As President of North American Commercial and Industrial Sales for Stanley Black & Decker – a world-renowned company best-known for its tools and storage solutions and iconic brands like DEWALT™, CRAFTSMAN™, STANLEY™, BLACK+DECKER™, IRWIN™, and LENOX™ – Maria Ford has accomplished a lot in life. Her choice to invest 20 years of her life with one company might be surprising to some, but Ford has just done what’s come naturally: accepting every new challenge as a learning experience. Her pragmatic demeanor suggests she might indeed be capable of nearly anything.
Ford credits her tenacity to her days playing for a top collegiate lacrosse team, and most importantly to the female coach whose words still resonate today. “My coach was continuously challenging us to not only change and better ourselves but to set our sights on changing the world,” Ford remembers. “We heard this message daily for four years – a message that’s stuck with me and became my north star every single day.”
Back then, Ford was interning at BLACK+DECKER™, with big dreams of continuing to fashion school after college graduation from Loyola University in Maryland. “I approached my coach to talk about my plans to become an independent fashion designer and she said, ‘You can do anything but your gift to the world will be leading other people,’” Ford remembers.
Taking her coach’s advice to heart, Ford accepted a full-time position at BLACK+DECKER™. Though she had no personal interest rooted in power tools, Ford forged ahead with a “little-by-little” approach to see if she fit. Beginning with assembling product displays at a major home improvement store partner while also leading a small Sales and Marketing team, she realized her core passion was to focus on partnering with customers and inspiring people to be the best they can be.
A TRUE CALLING
Fast forward more than 15 years – a span that included taking various roles at the company and being a working mom – Ford was exposed to the channel of independent distribution/independent business owners, who Ford admired for their grit, determination and passion. “Our incredible customers are business owners who give 110% every day,” said Ford. “Realizing that our products and solutions play a major role in helping their businesses succeed was it for me – I knew I had found my true love and calling,” Ford says her relationships with her customers go far beyond the purchase. She thinks of her customers as extended family – a relationship she says she’s not sure she’d get working many other places.
PUT ME IN, COACH
When offered the opportunity to pursue a “very dynamic” and “challenging” Vice President of Marketing role that involved managing 30-40 people, Ford jumped at the chance to blaze new trails at a time when the industry was much more male-driven.
“When that role became open, I knew I could do it, even if I was still a little fresh and young. I didn’t have my c-suite legs yet, but the opportunity was there. The timing was never going to be perfect, but I knew that I wanted to do it,” she recalls.
With so many others believing in her – including various leaders at Stanley Black & Decker – Ford had faith that she could rise to the next challenge in her career. “I’ve had some great mentors along the way,” she says. “They encouraged and pushed me to realize that I could do the things that I wanted to do.”
Next to motherhood, Ford calls her work the most rewarding experience of her life.
HER BEST ADVICE
Through the years, Ford has learned a lot about what strong leadership truly means. Her advice to others in management positions:
Lead with empathy
As a leader, Ford maintains that her strongest quality is her directness: “I don’t pretend to be anything that I’m not. I lead with that. I am who I am. I’m real and my team sees it. I show them my good days, I show them my bad days,” she says. Ford says that with the stress we’ve all experienced during the pandemic, it is more critical than ever to lead with empathy. “I am extremely passionate about being empathetic to people and what they’re going through. It’s the most important thing that I can do as a leader right now,” she says.
Ford says one of the strongest elements of culture at Stanley Black & Decker is the tendency to offer big responsibilities early. “I think about some of the mentorship and training programs that I’ve been a part of over the years that have allowed me to develop and discover my strengths and blind spots. They’ve done an excellent job of developing us and challenging us with some pretty incredible opportunities,” comparing the experience to being offered the keys to the car. “And you get in the car and go, ‘This is a big deal.’’’
Support an inclusive culture and equally rewarding opportunities
Ford rates Stanley Black & Decker’s DE&I initiatives as some of the most powerful actions she’s seen come out of the organization, which tie right back into her personal credo of empathy. “Stanley Black & Decker has taken the opportunity to listen to people and embrace all the unique backgrounds, skill sets, and lifestyles that are out there.”
Ford says she’s felt supported to make big advances in her career along the way. “I’ve never said, ‘I don’t feel as though I’m being taken care of.’ I’ve never done that,” she says. “I firmly believed that if I put the points on the board, the sky’s the limit for me at Stanley Black & Decker.”