Judith Spires, the chairman and CEO of Kings Food Markets, overcame a lot of obstacles to become one of the top executives in the state.
She doesn’t list being a woman as one of them.
Spires, delivering the keynote address last Friday at the Leading Women Entrepreneurs event honoring 25 top brand-builders in the state, said success isn’t based on gender, but a willingness to lead.
She shared an anecdote about leadership and a spot at the top with the audience at Fiddler’s Elbow Country Club in Bedminster.
“I remember the first time I was a store manager and they had all the managers in the corporate office, working on a big project,” she started. “When I walked out into the hall after the meeting, one of the executives walked up to me and said, ‘How does it feel?’
“And I said, ‘How does what feel?’
“And he said, ‘To be the only one?’
“And I said, ‘To be the only one what?’
“He said, ‘The only female in the room?’
“It never entered my mind when I was in that room that I was working with my fellow managers that there was anything different about me. I had the same goals as everyone else in the room and that’s how I looked at life.”
As her career grew from cashier to chairman of the board, Spires said her ability to take action was key.
She implored the audience of brand-builders to take advantage of their ability to do the same.
“It’s not easy, it’s not comfortable, but you have to follow that inner voice that’s telling you that,” she said. “You are driven to succeed and you have a place at the table for a reason. And when you have a place at the table, you don’t be thankful for that place, you take the responsibility and you speak up and be heard.”
Sitting back only leads to regrets, she said.
“How many of you, at some point in your career, were at a meeting and you had an idea, but you felt intimidated to say it, that there were smarter people at the table than you,” she asked. “And then, somebody says your idea and everybody loves your idea. Don’t you kick yourself? And if you ever said an idea and it wasn’t heard — and then somebody else with a bigger stature says it and everybody praises it, how maddening is that?
“You have a responsibility. You are being driven to these jobs and these positions for a reason. Assume the position of authority.”
But, when you get there, Spires said, don’t feel as if you need to go it alone.
“Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength and curiosity,” she said.
Here are the 25 brand-builders who were honored:
- Kari Abrahamson, McCarter & English
- Kim Alvarez, NJ Advance Media
- Elizabeth Barry, Elizabeth Barry Consulting
- Linda Cutler, Empire Valuation Consultants
- Kim De Rienzo, Tailored Image
- Jill Draper, Marketsmith
- Rachel Durkan, Paradigm Marketing and Design
- Veronica Fielding, Digital Brand Expressions
- Susan Frech, Social Media Link
- Meg Fry, NJBIZ
- Tara Gilvar, Believe Inspire Grow – B.I.G.
- Pam Golden, GLA Communications
- Marcia Jeffers, Sills Cummis & Gross P.C.
- Carrie Kane, CI-Group
- Jessica Levin, Seven Degrees Communications
- Victoria Llerena, Social Vibes Media
- Kitta MacPherson, Rutgers
- Joan McGeough, The DAK Group
- Noreen McNicholas, Affinity Health Plan
- Katherine O’Hara, The O’Hara Project
- Jeanne Rice, Rice + Associates PR Inc.
- Sheila Robinson-Kiss, SRK Consulting and Educational Services
- Marlene Waldock, 1st Impression Communications LLC
- Sharon Waters, Feliciano Center for Entrepreneurship, Montclair State
- Nancy Witt, Sweetwater Construction Corp.