THE BLOG
11/07/2014 08:18 am ET Updated Jan 07, 2015

Women in Business: Mary Kay Runyan Senior Vice President, Supply Management ServiceMaster Clean, ServiceMaster Restore, AmeriSpec, Furniture Medic and Merry Maids

Mary Kay Runyan joined ServiceMaster in 2010 and serves as senior vice president of supply management, with full responsibility for strategic sourcing and procurement for the company's products and services, ranging from vehicles to technology to marketing and advertising.

Since joining ServiceMaster, Runyan has been a transformational leader, bringing process excellence and a strong customer-centric approach to the role. Since 2010, she has been responsible for one of the largest commercial fleets in the United States. She was promoted to vice president of strategic sourcing and fleet in 2012, leading efforts to categorize and analyze purchasing patterns and identify potential savings, as well as to increase supplier quality, improve supplier diversity and deliver greater overall value to the company.

Prior to joining ServiceMaster, Runyan served as director of North American fleet operations for Coca-Cola Enterprises, where she was responsible for policy, process and operational performance of a $175 million maintenance operation across the United States and Canada, in support of 50,000 pieces of on-road delivery trucks and material handling equipment. Before Coca-Cola, she spent eight years in a variety of leadership positions in fleet, logistics and strategic sourcing at Waste Management, Inc.

After graduating from the United States Naval Academy with a bachelor of science degree in mathematics and operations analysis, Runyan began her career as an aviation maintenance officer for a Navy anti-submarine helicopter squadron in San Diego. She spent seven years on active duty and, during this time, earned a master's degree in logistics engineering from National University in California.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
There are several experiences that have most defined the leader I am today.

The first experience that helped define my leadership style was a family trip through Colorado Springs in 1976. Every year for vacation my parents would take our family to a different part of the country. On our 1976 trip we stopped in Colorado Springs to visit the United States Air Force Academy. It was the first year women were admitted to the service academies, of which I was unaware. I remember walking the grounds of the academy and learning what it meant to be there as a cadet. It was this that helped me understand that this place was training our nation's future leaders. From that day forward, I was determined to attend one of our nations' service academies. I was admitted in 1986 to join the Class of 1990 at the U.S. Naval Academy. I couldn't have met this goal without the support of my parents who helped me believe in myself and that I could accomplish anything I set my mind to. That encouragement has always been a driving factor in my life.

The week I graduated from the Naval Academy, my father, who served in the Navy as an enlisted man in the late 50s, told me he had worked for two types of officers during his time in the Navy. The first was a "yeller and screamer." This type put fear into the sailors and put them on edge. The other type he described held high expectations of the sailors but, for example, made a point to follow up with them after a hot day on the flight deck to ensure everyone had a hot meal and support for tools or training they needed. It was obvious sailors went "above and beyond" for the second type of officer and always out performed those serving under the "yellers." As my Dad told me this story, he pointed his finger right at my nose and said, "And you can guess which type of officer I expect you to be." This quickly became my foundation for leadership. I strive every day to be a supportive leader to my people.

Another key experience was learning who I could rely on for advice. As a brand new ensign in a helicopter squadron based in San Diego, Calif., there were senior enlisted members (mainly chiefs) who would stop by to give me advice. This advice ranged from helping me avoid pitfalls, sharing information that wasn't apparent or sharing their sage wisdom. Although as an officer I was senior in position to the chiefs, I learned fast that the best leaders solicit the sage advice of tenured team members. Since my first job 24 years ago, I know to value and leverage the perspectives of others, regardless of position or job − as a holistic view is the best information from which to run a business (or a helicopter squadron).

My life experiences and the people I've met along the way have helped mold me into the leader I am today. I am fortunate to have led three of the top fleets in the nation, experienced the responsibilities of managing a P&L, learned from wonderful mentors, and worked in the military and business worlds. My mentees have taught me so much about life, work and leadership, and I've had the opportunity to lead high performance teams. When I look back at my career, I am grateful for the unconventional and opportunistic journey it's been.

How has your previous employment experience aided your position at ServiceMaster?
I've benefited from a variety of jobs (supply chain, logistics, general management, running P&L's, training, procurement, aviation operations) in the military and different industries within the business arena. Each opportunity provided new learnings and added to my portfolio of capabilities. The things that remained the same in each job are people - whether building relationships, leading people and teams, serving customers, driving cross-functional solution development or delivering results - all have aided in my preparation for my work at ServiceMaster.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at ServiceMaster?
Throughout my career I've always focused on helping the people with whom I work achieve big business results, often accomplishing more than they thought they could achieve. I love a quote I recently heard by Carly Fiorina: "The highest calling of leadership is to unlock the potential of others." Although I faced challenges in many of my roles, I found a great "high" in rallying teams and supporting people to achieve great things. Unlocking the potential in others to accomplish goals is what I love to do and will continue being the highlight of my career.

What advice can you offer women who are seeking a career in sourcing and procurement?
Go for it! The field is ripe with opportunity for motivated professionals with a passion for building strong internal relationships, strong supplier relationships, and developing and executing strategies that leverage market conditions on behalf of the company for which you are sourcing. Talk with other professionals in the field and find an entry point into a sourcing organization.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
Authenticity in your personal life and career is key. It is about waking up every day and bringing the best of you to work and home, and then going to sleep every night knowing you gave your all. Balance is important.

There are three things I believe help shape who you are and help create a balance as you grow
both professionally and personally. First, commit to being a lifetime learner - everyday life and business are evolving and in order to adapt you have to evolve with it. Second, bring the best of you every single day to your job and your family - go to sleep at night knowing you made the right decisions at work and at home. And lastly, be open to taking an unconventional path, with family and work. You never know what situation will teach you something or mold you into a better person and leader - be brave enough to jump in.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
I think one of the biggest growth opportunities for women, and really anyone, is finding your voice. As we grow in our career and learn who we are, it's important to find your voice on matters and stay true to it. There are times this may prove more difficult but every situation you encounter helps identify your voice. Don't stand on the sidelines, get in there and speak up. Take on new challenges and stretch yourself.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
As I mentioned earlier, I've had the opportunity to work with some amazing mentors and mentees. And most of those relationships have been informal. To me, informal relationships work better than formal ones because the two individuals have formed a strong connection naturally, instead of being assigned to one another.

One mentor who had a huge impact on me is Ed Thompson, former president of Schneider Trucking. I met Ed through another mentor while I was running fleet at Waste Management. As I evolved as a leader, he was there for me to bounce ideas off him and gave me advice, perspectives and business connections that have been invaluable to me.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
The female leaders I admire are strong in conviction, lift other people up, are trustworthy and accomplish results. One woman I recently read about in The Military Times is 1st Lt. Amanda Mathew. I don't know Amanda personally, however, I find her approach to leadership admirable and motivating. Although a new leader (and a first for women) to the deployed 1st Combat Engineer Battalion with the United States Marine Corps, Amanda has earned the respect of her Marines by getting the job done through building trusted bonds with her 50 enlisted Marines, learning from and supporting them.

My own daughter is a cadet in her third year at the United States Military Academy at West Point and has committed to serving our country as an Army officer. She does not yet know how she will use her double major of physics and nuclear engineering, however, her determination to lead soldiers and protect our freedom is highly inspirational to me.

There are thousands of women leaders in today's military who are leading hundreds of thousands of soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen. They are doing the really hard work of leading people and delivering results in circumstances that are often difficult and arduous. I admire their tenacity and commitment to lead in service to our country.

What do you want ServiceMaster to accomplish in the next year?
My team's mission is to be trusted partners who create a competitive advantage and drive future growth by providing the right products, tools and services at the right time and at the best total value, enabling our employees to deliver exceptional customer service. We will continue this mission.