the emergence of a class of leaders, many who started together with me around six years ago, rising to a new level of ownership, responsibility and contribution. Our focus has never been tighter and our vision as clear for how we will save our customers time by taking cleaning their homes off their "to do" lists and fulfilling the demand for our service in over 200, pre-crafted territories currently without a Molly Maid!

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?

I recall early in my career being warned by a male teammate about being too assertive as it might be confused with being overly aggressive. No doubt I was ambitious and assertive but I thought I was careful not to be too aggressive per se -- I knew the difference. As equality in the workplace continues to evolve in a positive direction, it has been my observation that the younger generation of Millennials have an ingoing assumption of equality and personality traits or styles aren't related to needing to overcome gender. An assertive woman is simply an assertive woman.

What are your thoughts on Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In book and movement?

Like all books, the reader has a choice to apply some, all or none of the author's perspective and based on a few reviews I was thinking perhaps not much would resonate for me. I was pleasantly surprised when I found myself really relating to more of what Ms. Sandberg shared than I had anticipated. Personally, beyond the sage advice and thoughtful perspective, I most appreciated the authenticity of her approach. Ms. Sandberg shared her moments of insecurity and admitted to feeling of inadequacy and "being discovered." It was a relief to know I wasn't alone in those feelings and her admission of self-doubt gave me permission to have those feelings and know they're normal. There's a certain "aloneness" in achievement that is often associated with women and her showing vulnerability really made me feel less alone.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?

I've had many great mentors in my career but the most significant will always be my first during my tenure at BBDO Chicago. My supervisor was from Dusseldorf and he saw potential in me that was going to be unrealized if I didn't learn the skill of active-listening. He coached and mentored me for two years, regularly coming back to this area of opportunity -- insisting I would realize the benefit one day. He knew from experience, no matter how smart or assertive, if I couldn't prove to listen and collaborate, it was unlikely I would have the opportunity to share and grow in a career that required teamwork. To this day I think about actively listening, making sure I'm truly hearing the concerns of my clients or teammates, that I'm not racing to an answer without considering their point of view.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?

To pick out specific women seems too narrow. There are simply too many female leaders in my life, my heart and my work to name but one. Whether it's my mother who's raised four children, and still has energy for seven grandchildren, my sisters balancing demanding careers and young children, my teammates just starting out in their careers and working late into the night or the women I most admire in the franchising community who extend their time and support to me. All of them are exceptional to me for their achievements but I admire them most for their willingness to share their wisdom and experiences with me.

What are your hopes for Molly Maid's future?

My hope is the Molly Maid brand can continue to grow and flourish as the name synonymous with a clean and comfortable home. It's simple, when we do our job superbly we are delighting customers and they are advocates for our service. This advocacy builds the business, creates the jobs and provides the lifestyle our franchisees are seeking. There's no shortage of people in need of Molly Maid service, there's no shortage of territories for Molly Maid to award and there's no shortage of energy at our home office to make our franchisees a success.