While attending the University of Missouri-Kansas City in 2004, Lauren Roberts received a call from her dad, Tom Roberts, who was cfm’s president at the time. He relayed that cfm Distributors Inc.’s controller had asked him if his daughter had any interest in joining the company, as he was contemplating retiring in the very near future.

Intrigued by the opportunity, she hired in as an accounting assistant. Her career at cfm Distributors — the business her grandfather co-founded in 1969 — had officially begun.

“I discovered right away that I needed some more experience interacting with people, so I moved to the marketing department and became a marketing assistant," said Roberts, now 33 years old. "From there, I worked my way up to marketing manager, director of marketing, vice president of marketing and customer experience, executive vice president, and now president and CEO.”

During her 14 year journey through the ranks at cfm Distributors, Roberts said she’s learned how to adapt her management style to fit the needs of different types of people from different backgrounds and generations.

“One management style doesn’t work across all people, so I’ve learned to adapt and be able to help those who need more coaching and feedback along the way,” she said. “I learned early on that I wasn’t a fan of being micromanaged, so I quickly adopted a style of painting the overall picture for our team and letting them do the work their way. This allows them to put their own ideas and personal touches on their work, so they have ownership.”

Roberts has endured many changes in the industry, specifically technology built for B2B and distribution-specific applications.

“E-commerce has changed drastically,” she said. “When I first started, most distributors didn’t have e-commerce platforms, or they had very plain, bolt-on packages from their ERP software providers. The user experience left a lot to be desired in the early e-commerce platforms for distributors. What is available today is light years ahead of what was available then, and there are newer, better platforms being released each day.”

The best advice she can offer young professionals in the HVACR distribution industry is to get involved in industry groups early and often.

“I’ve met great friends and industry colleagues by being involved in different committees with HARDI, Women in HVACR, and other local industry associations,” she said. “The amount of ideas and best-practice sharing that comes out of being involved, the personal and professional growth, and the personal friendships have made my career far better than it would be at this point without being involved.”

If there’s only time to join one group, Roberts suggests checking out HARDI’s Emerging Leaders program.

“This program was the single-best educational experience of my life and provided highly applicable education from veteran industry leaders, subject matter experts in different leadership positions, and amazing networking opportunities with industry peers,” she said. “You won’t find a better program to help develop your HVACR distribution career than HARDI's Emerging Leaders program.”

Roberts said her inquisitive spirit helps drive her success.

“The best motivational approach or tactic for me is to understand the ‘why’ behind what we are trying to do and then figuring out innovative and efficient ways to accomplish those things,” she said. “This works well to help motivate others as well. Understanding the company’s 'why' and every individual coworker’s 'why' helps us all be able to better work toward achieving our individual and collective goals and enjoying ourselves while doing it.”

Roberts, who was named CEO/president in late 2017, is excited to continue to lead cfm Distributors in 2019 and beyond.  

“My goal is to continue to provide a wonderful place for my co-owners at cfm to work,” she said. “Being 100 percent employee-owned, we want everyone to enjoy coming to work and aim to make their company successful.”

When not working, Roberts enjoys spending time with her husband, travelling, trying new restaurants, cooking, playing golf, exercising, and spending time with her family.

“I am enthusiastic about my work and the overall industry because we are at a really exciting time with a huge generational change, tons of new technology advancements, and great people to work with,” she said. “With all of that, there is never a dull moment, and there is plenty to work on and change in our industry.”

Publication date: 12/04/18