March 06, 2014
The Most Influential Women in Direct Selling
by Beth Douglass Silcox
CEO, Avon Products Inc.
Leaders must know their business. They must know what products meet consumer need, what the selling cycle is and how best to market, and Sheri McCoy says, “You also have to know your people. You need to understand your teams and what motivates them. You have to be able to help them stretch and also know what might derail them.”
One of McCoy’s greatest challenges happened early in her career when she was passed over for a promotion. “My work was better, my results consistent,” she says. “When I asked what I should have done differently, the feedback I got was that I was too focused on the work and I was not spending enough time developing relationships with peers or building my team’s skills and experiences. It’s critical to know your business, but just as important to know the people around you.”
Today, she surrounds herself with diverse opinions and seeks input from direct reports, peers, mentors and Associates at various levels within the Avon organization. “I have built a network of people who think differently than I do and who are courageous enough to share their opinions. I listen, carefully, to all points of view before making decisions,” she says.
“I’ve learned not to just solve the issue immediately in front of me, but to have the insight to anticipate future impact and have the courage to make difficult decisions now that will have the longest lasting effect,” McCoy says.
With McCoy’s guidance, Avon undertakes three strategic priorities in 2014. “The first priority is executing our growth platforms, which include innovating the consumer proposition to ensure our customers have the right products; transforming our Representatives’ experience; and optimizing our geographic footprint. The second priority is to drive simplification and efficiency to get cost out, and the third is to improve our organizational effectiveness in terms of capability and talent,” McCoy says.
Because Avon proudly identifies itself as “The Company for Women,” it focuses on leadership and personal development within its ranks. This mission resonates on many levels with McCoy, who remembers a time when so few women held leadership positions in corporate America that it was difficult for young businesswomen to find mentors. That is no longer the case; many women hold senior executive positions at Avon, and seven sit on their 11-member board of directors.
“It is so important to have mentors, both women and men, because mentors are people who can help develop you and many times they see something in you that you don’t see in yourself. I think it is the responsibility of all leaders to be role models and mentors; we must reach behind us to bring up the next generation of leaders,” McCoy says.
To that end, last year Avon created an internal network for women called Avon Women Empowered (AWE) made up of community outreach, STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), networking, career paths, mentoring and workplace committees. AWE events, workshops, and seminars engage and support women in their career development and help Avon retain talented and promising leaders. Female Avon board members and senior leaders talk about work-life balance and share their career paths regularly.
Sheri McCoy on personal development…
“I am constantly pushing myself outside of my comfort zone and challenging myself to learn.”
Sheri McCoy on her favorite job responsibilities…
“I started my career in R&D, so I’m always drawn toward roles where there is a customer orientation, and where I can have an opportunity to drive innovation and be hands-on in product development. Equally important to me is my role in motivating people and teams. I feel that it is critically important in all aspects of the business to bring people together and work toward aligned goals.”
Avon Products Inc.
Avon, “The Company for Women,” was founded in 1886 by traveling salesman David H. McConnell after female clients showed more interest in his free perfume samples than the books he was selling. Soon he recruited women as sales representatives, encouraged their natural abilities to network and market products to other women, and gave them employment options never before available. The Avon earnings opportunity was a revolutionary concept in its day.
Today, Avon is one of the world’s largest direct selling companies, with beauty, fashion and home products available in over 100 countries. More than 6 million active independent Avon Sales Representatives sell Avon products.
Of late, Avon has faced business challenges and to curtail some of them, the company announced late last year a $400 million, multi-year cost saving initiative to reduce costs and improve organizational effectiveness.
The Avon Foundation for Women is a mighty philanthropic entity, raising millions of dollars for breast cancer research each year through walking events all over the U.S. In the fourth quarter of 2013, they awarded more than $10 million to breast cancer and domestic violence organizations. Also last year, Avon launched 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence, a human rights-based movement to educate bystanders and victims on the signs of domestic violence and how to safely intervene or seek help.
In 2012, Avon generated $10.7 billion in sales, placing them at the No. 2 spot on the Direct Selling News Global 100 for 2013.
Cover Story | Women’s History | Sheryl Adkins-Green | Claire Bancino | Meredith Berkich | Lori Bush | Dr. Oi-Lin Chen | Doris Christopher | Angela Loehr Chrysler | Kathy Coover | Shelli Gardner | Jessica Herrin | Wendy Lewis | Candace Matthews | Sheri McCoy | Cindy Monroe | Kay Napier | Joani Nielson | Meg Sheetz | Pam Sowder | Jill Blashack Strahan | Connie Tang | Heidi Thompson