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Rising Through The GE Ranks: One Woman's Quest To Unite Data And Empathy

People

For over two decades, Marcia Brey has fully immersed herself within the factory walls of GE Appliances, arguably one of the world's most recognizable brands.


There, she's learned how to navigate the demands of a massive global business and the intricacies of serving as a leader in a male dominated environment. Now, with her two engineering Masters' degrees and countless hours of experience on the production floor and in the supply chain, Brey is serving as the company's first Lean Enterprise Leader.

“My job is to elevate this thinking — this laser-tight focus on the most efficient use of resources — across our entire enterprise. We want to pull departments and job functions together to solve problems quickly at less cost," Brey told SWAAY.

“It doesn't matter if you're in technology, sales, production, marketing or distribution; every associate has expertise in some aspect of our business, and every associate is part of the Lean Enterprise."

She explained that her team will essentially be the glue that binds these many different perspectives together, allowing the company to see more than any one individual or dataset could ever reveal. This position wasn't just handed to her, though. Throughout her tenure at GE, Brey has continuously proven an effective leader.

Effective Leadership Techniques

To be a fruitful leader in any field or environment, you must be able to engage with, motivate, and challenge individuals for the betterment of the group and company at large. Brey's leadership style is unique in that she takes a hands-on approach, remains humble in her authority, and is able to quickly relate to people with genuine compassion.

“It all starts with empathy," says Brey. “I think many leaders are quick to speak and slow to listen; my best advice is to get out and go see for yourself. Associates don't expect you to know everything, to have all the answers, but will respect you for taking the time to understand their roles and the concerns that come with those responsibilities."

Brey says that by working multiple job functions at GE — and having these various perspectives — helps her understand that it's not just about how you teach someone to solve a problem, but it's how you encourage someone to get to the source of the issue and address it from the user's perspective.

Marcia Brey

“Doing this requires a cross-functional approach, where associates from different areas of the business must come together and dig deeper to uncover the real issues. But it's this collaboration, this camaraderie, that catches on and starts to spread," she explains. “I think there's a social aspect to Lean that's often overlooked, but that associates respond strongly to, that can only come when employees feel genuinely engaged and enabled by leadership. It's not rocket science, but it takes a calculated approach and a commitment by management to model this ideal state in their words and deeds day in and day out."

One of Brey's favorite go-to leadership tactics is sketching and drawing sessions. “Collaboration sounds great, but if you just have a bunch of people sitting in a room waiting to share their opinion, then not a lot tends to happen," she says.

“With lean thinking, we have our teams get out the sketch pad and draw their ideas. Then we put the sketches on the wall and go through one by one asking, 'What do you see?'"

One picture might not show the entire problem, she explains, but when you see them collectively it creates a depth that you might not have even realized was there. For Brey, it's not just about talking and barking demands, it's about using a process that encourages employees to see beyond their own perspective.

Leading in a Male Dominated Industry

In regard to leading in a male dominated environment, Brey said it's nothing she's not used to, and something she doesn't obsess over.

“I'm an engineer by trade, so I have been in environments with a disproportionate ratio of men to women for most of my career, especially early on. The simple answer is that we need more representation of women in technical roles. For instance, the foundation of lean and what we're doing comes from a manufacturing and supply chain environment, which is very underrepresented by women leaders or really, women in general," she said. “Naturally, it can be intimidating to be the only gal in a group of guys, but hard work and bright ideas are universal, and there's nothing that breaks down barriers faster than succeeding on a project together."

“Naturally, it can be intimidating to be the only gal in a group of guys, but hard work and bright ideas are universal, and there's nothing that breaks down barriers faster than succeeding on a project together,"

-Marcia Brey

She adds that it's important to have leaders at all levels, both at GE and in general, that accurately reflect the diversity of the company's consumers and employees. The more diverse the leadership culture, the wider the breadth of thinking.

And while the manufacturing space holds firm as “a man's world," it is a new generation of leaders — including leaders like Brey — that change the perception of women in commercial industries.

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Fresh Voices

How I Went From Shy Immigrant to Co-Founder of OPI, the World's #1 Nail Brand

In many ways I am a shining example of the American Dream. I was born in Hungary during the Communist era, and my family fled to Israel before coming to the U.S. in pursuit of freedom and safety. When we arrived, I was just a young, shy girl who couldn't speak English. After my childhood in Hungary, New York City was a marvel; I couldn't believe that such a lively, rich place existed. Even a simple thing like going to the market and seeing all the bright, colorful produce and having so many choices was new to me. I'll never take that for granted. I think it's where my love affair with color truly began.


One thing I had was a strong work ethic. I worked hard in school, to learn English, and at jobs including my first job at Dairy Queen -- which I loved! Ice cream is easily my favorite food. From there, I moved into the garment district where my brother-in-law's family had a business. During this time, I was able to see how a business was run and began to hone in on my eye for aesthetics and willingness to work hard at any task I was given.

Eventually, my brother-in-law bought a dental supply company in Los Angeles and asked me to join him. LA, a place with 365-days of sunshine. How could I say no? The company started as Odontorium Products Inc. During the acrylic movement of the 1980s, we realized that nail technicians were buying our product, and that the same components used for dentures were used for artificial nails. We saw a potential opening in the market, and we seized it. OPI began dropping off the "rubber band special" at every salon on Ventura Blvd. in Los Angeles. A jar of powder, liquid and primer – rubber-banded together – became the OPI Traditional Acrylic System and was a huge hit, giving OPI its start in the professional nail industry. It was 1981 when OPI first opened its doors. I couldn't have predicted our success, but I knew that hard work and faith in myself would be key in transforming a new business into a company with global reach.

When we started OPI, what we were doing was something new. Before OPI came on the scene, the generic, utilitarian nail polish names already on the market – like Red No. 4, Pink No. 2 – were completely forgettable. We rebranded the category with catchy names that we knew women could relate to and would remember. The industry was stale and boring, so we made it more fun and sexy. We started creating color collections. I carefully developed 30 groundbreaking colors for the debut collection -- many of which are still beloved bestsellers today, including Malaga Wine, Alpine Snow and Kyoto Pearl.

There is no other nail color brand in the world that touches the totality of industries the way OPI does.

With deep roots in Tinseltown, we eventually started collaborating with Hollywood. Our decision to collaborate with the entertainment industry also propelled OPI forward in another way, ultimately leading us to finding a way to connect with women beyond the world of beauty, relating our products to the beverages they drink, the cars they drive, the movies they watch, the clothes they wear – even the shade they use to paint their living room walls! There is no other nail color brand in the world that touches the totality of industries the way OPI does. It also propelled my growth as a businessperson forward. I found myself sitting in meetings with executives from some of the top companies in the world. I didn't have a fancy presentation. I didn't have a Harvard business degree. I realized that what I had was passion. I had a passion for what we were doing, and I had my own unique story that no one else could replicate.

Discipline, hard work, and passion gave me the confidence to grow from that shy immigrant girl to become the person that I am today

Bit by bit, I grew up with the business. Discipline, hard work, and passion gave me the confidence to grow from that shy immigrant girl to become the person that I am today -- an author, public speaker, and co-founder of OPI, the world's #1 professional nail brand.

I learned quickly that one can be an expert at many things, but not everything. Running a business is very hard work. Luckily, I had someone I could collaborate with who brought something new to the table and complemented my talents, my brother-in-law George Schaeffer. My business "superpower," or the ability to make decisions quickly and confidently, kept me ahead of trends and competition.

Another key to my success in building this brand and in growing in business was being authentic. Authenticity is so important to brands and maybe even more so now in the time of social media when you can speak directly to your consumers. I realized even then that I could only be me. I was a woman who knew what I wanted. I looked at my mother and daughter and wanted to create products that would excite and empower them.

There's often an expectation placed on women in charge that they need to be cutthroat to be competitive, but that's not true. Rather than focusing on my gender or any implied limitations I might bring to the job as a female and a mother, I always focused instead on my vision. I deliberately fostered an environment at OPI filled with warmth. After all, at the end of the day, your organization is only as good as its people. I've always found that being nice, being humble, and listening to others has served me well. Instead of pushing others down to get to the top, inspire them and bring them along on the journey.

You can read more about my personal and professional journey in my new memoir out now, I'm Not Really a Waitress: How One Woman Took Over the Beauty Industry One Color at a Time.