06/06/2014 11:26 am ET Updated Aug 06, 2014

Women in Business Q&A: Mary Kennedy Thompson, President Mr Rooter Corporation

Mary became the president of Mr. Rooter® Corporation in 2006 and was named executive vice president of The Dwyer Group® in 2014.

Mary served eight years in the U.S. Marine Corps as a logistics officer and achieved the rank of captain. She began franchising in 1994 when she opened a Cookies by Design® franchise. By 1997, she opened two additional locations. Mary was promoted to president in 2004. Mary led the company in market penetration and sales, earning awards for Top Performer, Outstanding Customer Service and Masters Award.

At the end of her first year as president of Mr. Rooter Corporation, U.S. Business Review selected Mary as one of its 2007 Editor's Choice Executives of the Year. She is also vice chairman of the International Franchise Association's (IFA) VetFran Committee and has earned her certified franchise executive designation from the IFA Educational Foundation.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I've learned so much in leadership from watching great leaders like my father, Dina Dwyer-Owens, and my fellow presidents here at The Dwyer Group who all lead with heart. John Quincy Adams once wrote, "If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader." That is why I've made it a point to surround myself with leaders who help me grow. My time in the Marine Corps serving as an officer also gave me a proving ground in my early leadership growth.

How did your previous employment experience aid your position at Mr. Rooter?
Having run my own businesses and starting in franchising as a franchisee first gave me a 360-degree perspective. It is our front line that creates both our top and bottom lines, so staying close to that has helped me keep our focus on growth and the franchising relationship. When I was a field consultant, that experience taught me how to best connect with and inspire others to change and grow. One of my most powerful lessons at that stage in my professional development was learning the difference between telling versus showing. I can communicate often and passionately, but without the connection there is no forward movement.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
Honestly, that is a moving target for me. Sometimes I do a good job of balancing all, but certainly not every day. As a working mother I had to learn that seeking perfection was the path to ruin. Balance for me means actively making the time for my family as well as enjoying them, practicing good health, and seeking spiritual growth. Each morning I purposefully pick one activity to do to make sure I do just that.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Mr. Rooter?
Plumbing is an amazing profession where our franchisees and plumbers make a difference every day coming to the rescue of our customers. I've always thought that plumbers and Marines have a lot in common. Both do a difficult and dirty job that most do not want to do, and both protect the health, safety and welfare of a nation. It is a joy to know and get to work with such a group. Our biggest challenge came during the recession mainly due to the fear that our franchisees and plumbers had watching the grim news as it unfolded. We found it was very important to put what was happening into perspective and proactively provide information and tools to help our franchisees not participate in the recession.

How are you making a difference as the Executive Vice President of The Dwyer Group?
I see myself as a player coach who works side-by-side with my fellow presidents in sharing best practices and growing each brand to its fullest. One of the things I've always enjoyed about The Dwyer Group is the deep knowledge and experience available to tap. My goal is to tap that resource more fully.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
Keeping balance in our daily lives to ensure we make time for personal and professional growth is a challenge that I've seen women grapple with in the past few years. Being able to respectfully say no is a learned discipline that has provided me freedom to grow.

What are your thoughts on Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In book and movement?
I have not yet read the book and do not have an educated opinion at this time. I've always believed each person and woman has their own path to take, and I encourage those around me and my own daughter to seek their most authentic path - whatever that may be.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I have been blessed with having mentors throughout my personal and professional development from my parents, to Colonel Polyascko in the Marines Corp to Mike Bidwell at The Dwyer Group. Each has been exactly the right teacher at the right time of my development. I've always believed leaders should actively seek out mentors for continued growth.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
I most admire my Mother for running a large family while also balancing the work/life challenges. She taught me that you can make a big difference in the world and also have fun doing so. At 27 she bravely moved our young family with, at the time three children under five, to India by herself while my Dad joined us from a tour of duty in Vietnam. Dina Dwyer-Owens, our Executive Chairwoman at The Dwyer Group, also has taught me so much about serving others and bringing out the very best people have to offer.

What are your hopes for the future of Mr. Rooter and The Dwyer Group?
As the fastest growing national plumbing brand in 2013, my hope and vision for Mr. Rooter is to be the largest national plumbing brand that exists within the next two years. We're well on our way and within striking range. The future of The Dwyer Group is bright as we close in on exceeding $1 billion in retail sales. Working alongside talented and capable presidents we want to see our Code of Values shared at many levels of business and to be recognized as a world-class organization in all things service based.