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Carol Duncan on leadership: "Building success together"

Carol Duncan walks down a hallway leading from her office to the General Sheet Metal factory floor. One side of the hallway is plastered with hundreds of yellow Post-it notes.

Employees are encouraged to post suggestions on the wall, and they run a gamut: more back stops for new press; new pinning machine spotter; new espresso machine; yoga.

Duncan, president and sole owner of the Clackamas company, picked up the sticky-notes idea at a management seminar. When the comments wall got started, at least 25 of them said “better communication.” Now, that suggestion rarely appears on the board.

Of the approximately 20 metal-fabrication shops in the Portland area, one of them is owned by a woman. Duncan, who serves on the board of the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association, figures there are fewer than 10 woman-owned metal shops out of 4,500 members.

Her father summoned her to work as company controller in 1982. She purchased a majority share in 2000 and became sole owner in 2012.

That year, with the recession still stifling the building industry, Duncan decided the time was right to purchase 4 acres at the corner of Southeast Evelyn and Jennifer streets in Clackamas. The company would need to expand, she figured.

When completed in 2015, the new building was more than double the size of the previous shop, and the workforce today, now at 220, is nearly triple that of when the company moved into the new structure.

The expansion was Duncan’s idea. But for day-to-day operations, she seeks avenues to tap employees’ ideas. The Post-it notes were one. Finding the company’s “why statement” was another.

At the end of 2016, Duncan was facilitator for a company-wide meeting to come up with a defining statement of “Why should people want to work here? Why should people want to do business with us?” 

The exercise and other team-building initiatives were inspired by Duncan’s participation in Vistage Worldwide executive training and coaching sessions.

After an hour and a half of discussion and lots of editing, the company had its statement: “Building success together. That’s why we’re here.

This article is part of a feature package on leadership that appears in our May 2018 issue.  To read more in the series, click here.

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