Kristine Ellis -- Casual Living, March 1, 2008
One overcast January day in 1995, Terri Rogers got a call from her mother, dad, brother and brother-in-law asking her to meet them for lunch. While she couldn’t imagine why they wanted to meet, it would become a defining moment that would change her life.
“It was then they asked me to join O.W. Lee,” Rogers said.
Although Rogers had grown up in the family business, her strong sense of independence had taken her in a different direction.
By the time she was 19, Rogers was working full time in a law office while attending college in the evenings to earn her paralegal degree. She spent 15 years in that profession. Along the way, she married, had two children and started her own legal services business.
“I was putting in 40 hours plus at the law office and then an additional 20 to 30 hours a week on my side business, all while raising our two young children. It’s a good thing I was young, because I would never have the energy to do all of that now,” Rogers said.
Rogers and her husband and children had been living out of the area, but by 1995, they were back in the San Gabriel Valley in southern California. Given the proximity, her family thought it was time she officially join the family business and help them envision O.W. Lee’s future.
“I liked the legal field, but I was very excited to be invited to join the company,” she said.
Rogers started out at O.W. Lee answering the phone and working in accounts receivables. From there, she moved into collections, then sales. Rogers became vice president of sales and marketing in 1997 and co-president in charge of sales in 2001.
Rogers quickly learned to appreciate the casual furniture industry, particularly because it has room — and respect — for businesses of all sizes.
“I love the casual furniture industry because it is a small industry that still holds American business values in high regard,” Rogers said. “We are so lucky to have an industry that supports innovation and value, with people who are accessible and hard working and who enjoy what they do.”
“I’ll always be grateful to Mike for recognizing the need for more women to have a voice in our industry,” she said.
Rogers continues today as a board member for the newly formed International Casual Furnishings Association. She is also a board member of the Western Home Outdoor Association and is involved as a manufacturing member in the Networking Executives in Hospitality and ASID.
As Rogers became more personally visible in the industry, she never lost sight of advancing the family business. For instance, in 1997 while attending the CFR conference in New Orleans, she set a goal that O.W. Lee would one day win a CFR Manufacturer Leadership Award. That honor came in 2003.
“That was a peak milestone for me. I felt really good that we were recognized for being a leader in our industry,” she said.
A hands-on leader herself, Rogers expects her employees to have the same level of commitment to their work as she has for hers, believing “if you are going to do a job, you do your best and no less.”
She admits to micro-managing at times. “I have to continually keep myself in check so I don’t drive my employees crazy. Over the years, I have learned that I need to consider the human side of things, pick my battles and let go of the things I cannot change,” she said.
If she demands the best, Rogers also acknowledges work well done.
“I am really proud of our execution of new product and the sales collateral this year,” she said. “We have a really good team at O.W. Lee, and we all worked really hard, which has resulted in our best early buy and floor placement ever.”
The ongoing challenge for the company and the industry, she believes, is leveraging the growing awareness of outdoor living.
“We are all working harder for our piece of the pie, but through service and product, we can corner the market in creating the unique, upscale outdoor design that the consumers are demanding and produce long-lasting, loyal customers,” she said.
Rogers’s ongoing inspiration comes from a handful of diverse leaders. Historically, she admires Queen Elizabeth for her leadership and innovative spirit in a world dominated by men. Within the industry, Rogers points to Art Thompson of Laneventure whose eloquence in speaking and sharing his marketing vision, she believes, has helped the entire industry.
And finally, her personal inspiration and mentor is her mother, Beverly.
“She is the best businesswoman I know,” Rogers added, “Her shrewd decisions in managing the finances of O.W. Lee laid the foundation that has allowed us to finance managed growth. She’s taught me a lot.” Rogers added, in time, she can imagine following her mother’s footsteps as a volunteer as well as a business leader.
“Mom is on the board of the Leroy Haynes Center, which is an organization that helps with the education of underprivileged and autistic children. I hope that when time permits, I can volunteer for a similar organization,” she said.
In the meantime, her focus is clear.
“It’s been 13 years since that lunch, and we have been able to maintain managed growth and increased sales each year,” Rogers said. “I am proud that we are still family owned and operated, and I am especially proud that the next generation has exhibited excitement and passion about continuing the legacy.”