Karyn Martin, President & CEO, Interprise Southwest Interior & Space Design, Inc.
For those who don't know anything about you or your work, can you provide a bit of background?
My first position at Interprise was as Director of Human Resources and Corporate Administration. That was 25 years ago! During my tenure with the company, I have held multiple senior positions – essentially, every role except designer. I studied business and had several jobs in corporate administration prior to Interprise, but obviously, this company is my “home” when it comes to my career. I became President of Interprise in 2018 and took on additional responsibilities as CEO in 2020. One of my proudest accomplishments is getting us – largely unscathed – through Covid, and now we are on an unprecedented growth trajectory. It’s exciting!
Was any one person who was instrumental in helping you get from where you started out, to where you are now?
Along with my father, Katherine Berg was my mentor, and while she passed away several years ago, I still hear her sage advice in my head. She was the founder of Interprise and when I started with the company 25 years ago. Katherine saw my potential and had the grace to take me under her wing. Yes, she taught me all about the inner workings of the company, but more importantly, she showed me how to look at the industry through multiple lenses so that I could be successful in every business climate. Katherine encouraged me to experience every aspect of the business (except design, where I have none of the requisite formal training!) so by the time I took the reins, I was extremely well-prepared. I admire her wisdom and truly miss her support and friendship.
Is there a particular piece of advice you were given in the early days of your business journey that you still benefit from today?
Ask forgiveness, not permission! This doesn’t mean that you should go wild and do whatever comes to mind. Instead, It means that when you’re on your way up, bring your questions or concerns to your leader, but always be prepared with a solution. Every business has an approval process that must be respected, but you need to always, always, think for yourself. Whether you’re at the bottom or the top of the ladder, you can’t expect to be spoon-fed or to be given a road map. Have confidence in your emotional intelligence (EQ) and your knowledge of the business to ask the right questions, and bring ideas to the table.
What is the most important lesson you've learned about leadership in your business journey so far?
People are your most important asset. In a service industry like ours, payroll, training, benefits and retention programs are extremely expensive, but they are critical, because your professional service-providers are the opposite of a commodity or a renewable resource. You can't just plug-and-play a new designer into your mix, and expect it to work. Because of this, I learned that the leader – at least in my company – has to prioritize the team above all else.
What are the top three things you wish you'd known when you were just starting out?
1. I wish I had fully understood the importance of networking. Because I am an introvert by nature I don't seek the spotlight, but it is necessary for growth. That’s one of my biggest challenges. 2. I wish I understood how much I would have to change in order to lead. This comes back to my shy nature. I had to fit the CEO chair – not the other way around! 3. I wish I had known that it is critical to devote time to self-care while you are building your business. Staying connected to who you are as a person is just as important as the steps you are taking to grow your company.
In your experience, what is the most effective way to build a strong network of mentors and advisors to guide you in your business endeavors?
Attending events, joining organizations, and volunteering on boards is an important – and actually, quite easy – way to get out and start meeting people. Keep an open mind: the “tribe” that truly propels you might look different than you imagined when you first started networking. It is through networking that people start to understand who you are and what you can provide: But this comes with a word of caution: Do not over-extend yourself! Instead, remain selective on how, and with whom, you spend your time.
How do you determine when it's time to pivot, and what factors should you consider in making that decision?
If you realize that now’s the time to pivot, you’re probably too late! I like to run a series of strategic analyses to be prepared to go in a new direction at a moment's notice if market conditions change. Creating roadmaps for potential endeavors is important to ensure smooth transitions; without prior forethought, you cannot navigate choppy business waters.
How do you stay motivated and inspired during the business cycle of ups and downs?
Business is never static! When you remember that, it’s not difficult to stay motivated during a valley because you know that the work you are doing will propel you to the peak again. Successful entrepreneurs have the grit to work through the vicissitudes of business, and many are actually energized by a downward trend. One thing I know for sure: If your business is booming, you need to spend time – now! – on your short and long-term plans to make sure you are ready for the inevitable dip – or rise!
Looking back, what one thing would you do differently if you could start your journey over again?
The only thing I would do differently sounds small but is actually huge: I would have trusted who I am, and believed more in what I can do. I would have been fearless sooner! I also wish I had silenced any negative internal and external voices, and just focused on the work that had to be done.