THE BLOG
01/08/2015 12:24 pm ET Updated Mar 10, 2015

Women in Business Q&A: Tressa McLaughlin, President and COO of IBF

Tressa McLaughlin is the President and COO of IBF; a Boise, Idaho based Safeguard distributor specializing in all aspects of print on paper as well as extended services such as electronic programs, promotional products and graphic design. She is the Immediate Past President of the PSDA Board, where she works hand in hand with the board to provide PSDA members with industry best practices and education on market trends and solutions. Tressa received a BFA in Advertising Design from Boise State University and her experience includes 23 years with IBF, beginning as a graphics designer in 1990. Through the years, her positions included Graphics & Customer Service Manager, Business Operations & Marketing Manager, becoming President and COO of IBF in 2009. Tressa is involved with several associations, including NAPW, the National Association of Professional Women, the PERF Board and has been active with the PSDA for over eight years.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I grew up with a working mom and dad, both of whom took pride in their work and strived to make their businesses a better place. Even beyond their work ethic, my parents never saw their careers as just another job. Being in an environment of hard-working parents heavily influenced my desire to make a difference in my career and the passion and dedication that I applied to it. Today, I really try to make sure I am doing the best work I possibly can.

How has your previous employment experience aided your position as the President and CEO of IBF, a Safeguard Company?
After receiving my BFA in Advertising Design, I started at IBF at an entry-level position in the graphic design department. I was never one to just do the job at hand -- I wanted to understand why I was doing that job, what the end goal was or why we were selling that particular product or service. Today, whenever I take on a task, I still like to understand every component it entails so I can appreciate what others in my company are doing. In order to make a fully educated decision, you must bring in the people that will be affected by your decision and look at all sides of the problem for the best solution. I believe that being open-minded and always ready to learn are key attributes of a successful leader. If you do not have an open mind, you will miss several opportunities because you are not listening to your team and the people that have helped make your company successful.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I try to be present wherever I am, whether I am out to dinner with my husband, at a track meet for my kids or in a business meeting. It is not easy to balance everything, but I have learned that if I am not in the moment, I will miss out. I wouldn't be able to maintain that balance if I didn't have an incredible support system -- from my parents and my husband, to my kids and the IBF team.

Although I have not mastered it yet, I think it's very important to make time for yourself. I try to make sure that I take time to do things I enjoy and re-energize. Building a solid team at work really helps too. If you surround yourself with good people that you trust and can be effective without you being there, that really helps.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at IBF?
In a sense, I think highlights and challenges go hand in hand. In 2007, we rebranded our company, which was something I was very passionate about. Not only did we come up with a new logo, look and feel, but we took a deep look at how the company ran and really involved our employees when talking about company culture. I think this really gave people a voice and the ability to shape our future. At the time, I think it was important for everyone to realize that this company isn't about one person -- it's about all of us that make it happen together.

One major recent highlight is our acquisition into Safeguard. We have high hopes that Safeguard will be able to further support us in our marketing efforts, as well as look at our business in a different light. I believe that we will be able to use their marketing capabilities and national recognition and they will also help us further announce ourselves in the promotional space and establish our credibility. One challenge we will face is the best way to marry the two brands together; we need to ensure that people understand that IBF still has the same people, values and pride, but is just under another name.

One challenge we face is being recognized in our local community as a leader in the products and services we offer. We are very well known in a lot of vertical markets nationally with the products and services we provide - we are recognized as a brand that is highly regarded in the marketplace, technologically advanced, service-minded, and very accountable. We are working hard to deliver that message locally to our customers, so that they can understand that we are so much more than a forms business.

What advice can you offer women seeking a career in your industry?
You have to network and get involved in your association. Being a part of my industry association, the PSDA, has been one of the highlights of my career. It has helped me enormously with finding mentors, understanding the business and learning how to change for the better. When you join a company, you must identify one to two people that can help further your career and act as mentors through their own experiences. You have to be actively involved in your own career path; you can not take a passive approach.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
There is no reason that as a woman, you cannot have a career and a family and be involved in both. You must learn how to balance the two. I firmly believe that we are perfectly capable of doing anything we set our minds to. Women must erase the mentality of, "I can't achieve this because I am a woman." Women must believe that they are where they are because of their experiences, perspective, capabilities and skill sets. One key to getting past this mentality is aligning yourself with people that will help you persevere and move forward.

What are your thoughts on Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In book and movement?
I just started reading it and I think it's pretty good so far. She talks a lot about removing the idea that "you aren't worthy to sit at the table." She recalls an experience where a woman walks into a boardroom and sits at the side table, not the main conference table, because she did not believe she was worthy enough. Women worry a lot -- we worry about whether we are doing a good enough job for our kids and we worry about doing a good job a work. Women in leadership should be available and more visible. We should reach out to each other and bridge that gap.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
If I didn't belong to the PSDA, and I didn't have very valuable mentors that I have met over the years, I would not be where I am today. I have had wonderful role models -- individuals who can be honest with me and tell me if they don't agree with me. Mentors are very valuable, especially if you have someone who has gone before you and paved that road in their own business or industry. My parents, my high school coach and several teachers have been incredible mentors. Looking back, you begin to really appreciate it.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
There are so many different female leaders that I admire. Many are on the local level and are very specific to me. I had a great high school coach who pushed me very hard and taught me how to compete. My mom played such a significant role in helping me get to where I am today. There are a couple of individuals that I have met over the past five years that have very high-up roles at their companies while also having a great family life. I admire everything they do and I take the opportunity to learn and understand them.

What are your hopes for the future of IBF?
When I first joined the graphic department, it was a huge opportunity for me. I loved it because it was what I was really passionate about. Since then, the company has evolved so much and there is always something new to learn, a new challenge or a new opportunity. My hope is that we will be able to continue on with the legacy that has been built. I want this company to be solid and stable long after I am gone.