CSD: Sonja Hubbard Paves The Way For Women In Retailing

Sep 23, 2009

By Erin Rigik

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of an article from Convenience Store Decisions magazine.

As CEO of Texarkana, Texas-based E-Z Mart Stores Inc., which operates more than 300 stores in five states, Sonja Hubbard is a true c-store industry veteran.

Ms. Hubbard was just a child when her father, Jim Yates founded E-Z Mart in 1970. She joined E-Z Mart full time after graduating from the University of Arkansas and has been with the company for more than 20 years, serving as assistant controller, controller and chief financial officer before taking the helm, following the untimely death of her visionary father in 1998.

In addition to her position at E-Z Mart, Ms. Hubbard has been very active with NACS over the years. Before taking on the role of 2008-2009 NACS Chairwoman, she served as the NACS treasurer, and also has been a member of the NACS Supplier Board and the NACS Convention and Events Committee.

While some leaders would feel the stress of the additional industry responsibilities, Ms. Hubbard has thrived and said she is pleased to be a woman at the forefront of a predominately male dominated industry.

“It is rewarding and exciting to think that women have made such strides, especially in an industry like ours that is so very male dominated at the top,” she said. “At the same time, it is comforting that gender hasn’t really been an issue. The fact that women are accepted and considered as peers proves we’ve come a long way and that this is a great industry to be part of.”

Ms. Hubbard regularly encourages other women to take a hard look at the c-store industry as a viable career choice. “The industry has so much more to offer than most see from the outside, or have stereotyped it to be,” she said. “This is a fast-paced, rapidly changing industry with unlimited opportunities. I love that in this business you can never be bored. I also believe that our companies are eager to see more women in leadership roles in the c-store industry, creating even more options and opportunities for success.”

Other female executives that have opened doors include Becky Shotwell, president of Stop-N-Go in Medina, Ohio; and Andrea Jackson, president and chief operating officer of Jackson’s Food Stores in Idaho. At NACS, Jennie Jones of S&D Coffee is the first female to take on the role of supplier board chairman, and Jenny Bullard, chief information officer of Flash Foods, was the first female chair of NACSTech.

“The fact that so many women are stepping forward and up, proves that I’m not an anomaly, but instead we’re actually viable candidates for leadership,” Ms. Hubbard said.

She also advised aspiring female leaders to know what they bring to the table and to use their individual talents to their advantage. “For years women tried to be men in business, and that was a mistake. We bring distinct qualities that should be celebrated, just like those of our male counterparts.”

Discussion Questions: Is the retail industry doing enough to promote women in management ranks? To what degree does a glass ceiling still exist? What advice would you give to a woman trying to work her way into retail management?

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5 Comments on "CSD: Sonja Hubbard Paves The Way For Women In Retailing"

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Steve Montgomery
12 years 7 months ago

I believe the barriers for women have lessened significantly over time. Before someone takes my head off, that does not mean I believe that they no longer exist or exist within certain companies.

I was fortunate enough to be in a company early in my career where I was able to promote the first two women to a vice presidential level–one in HR and the other in marketing. Both were the best candidates but both faced opposition from within. However, once the organization saw that they had my full backing and were in fact very good at their positions, it dissipated.

With all the pressures on business today, the current leadership of a company should look for the best candidate regardless of sex or any other historic limiting factor. No one can afford to not have the best and brightest leading their organization.

David Livingston
12 years 7 months ago
The industry doesn’t need to do anything to bring more women to the executive ranks. Women can do that on their own. I generally hire only women for my support staff, all outside, self-employed contractors such as my attorney, financial advisor, CPA, and IT analyst. They all do a great job and for the most part, will do it for less money than their male counterparts. Self employment is the great equalizer. You are simply paid by how hard you work. There are no gender bonuses. The corporate world should be the same. Smart women have learned to work the system and make the system work for them. Women are still considered sex objects while men are considered success objects. Men often try harder in the business world, mostly as a way of showing off for the benefit of women, like a teen boy showing off in front of a group of school girls. Women are simply learning to beat the system rather than asking men not to try so hard so they can catch… Read more »
Mel Kleiman
12 years 7 months ago

The polling question was short one choice today. “There is no glass ceiling. (That is the one that would have gotten my vote.

Let’s look at this from a different perspective. Maybe the majority of women have figured out this is not a place where they want to have a long-term career.

Most smart women who are looking for a leadership career are making rational decisions on where they want to spend their time and effort and a lot of retailers–just as a lot of other segments of the marketplace–are coming up as not appealing.

If you’re very smart, very mature, daughter came home tomorrow and said of all the industries I should be looking at to have a career which ones would make the short list of all of the possibilities out there? Let us assume for a moment you were not a high-level retail executive.

I wonder what your advice would be if you were even the owner or founder of a small retail store or maybe even a couple of stores.

Mark Burr
12 years 7 months ago
My best advice to a woman or man on seeking retail management positions is aspire to the position. I do not believe there to be a ceiling or limitation to anyone other than their performance and their abilities. I do often wonder, though however, if in measuring things like this if its done fairly. Not to be controversial at all. But is the measurement done by simply counting men versus women in positions of leadership? Or, more difficult to measure, the number of men or women aspiring and being denied by gender. The question should not be interpeted as a slant or point of view. I still question the number of women aspiring to these levels versus the number of men. Is that totally equal? I think not, but I sure would like to know that. It would be a tough number to find and measure with accuracy, but I think its a better question. Retail, if a close look was taken, is likely a great place for women or anyone to become successful that… Read more »
Carol Spieckerman
Carol Spieckerman
12 years 7 months ago
For too long, women have taken an “every-woman-for-herself” approach to advancing in retail and that’s why I’m encouraged by the growing number of women’s groups that are forming within retail organizations. Julie Gilbert, formerly of Best Buy, is a great example. She launched Best Buy’s WOLF pack (Women’s Leadership Forum) program under the premise that Best Buy would not do a good job serving female shoppers if females weren’t more empowered within Best Buy’s ranks. I have been disappointed at times by out-of-enterprise women’s retail groups that focus on delivering work/life balance and career advice programming to the exclusion of more hard-hitting, retail-specific topics. One woman quipped to me at a recent event “I already know how imbalanced I am and that’s why I have a house husband.” If a female retail executive is speaking at an event, I want to hear about the initiatives that she is driving and how her career trajectory ties in with the larger organization’s goals. My business partner and I are launching a women’s retail think tank next month… Read more »

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