Nov. 16, 2021

Resilient Leadership with a Drive for Excellence and Impact With Ridgwell’s CEO Susan Lacz | Greater Washington DC DMV Changemaker

Resilient Leadership with a Drive for Excellence and Impact With Ridgwell’s CEO Susan Lacz | Greater Washington DC DMV Changemaker

In this episode of Partnering Leadership, Susan Lacz, principal, and chief executive officer of Ridgewells Catering, shared her leadership journey with Mahan Tavakoli. Susan Lacz spoke about how she has managed the obstacles in her life and has built a successful business that needs to continue changing and adapting through disruption. Susan Lacz also shared why she is so committed to giving back to the community through Ridgwell Catering's support and giving her time and energy to many institutions and organizations, including Marymount University and Junior Achievement of Greater Washington.


Some Highlights:

-How Susan Lacz's Polish culture influenced her love of entertaining

-Susan Lacz on overcoming a significant setback early in life

-Rebranding strategies contributing to Ridgewells Catering's continued growth and expansion

-Growth opportunities through Young President's Organization.  

-How Susan Lacz led her team through the most brutal stretch of the pandemic.  

-Susan Lacz embracing an antifragile mindset in leadership and life

-Why mentorship is essential to becoming more impactful leaders




Also mentioned in this episode:

-Linda Rabbit, founder and Chairman of Rand Construction Corporation (Listen to Linda’s episode on Partnering Leadership here)

-Marymount University (Listen to Marymount’s President Dr. Irma Bacerra on Partnering Leadership here)



Connect with Susan Lacz :

Ridgewells Catering

Susan Lacz on Linkedin




Connect with Mahan Tavakoli:

MahanTavakoli.com


More information and resources available at the Partnering Leadership Podcast website: 

PartneringLeadership.com



Transcript

Mahan Tavakoli: 

Welcome to Partnering Leadership. I'm really excited to speak and to be welcoming Susan Lacz. Susan is the principal and chief executive officer of Ridgewells Catering. She joined a 90 year old Washington DC catering company as a sales representative and then with her business partners purchased the firm in 1997.

She's been instrumental in growing the company and making it a lot more prominent and successful regionally and nationally. Susan has also really committed to giving back to the community. She serves on many boards of directors, including the board of directors for the Greater Washington Board of Trade, Junior Achievement, Marymount University, Washington, DC Economic Partnership. And she also chaired Marymount's most recent capital campaign successfully closing it at $40 million raised. 

Now, Susan is one of those leaders that is both able to help her organization grow, but also has been able to guide her organization over a really tough transition period post pandemic. 

The pandemic has hit many organizations hard, most especially, those in food services and hospitality industries, which have impacted Ridgewells. So we talk about Susan's own leadership, her desire to give back to the community, and also how she has been able to manage the turbulence and the constant disruption that many have faced, most especially in her industry since the beginning of the pandemic.

I really enjoyed the conversation because I've seen Susan's purpose drive have an impact, both on Ridgewells and also on every organization and nonprofit she chooses to associate with. And I'm sure you will really enjoy the conversation and benefit from leadership insights from Susan also.

I love hearing from you. Keep your comments coming. mahan@mahantavakoli.Com. There's a microphone icon on partneringleadership.com. You can leave voice messages for me there. Don't forget to follow the podcast on your favorite platform of choice. Tuesday conversations with magnificent changemakers from the greater Washington DC DMV region, like Susan Lacz and Thursday conversations primarily with leadership book authors, whose insights I believe can help all of us become more impactful, purpose-driven leaders.

And finally, those of you that enjoy these conversations on Apple, leave a rating and review when you get a chance that will help more people find and benefit from the conversations.

Now, here is my conversation with Susan Lacz

 

Mahan Tavakoli: 

Susan Lacz, welcome to Partnering Leadership. I am thrilled to have you in this conversation with me. 

Susan Lacz: 

Well, thank you Mahan. I'm happy to be here. Thanks for including me.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

I'm really excited, Susan, having had the honor and privilege of knowing you for a couple of decades and having seen the tremendous impact you've had in growing Ridgewells, all the great things you've done, now, having had to deal with the pandemic. 

But before we get to some of those things, would love to know whereabouts did you grow up and how did your upbringing impacted the kind of person you've become? 

Susan Lacz: 

I'm a Jersey girl. And you would only know it when I've had a couple of scotches that I'm from Jersey. So yeah, I grew up in New Jersey. Both of my parents were Polish. My mother's parents came right from Poland. My father's parents were second generation. And so I grew up around a lot of family, big gatherings.

My grandmother, my Babchi was a big influence on me. She would be able to throw a hundred person party together on their property and they'd be outside playing horseshoes and playing poker and fishing. It was just every weekend, all the Polish people would all descend on my Babchi and Dziadzus’ property.

And so whenever the holidays were there, again, we would have 30 people around a dining room table. And it was just so magical. And I remember it so well. And back then, there's no dishwashers. There were no microwaves. There were no convection ovens. My grandmother, my Babchi, just seemed to put it all together. And, so I think the cooking gene skipped a generation with my mother. And so my grandmother was the one who really taught me how to cook. And she was a big influence on me. 

So Jersey is where I call my roots and I'm proud to say, I'm a Jersey girl.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

And do you still have family in Jersey and keep a sort of a Polish connection going too? 

Susan Lacz: 

Yeah. So I do still have family in Jersey. I usually go home, and all my good girlfriends are up there too. So I go home for weddings and funerals, unfortunately, more funerals and weddings as of late. But yeah, I'm still in, we still keep to the Polish tradition. I mean, my kids call my mom Babchi and I'm a chachi to my sister's kids. So the Polish tradition is important to us and we still have a polish Christmas Eve and our Easter is very Polish-influenced by the traditions there.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

That's wonderful. So how did high school workout for you, Susan?. 

Susan Lacz: 

Yeah, that's a funny question, high school. So I worked in a deli in high school. The Wyckoff deli is where I started my food background. And I would take the bus to the Wyckoff deli after high school. And I'd worked for three hours and then I'd get my butt home and do it all over again.

And I would put in 8, 10, 12 hour shifts on every Saturday and Sunday. So I wasn't the perfect student. I was hardworking and I was brought up with a very strong work ethic. I've always worked from a very young age.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

And then what did you decide to do after that? 

Susan Lacz: 

There's this thing called college and I just sent my youngest son off to Indiana university. Go Hoosier! And so what we do now for our kids or what the school system does for our kids, it was nothing when I was in high school. 

So basically my parents gave me Barron's college book and said, “Good luck, Susie. You figure it out.” And all of my girlfriends were going to Marymount college at Arlington Virginia. So I said, okay, It sounds like a fun time. I like DC, so we all kind of just packed up the station wagon and went down to Marymount. And my intentions were just a two year degree, but I ended up staying there for five.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

And I wonder Susan, if that was actually better for kids. Both the opportunity to work during high school, which nowadays a lot of kids don't get a chance to do that. And having to figure out their own way, rather than having the parents and the counselors and the advisors and the hired guns, plan it all for them. 

Susan Lacz: 

Yeah, no, I couldn't agree with you more Mahan. I mean, I'm a member of a Facebook group for the parents of 2025 at Indiana university. And some of the posts that I see that these parents are posting, I was like, oh my gosh, it's these helicopter parents. And they're like, “Oh, I need to find my daughter a hairdresser. And I need to find my son how to change his tire.” I'm like, my son, he's got to figure that out. I basically said, “Listen, I've given you the tools. You've got to figure this out.” So yeah, it's incredible. And this is how we were brought up and I'm sure no different from you, but we had to figure it out ourselves.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

I just had a meeting with a client and they had gotten a call about their return to work policies from the parents of one of their employees. So I think in many instances, this continues. 

Susan Lacz: 

It's a problem. It really is a problem. But yeah, my son is thriving. He's doing amazing. I'm so proud of him. And I miss him, but I'm really proud of what he's become and what's in store for him in the next four years.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

And both Nathan and Aiden have a wonderful mom in you. I know you take a lot of pride in them as a mother. 

Now, while you were in your twenties, you also had a serious health scare, Susan. 

Susan Lacz: 

I did. So when I got down to Marymount, the first thing I did, not because I had to, I went and got a job just because I was brought up with that work ethic. My parents paid for my education and my books and my room and board. So I didn't, I just wanted to work. So I started tending bar and Rosslyn at a place called Tino's. But my best friend Jane and I got a job. And I would work during school and whatnot. And I always had a headache and I would complain to the same customer. And I think it was the mushroom pizza. I'd say, “Larry, I got a headache again. I got a headache again.” So I blamed it on the mushroom pizza. 

So that one night I went home and I woke up with an excruciating headache. It was terrible. I don't want to get into the detailed graphics. And ironically, my mother happened to be visiting that weekend. Just because her sister lives here and I guess she missed me. I'm not sure. But I called my mom and I said something's wrong with me And I have never called in sick ever. 

And so we went to my aunt's doctor cause I didn't have a doctor here. And then they looked at me and said get right to the hospital. And they brought me over to Arlington hospital. And my head was pounding and it turns out I had had an aneurysm. And it basically changed my entire life and they weren't sure I was going to even survive this. 

So I was at Arlington for several weeks until they transported me over to Georgetown university. And back then I was in the hospital for almost two months. When I had brain surgery and trying to survive this. And  it kinda opened my eyes and really changed the way I looked at life at such a young age and, I think that was the pivotal point for me is when you almost die, you're like, I gotta figure this out. And I did.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

So for you both, that was a scary and a traumatic experience. What was the figuring out process like? 

Susan Lacz: 

Yeah, so I was so sick that I didn't know all that was going on around me. I remember my father saying to me, “Susie, you're going to be okay.” There could be many outcomes. I could die on the table. I could come out of this blind cause it was in the right side of my brain or I could come out perfectly fine.

And, it was just something that I was like, I wouldn't say it was reckless Mahan. I was more like a party girl. I was like, “Oh, let's go to the bar. And then let's go into Georgetown and see how many drinks we can drink before we have to go back to school.” And I hope my kids aren't listening to this because they're going to be like, “Mom?” 

I was like an average student and I wasn't really pushing myself and I wasn't at my full potential. And I decided, I took a year off from school just to heal more than anything else. And I think it was something about a GPA too. But as soon as I went back to school, I focused, I graduated. My grades got up into the A's and B's. I finally graduated. I didn't get to graduate with my girlfriends, but I did. 

And I just wanted to change how I was and I wanted to make a difference. And there was a reason in my opinion, why I didn't die because God wasn't ready for me to be in heaven yet. He needed me to be here for a reason.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

You've done so many magnificent things since then, Susan. So there has definitely been a reason. I think about all the non-profits that you've been involved with. All the awards that you've gotten, whether from Miriam's kitchen, the contribution you've made.

 I had the honor of being your guest actually at Jay's hundredth anniversary hall of fame gala. Record breaking fundraising you did for them. $40 million capital campaign for Marymount. So you have done so much for so many, most especially, in the community. 

Susan Lacz: 

This is the community that supports Ridgewells. And this is the community that I think it's important to give back to. So it's important as a business owner to be giving back and be involved in the community. And I think one of the most important things for me was having the ability to be passionate about something to go ahead and give back. And I started small. 

When I first started running Ridgewells in 97 with my business partners, I got the cutest little mug with chocolate kisses in it that said, thank you for donating linens. And I thought, oh this is adorable, but they could really use my help. And so then right away, I went in. I was like, “I want to come see what you do.” And this was Rachel's women's center at the time. And I said, “I want to see what you do. How can I help you?” I don't want to be another name on the stationery. I want to make an impact. And I think if you were to talk to any board member or a president or anybody that I've been on a board with, I like to make an impact.

And so I ended up sitting on their board and I chaired one of their inaugural races, which was on Valentine's day. And we got almost 700 runners. It was a slow news day. We had all three networks covering it. It was insane. And so it's just important to bring awareness and be passionate about whatever I get back involved with. I want to make an impact.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

And you are a go big or go home kind of person, which is why, when you joined Ridgewells, it was a 90 year old company very well-known in the greater Washington DC region. I think back to my younger days, I remember Ridgewells because we also lived right off of river road and Ridgewells had a place on river road. 

So, you also then decided to purchase it in 1997. Why did you decide along with some partners to buy Ridgewells out?

Susan Lacz: 

So I had already been here for many years, I think 12 years at that time. And, I started at Ridgewells when it was at its peak and we were at the top of our game. And the Ellises were still involved. And it was just so much energy. And it was really, we were the only game in town.

And then gradually we got more competition. And the Elisses sold to a group of private investors. And they brought somebody in who really didn't care about quality, who really didn't care about our reputation.He was more worried about making sure the shrimp was the cheapest shrimp and making sure you got the best price.

The company was deteriorating. I saw that and I wanted to be able to bring it back to where it belonged in all of its glory. And I wanted to let the Ridgewells family name live on. And people often ask me if I'm a Ridgewells. I said, no, but I should be. But it's just like, I bleed purple in. This happened to be my favorite color as well, but I just really wanted it to go back. 

So the good news was me and my business partners eventually bought it and we got it for a great price. But the bad news was this, we were very close to bankruptcy. And so we had to work fast and furious to get this thing right back on track. And I must say we did. It was a lot of hard work and a lot of effort. It's the beauty of the people here. We have three generations of family members who come to work for us and, it's all those people that would just cut off their right arm to make it successful. And we still have some of those people here at Ridgewells. And we're building a team to carry on the legacy. So it was a shame the way it was going and we just needed to turn it around. And I'm very proud of where we are now before the pandemic. And the pandemic is another discussion.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

You put Ridgewells on the map Susan in all of your involvement, greater Washington board of trade economic club. All across the region, you became a face for Ridgewells while making sure internally the quality was raised also. But you became a face for Ridgewells that was able to position the organization where it needed to be positioned and deserved to be positioned.

A lot of times organizations, the longer they stay around, the less likely they become to adapt. 90 plus years has a lot of heritage, but also a lot of baggage. How were you able to change the Ridgewells both the brand externally and how Ridgewells operated internally?

Susan Lacz: 

That's a great question. There's so many great Washingtonian brands that are no longer around. Hechingers, Garfinkel's. There's so many of those companies and I'm proud to say that we are still around, but I think the first thing we needed to do was do a brand refresh. 

My predecessor did this study, spent a fortune on what people's thoughts are of Ridgewells. And, although at that time we had a gold peacock as one of our logos and we were very well known for our purple and I think our purple is something that we still stay true to. But the response I'll never forget is, “Oh, they put the jelly on the roast beef so the roast beef doesn't get discolored.” I'm like, oh my gosh, we've got to change this. So it was new chef, new culinary, new equipment, new energy, new branding. And it was all part of that. 

And since then we've rebranded again. We're probably going to be doing it again. But you just have to constantly be fresh in what you're doing. And, I think we were the first caterer in DC to have a website. And we launched that when we launched the company, when we bought the company in 97. So it's hard to believe, in 1997, nobody had a website. 

So there's a lot of things that we'd had to do, and it was just maintaining freshness. It's really important that we are out there visible. And you say I was the face of Ridgewells. We didn't really have a face after Jeff and Bruce Ellis left the company. And so I became that face and became very comfortable sitting around many tables, oftentimes being the only woman around a table. I thrived on that and I wanted them to know who we are and what we were all about.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

And that is a critical part of the brand. The brand in part is represented in the re-imagining of the logo, the colors, all of those things, in part it's the individuals that represent the brand and the experience with those individuals. So you represented the brand extremely well. 

In addition to that, Ridgewells continued expanding hotel catering which is a unionized company serves the US house of representatives purple tie special events division. So Ridgewells continued expanding its services also. 

Susan Lacz: 

Well, you have to grow or you die. So we had a request to partner with a firm down at the house of representatives. We had to develop a union side of the company, which we did. And that was a separate company. And then contract catering. We got asked to start doing schools and then we thought, well, that's good cause those are contracts that are steady. The social step was up and down and the corporate stuff was pretty consistent. And then the other division that we started, that actually I personally started was the major events division that took Ridgewells on the road to major sporting events.

We don't really promote that too much here in Washington, because we don't want Mrs. Smith over in Kenwood feeling like, oh, you're catering the U S men's open. Like you're not going to cater my garden party. So it's important for us to make sure that this is our core business here in Washington.

We had so much great competition and that great competition keeps us fresh, but in order for our piece of the pie to grow in DC, we had to leave DC to expand the business. So we've had an excellent working relationship with the United States golf association since 1993, and we continue to have a good relationship and expand with them. It's important for us to do that. It's been a whirlwind and you have to grow and you have to expand and you have to adapt as much as you can to keep this business growing.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

So you led Ridgewells growth, both to somewhat new businesses and also across the region. One of the elements that helped you personally in your own growth is YPO. I know you speak of YPO, even had a couple of bobble heads behind you on the screen for the few people that might see this on video. Do you mind first talking about the bobble heads and then the young president's organization? 

Susan Lacz: 

It's actually quite a story about me getting into YPO. But it's been great personal and professional growth for me. But I was the chapter chair of our new chapter, US capital chapter. And when I was the chapter chair, if you day chaired an event I made a bobble-head of you. This was made by my staff for me, but this is actually Don Wood from federal Realty, I adore him. He's a good friend. And he day-chaired something and I got a box of four. So I said, Donald's, aren't going to keep one. But everybody should have their own bobblehead. I think it's a lot of fun and it's better than some trophy sitting on your credenza. 

But YPO has been extremely influential for me and I've taken several leadership roles there. And once you hit a certain age, you get kicked out and they go into WPO, which is the world president's organization. So I've had some really cool trips with them. The people are amazing. The networking is great. It's like my own private board of directors with my forum. So it just really is an opportunity to vent, discuss. If you don't want to talk to your executive team, I will, any of my forum mates will be happy to get on a call and help out if you've got an emergency or if something is tragic going on at the company or in your personal life. So it's really been a big growth opportunity for me being a part of YPO.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

So you're involved in these growth opportunities. You're giving back to the community, serving on a whole host of boards, helping grow Ridgewells new businesses and Ridgewells' core itself. When March, 2020 unexpectedly, for most of us, we get hit with a pandemic which affected everyone however, affected some businesses even more than others, most especially, yours.

Susan Lacz: 

Yeah. So we had started three years ago to host a marketing event that we were very invested in and it was our opportunity to bring in wedding planners, corporate planners. It's our opportunity to showcase our stuff. And it was called Erin go glam. And it's always done around St. Patrick's day. So March 13th, 2020 was our second year doing it. And our vendor partners are like, “What do you want to do, Susan? Are we going to cancel? Are we going to cancel?” I'm like, “No, no, we're not going to cancel. We're going to go through with this. This is gonna blow over.” 

We usually plan on 300 people for this event. I think we got about 150. And we decided in the 11th hour to change the format of the event and really have a panel discussion on what this means for our industry. And Mahan, I could kick myself in the butt for not recording it. I had a photographer there, but I didn't record it, but I think most of us around the room were like, oh, this isn't going to last for more than a month. We'll be fine after all of this. So I invited my competitors, Chap Gage from Susan gage Kate was available and some other industry leaders and we made it more into a discussion about now what? That was Friday.

And I believe it was the last, fully catered event in the district of Columbia. Then Monday, everything was shut down. And then things were canceling like crazy. I don't even know how to explain it. It was surreal how everything just stopped and canceled. That was the beginning of really a rough patch of time for us. And everybody in the industry, off quite frankly, I came into the office every day as did my executive team. We laid 97% of our staff and the people that were left were my executive team. And we were taking phone calls, making deliveries changing to curbside pickup and deliveries. 

And, it was amazing what the impact was. And we got out of leases, we stopped paying rent. There's so many things. It was everyday, it was something else. Another person was hounding me for money, but I think eventually they all kind of calmed down and we figured it all out.

And I'm so forever grateful for those who stuck by me and Ridgewells during that time, most importantly, my executive team who would do anything to make us still be here today. And I'm forever grateful. And those in the community, like the greater Washington board of trade Mahan, I probably shouldn't say this. I didn't have to pay my dues, but yet they supported me and did these zoom lunches and always ordered Ridgewells food for the zoom lunches. And the people who were on the zoom calls were ordering from us. So it's not only the board of trade, but it was the members of the board of trade who were supporting me and the community too. 

I got rid of all advertising. I got rid of all my marketing, people were laid off, everybody was gone. And so we were all on social media, just promoting it organically, and it paid the bills. And I use that lightly.

But yeah, we had to do it. And then we got into the boxes and the virtual Gallas. And it's just a whirlwind of every day, something new and different and exciting yet horrifying. Oh my God, are we going to be able to get through this? And I'm not one to take handouts, but I was grateful for round one of PPP. I was grateful for round two of PPP. And I was even more grateful for a restaurant grant money. So again, forever grateful. 

We're still getting through this. We've had a blip in our bookings because of this variant coming through, but God willing, we'll all get back. I went to my first in-person event this morning for the board of trade. business consortium, it was at a ballroom, probably 200 people in there. It was exciting to be in there and see people, although everybody had their masks on. And I think things are going to turn around. Our bookings for the fourth quarter look good. They don't look like they're 2019, but they look good. But our business was down 87% in 2020. And that's a lot when you're us.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

That is an incredible decline in numbers for anyone, Susan. But what incredible leadership on your part, because first of all, when you talk about March, 2020, there is I'm sure something called hindsight bias where when people don't record things, they assume that they knew back then what they really didn't.

So we assume we knew all these things. I remember being involved in similar conversations at that period of time, where pretty much to the person, everyone was thinking that at the latest by June. Things would blow over. And even when the schools closed down, they were saying six weeks at most. So no one expected this incredible decline that we had to go through, but impacted you so much with so much bravery on your part and your executive team's part and so much hardship.

In essence, seeing much of what you had spent, so much of your effort, time, life, building drifted away almost overnight. Now, as you reflect Susan on your own leadership through the hard days, what helped keep you going?

Susan Lacz: 

Listen, Mahan. I'm not going to lie. There's a lot of times where I shut that door and cried my eyes out. Not thinking that we'd get to the other side of this, but it was hard. It was hard. I think for me mentally I threw myself into the gym and I made sure that I got up every day and cleared my head.

Another thing, I got a call from a caterer in Arizona. And we had known each other through an organization. He's like, “Hey Susan, you want to get on a call?” I go, “Yeah, I'll get on a call.” He's similar in size to what we are. And then we got on a call with four of us who would jump on a call weekly for two hours to go like, “How are you doing this? What are you doing about PPP? What are you doing about this federal law? How about this?” We would talk through everything and that was lifesaving for me. It was so impactful and I am grateful for that one phone call. And as a result of that, we have started a new organization called ECAP elite catering and event professionals.

And we just felt like we needed an organization that could advocate for us caterers that had multi different strings of business. And so we launched that in July, in Miami. We have 26 members that are similar to our size that have joined on. And we had our first meeting. We're having a symposium in Nashville and at the end of February, beginning of March, but that was empowerful for us.

Like, how are you handling independent contractors? What are you doing about HR? Everything that we needed to talk about, I was able to talk about with this group. So that was a life saving and I'm forever grateful to them as well. But yeah, it was a tough time and it continues to be a tough time, but I'm really grateful for, again, all of those who have supported us and all of those who've maintained here. And we lost a lot of people. We lost a lot of people from the industry, not wanting to be in this industry. We're still trying to find people to work events. And I think that's an ongoing theme in every industry that they're looking for people to work.

 Yeah, I was grateful for this group. The positive thing that came out of this COVID is ECAP the elite catering and event professionals. So I'm grateful for that.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

And how about with the perspective of what you learned about yourself and leadership, Susan, if you're asked a few years from now to reflect back on leading during this crisis, what would you say that you learned about yourself and leadership? 

Susan Lacz: 

So I have this list of top 10 that I created back in 97. I do a lot of speaking and mentoring and talking to different groups. I actually just pulled that list up. And if I look back at this list number four is to take risks. And number one is think big. But I must say I was encouraged to possibly talk to a bankruptcy attorney. And I was like, no way am I ever going to talk to a bankruptcy. They're like, Susan, just talk. I go, Nope. Nope. So never give up. I guess if I look back at this, I did not give up. And I surrounded myself, which is number six with people who believed in me and believed in the brand. And I never gave up and we're almost to the other side of this. And we will get to the other side of this bigger and better than ever.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

That is beautifully said, Susan, because in reality, none of us, first of all, know what the future holds. And anyone who pretends that they know is lying to you. All we do know is that we have experienced this moment and we can become better as a result of it and stronger as a result of it being antifragile.

Or go into our shells and cry about what has been lost. And the great thing about your leadership is that you not only didn't give up, you are still continuing to fight a good fight to build a stronger, better Ridgewells, whatever ends up happening six months or six years from now. 

Susan Lacz: 

Okay. You're right. You're absolutely right.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

So Susan, when you're asked for your leadership reflections, in addition to the 10 points that you share, are there any leadership books, any practices that you typically recommend to people as they want to become more impactful leaders? 

Susan Lacz: 

Yeah. I've got a whole bookshelf of leadership books and you know, when we go to these things and we're listening to the author, here's your signed copy? Here's your signed copy. I must have 25-30 books on a shelf. But you know what for me, when I first took over the company was important was mentorship.

I was a girl scout growing up and someone asked me to get involved with the girl Scouts. And I was happy too, because I was passionate about it. And I was a girl scout. I met some women in that organization that were true mentors for me. And I think it's important for leadership to be able to surround yourself with those types of people who can mentor. 

So my whole sales team here, majority of them are women. And I feel that any opportunity I can get to mentor them and help them to become stronger, more powerful leadership. And I mean, it's not only women too, but I think that's the most important thing for me is to make sure that you surround yourself with people that are going to give back to you and your career and be invested in you.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

That is great advice because we can learn a lot from the people around us. In many instances, it requires us being open to it and seeking it out. I'm sure you have found opportunities to seek out the kind of mentors. So in seeking out mentors, what advice do you have? Who should people reach out to, to seek out as mentors? 

Susan Lacz: 

Yeah. So at the time I'm just going to call out Barbara Crumbsack who I adore and, I wish I saw her more. Well, I wish to see a lot of people more right now, but Barbara, I don't think she even knew this, but she kind of took me under her wing and I try to always be like her. Sit next to her, Listen to her.

And I think she's not in my business and I don't know anything about her business, but I just loved her presence in the room. And, trust me, I'm out there just as much as you were, if not more. And, I encouraged my team to spread out, divide, and go outside of your comfort zone. But, finding someone who's more successful or on the path that you want to be. And I was like, I want to be just like Barbara. And there's a ton of other women out there too. 

Linda Rabbitt I adore. She's been incredible. Just a lot of these, women, when I first started out in the community and the business community were there to help out. And us women need to support each other.

I think it's important to be able to support each other on anything that we're doing.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

Linda whom I adore actually has one of the top global downloads on the podcast. I had a conversation with her back in January. She still is up there. Barbara Krumsiek and I went through LGW together. I adore her too. These are leaders like yourself, Susan, that give back lots to all those around them. 

You know, my wife and I are watching this Netflix series, The Last Kingdom. And when you see the hero, the hero has a lot of scars on his face. And one of the things I was reading about scars is that when people look at their leaders and the leaders had scars on their faces, it showed that they had earned the right to lead them into battle. So many instances, those scars were positive because this leader knows where they're going. 

Susan Lacz: 

I couldn't agree more because I started at the bottom at Ridgewells. I swept the floors. I picked up trash. I was the first one in the office and the last one to leave because they were kicking me out. And I've done every job here at Ridgewells. So I think I could still be on a site at a party and jump behind a bar in 10 bars or pick up trash or bus a table. And they respect me for that because I've been there. I've done that. I wasn't just plopped into the CEO ownership role. I worked hard for it.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

Well, the team members that have you leading them and the organization are fortunate to have you as their leader. Those in the community like me that have had the privilege and honor of getting to know you really feel blessed because you have a way about you to leave everyone a little bit better than they were before.

And you have led through a really horrific time post pandemic, but you are coming out of it stronger and better. And I have no doubt that you will continue to be a significant presence in the life of so many Susan in the greater Washington DC region and beyond 

Susan Lacz: 

Well, thank you. I appreciate that. I'm hoping I'm leaving a lasting impact on the community with the things that we do to give back. So I appreciate that.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

Really appreciate you joining me in this conversation Susan Lacz. 

Susan Lacz: 

Absolutely thanks for having me Mahan. I've enjoyed it thoroughly. And I hope to see you out there soon.