SherwinWilliams Cheri Phyfer

Names: Cheri Phyfer

Title: President 

Organization: The Sherwin-Williams Co., Diversified Brands Division

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Sherwin-Williams' Cheri Phyfer: On Building Bridges and Developing Women in Leadership

The president of the Diversified Brands Division shares leadership lessons learned and "paying it forward." 

Earlier this week Cheri Phyfer stood before a group of women primarily and addressed the topic of negotiating. It is subject matter with which she has great familiarity given her professional position: Phyfer is president and general manager, Diversified Brands, at Cleveland-based Sherwin-Williams Co., whose paint and coatings brands include Dutch Boy and Thompson's, among a host of others.

"We negotiate all day long," and not just at work, she noted, but with yourself, with your spouse, with your kids.

Phyfer was speaking in Cleveland at the Woman of Power Conference, an event dedicated to helping women develop leadership skills, build professional relationships and be forces for positive change. She also was the event co-chair.

During her presentation, the Sherwin-Williams president outlined what she described as among the biggest missteps parties make when entering negotiations: determining what you want without understanding what the other side wants. "You automatically turn it into a conflict," she says.

"Negotiating skills [are] building a bridge between yourself ...and that other person," the Sherwin-Williams president said. "Any time you get solely focused on what you want, you are going to break that bridge."

Phyfer led the audience in a quick exercise aimed to help them better understand their own negotiating styles. "There is not a right style. There is not a better style," she cautioned. However, understanding your own style can help create more successful outcomes, she said.

Phyfer's participation at the Woman of Power Conference is not her only involvement in advancing the role of women professionals. Phyfer is a founding member of Professional Women in Painting, as well as a member of the National Association of Women in Construction and National Association of Professional Women.

She spent a few moments with this IndustryWeek editor following her presentation and addressed a few questions:

On her participation in issues related to professional women:

 "I was a trailblazer" at Sherwin-Williams, Phyfer said. The president has been with the company for 22 years, but back when she started – as a management trainee – there were not a lot of women to look up to.

"I didn't have a mentor," she says, adding that as she advanced into roles of increasing importance, "in many instances I was the first female" in that position.

Moreover, she adds, women "do face different challenges."

In short, Phyfer says, "I wanted to help pave the way for others."

On her negotiating style:

Phyfer describes her own negotiating style as "concerned with winning." The two other styles she described during her presentation were "concerned with avoiding conflict" and "concerned with good relationships."  The key to a "concerned with winning" style, she told the audience, was to create a balance – become a better listener, practice assertion without dominance and perhaps think differently about what constitutes winning.

Absent creating a balance, a "concerned with winning" style can alienate the other party, something Phyfer suggests likely occurred early in her career. These days she says she takes a more holistic approach to negotiations.

On leadership styles that influenced her own:  

Phyfer cites both Christopher Conner, the former CEO of the Sherwin-Williams Co., and John G.  Morikis, the current CEO. "They are two very different styles," she said. "But they have unbelievable skills."

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