2014 Women of Vision: Amiee Thomas

Amiee Thomas
Vice president of jcp salons

A funny thing happened to jcp salon Vice President Amiee Thomas on her way to law school. After completing her undergraduate degree in international management and French studies, she accepted a ‘temporary’ position in management with the JCPenney Company in order to pay off some school loans. The move sparked what would become a career-long passion in fashion and beauty, and the legal profession lost out. Through executive positions with JCPenney, Limited Brands and Victoria’s Secret Beauty, Thomas honed her leadership skills and logged impressive accomplishments in retail operations, beauty and apparel—embodying a true, 360-degree collection of competencies. She rejoined JCPenney seven years ago, and 18 months ago, was thrilled when she was recruited to take on her “dream job”—helming the jcp salon team. In this role, she currently leads more than 900 salons and 13,000+ stylists and salon associates, as well as an in-house corporate staff and field operations and field education teams.

How are you tenacious?
Thomas: My friends, family and team would tell you that I approach most things in my life with unrivaled determination and drive. I have a competitive spirit and will fight to win and for what is right. Nothing illustrates my tenacity more than when I am faced with a competitive situation or when I am extremely passionate and believe strongly in something. Not surprisingly, my tenacity emerged during the first Thanksgiving I spent with my husband and his family prior to our marriage. My husband’s family has a traditional flag football game every Thanksgiving morning. My first experience resulted in quite the competitive banter followed by an incredibly intense series of plays resulting in me injuring my knee. I refused to leave the game, played through, scored a touchdown and our team won the game. I spent the balance of the day on a couch icing a swollen knee, and regardless of the banter during the game, was identified as a dark horse already being recruited for the next year. Ten years later, we are still going strong.

Since you started, how have your motivations changed?
Thomas: My motivations have not waivered and have been the same since day one: To run a profitable, successful salon business within JCPenney; to deliver on our vision as the salon destination of choice; to build a culture of engagement and community; to lead a power house team; to change industry and consumer perception of jcp salons.

What do you do on a daily basis to help you grow as an entrepreneur?
Thomas: Every day the first question I ask myself is, “What can I do today to positively impact the business and the team?” You have to ask questions, dig deep and challenge yourself and your team. Complacency is not an option. The day you stop asking questions and think you have all the answers is the day you need to hang it up—at that point, you are done learning and growing.

Who or what inspires you?
Thomas: My mom and dad have long been inspirations to me. My parents married very young and sacrificed their dreams to raise a family. Growing up, my dad taught me the importance of integrity, working hard, never settling and taking pride and finding value in everything you do. My mom is the strongest person I know. She showed me you do not have to choose—you can have it all and be successful as a woman. You can be a great partner, a caring, attentive mother and a strong, successful businesswoman. She taught me the importance of tradition, family and finding your balance.

My husband and six-year-old daughter inspire me every single day. They encourage and support me, and are forgiving and understanding, which enables me to do what I do. On the wall in my office I have a note my daughter left me one morning on what was going to be a particularly tough day. It says, “Mommy, all you need to do is be confident, chin up and deep breath. Think of me and Daddy. Life is good. I love you, Mommy!” Such wisdom from a six-year-old—it’s what keeps me grounded and balanced.

I am also fortunate enough to work with an incredibly talented team. We are in this together and every day I bring my A-game for them. They inspire and challenge me to be a better leader and a better person.

What is the most important lesson you’ve learned from running your own business that you would share with other women?
Thomas: Some key lessons, those I live by, are: You can do anything, be anyone you want to be. You have to know who or what that is and then go for it. Know your weaknesses or opportunities. Surround yourself with strong, talented people that help balance your weaknesses or opportunities. Embrace their talent and expertise; do not be afraid of it. Empower them. No one person can do it alone. It takes a village. Include your team in creating the vision. Bring them with you on the journey. Be flexible and open, stay true to the vision, knowing the road to getting there may change.

As you grew your company/brand, what ‘Ah-Ha’ moments of clarity helped you shape its future course?
Thomas: Not really an “ah-ha” moment, but a continued revelation and confirmation that people are the heart and pulse of this business. Everything always comes back to the people—salon professionals, leaders, suppliers, and clients. It is about partnership, collaboration, building and establishing trust, showing and earning respect, approaching with and assuming positive intent. Always take a 360-degree view of things, and look through the lens of both the business and the people.

In developing your company, what is the biggest roadblock you’ve faced and how did you conquer it?
Thomas: Time and money are always a challenge: Not having enough time in the day and wanting to move faster than time and money allow. Part of the solution is to level set your own and others’ expectations, develop a short- and long-term roadmap, be patient and stay the course.

How would you describe your management style? What do you think makes you a good leader, and in what areas would you want to improve?
Thomas: My style changes—I would describe my approach as fluid. Every situation is different and every person is different. A great leader understands, can assess and identify the differences, and adjust accordingly. I believe part of what makes me a good leader is my ability to do this. I realize when a situation or person requires directive, when they need to go on their own, when they need support or encouragement, and when I need to be firm and tough.

I am an honest, candid, authentic, passionate, approachable leader. My team knows they have a voice and that their point of view and ideas are valued. I show my team respect and empower them—it is okay to make mistakes. It is how we learn as individuals and as a team.
Just this week one of my directors shared this with me: “One of the biggest things I admire is how you are able to take many different points of view and measure them quickly and mindfully to come up with a process and approach that is best for the business, but at the same time, values everyone’s perspective.”

While I would consider myself a good leader I strive every day to be a better one. I am working on talking less and listening more.

Thoughout your professional history, what’s the best lesson you’ve learned after making a mistake?
Thomas: Everyone makes mistakes. Do not deny it, hide it or be embarrassed by it. It is how we handle the situation and ourselves after making the mistake that defines us. Own it, learn from it and use it.
Share something personal that very few people at your work would know about: Thomas: I am a very unhealthy eater! My days are long and focused on giving 100%+ to my team and the business all day, and 100%+ to my family in the evenings. Many days I miss lunch without realizing it, and most nights my dinner occurs after 8PM and involves a frozen pizza or potato chips.

What’s the best thing an employee/colleague ever said about you?
Thomas: Recently, one of my directors texted me a photo of a poem called The Bridge Builder with a note that read, “Amiee, you are the bridge builder. What you are doing will create the road for the future of Salon and all that will follow. I appreciate all you are doing.” This is what it is all about.

If you were training another woman to takeover your job, what’s the most important advice you would offer her?
Thomas: Never lose sight of who you are and what is important.

If you were to look at a scrapbook of your professional career, what would be your favorite page? Which page would you like to remove?
Thomas: Most definitely my favorite page is the one I am on today. I love everything about what I am doing. I have the best of everything—an iconic company in JCPenney; JCPenney senior leadership supporting and backing me; an amazingly talented salon team; work that challenges me; a ‘family’ of the best salon professionals and leaders in the industry; an opportunity to impact and create change in this incredible industry. What is not to love and appreciate? And I have no regrets—I would not remove one page from my career scrapbook. Every moment, lesson, mistake, success, and person has shaped who I am today. Good, bad or indifferent, I would not change a thing.

If someone were to write a book about your life, what would be an appropriate title?
Thomas: Steel Magnolia

If you weren’t in the beauty industry, what would you be doing?
Thomas: I love all things beauty and fashion. Retail is my love and has such a vast array of options. If not specifically beauty, I would be doing something in the world of retail.

What is your vision for the future of your company? What is your vision for the future of the industry?
Thomas: Our vision for jcp salons is to be the salon destination of choice. To be able to say we have the most talented salon professionals, the top leaders in the industry and we deliver an unparalleled client experience is powerful.

The beauty business is such a strong category in terms of both retailing and service. I often ask myself, “How much bigger and stronger could it be?” Innovation is key for the future, and we need so much more. We impact people’s lives every day. It is the one category that is recession-proof. Beauty should dominate and should be growing at a more accelerated rate.

The only way to do that is to innovate, embrace change and think differently.

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