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The Art of Solid Leadership, JPCL August 2015 Bonus Issue Article

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August 2015

Melissa Bentley, Carboline Company

Melissa Bentley has a passion for travel. Filling her calendar with as many trips as her schedule allows, she can’t get enough of “seeing different places and as many different areas of the country as I can,” she said. “I’m always up to go anywhere at any time.”

That urge to take in new things as much as possible doesn’t just apply to travel. In fact, that sense of curiosity and drive to learn is clearly evident in her career path.

Now vice president of global communications for Carboline Company, Melissa got her start there not so long ago in 2010 as a marketing media coordinator with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in graphic design from Missouri State University.

“I have a much different background than a lot of people in this industry,” Melissa said. “I got my start as a graphic designer, where you are always learning new industries, depending on the client. As a designer you’re always challenged to learn as much as you can about the subject you’re designing for.”

She admits that while she was not familiar with the coatings industry at the start, her designer’s mindset enabled her to immerse herself in the field and understand it at a deeper level.

“Part of that was out of necessity — for needing to understand what I was doing as well as how to communicate it to our customers or our employees,” she said, adding, “but also just out of my own curiosity of wanting to learn more about the industry.”

This readiness to learn is part of what Melissa credits with the fast track her career is on: “being curious about different things — the willingness to constantly ask questions, absorb, and learn.”

Whether it’s attending trade shows or taking classes related to the industry, including training from SSPC, Melissa always strives to get more information from those around her.

That pervasive curiosity made an impression on Carboline’s vice president – global marketing Doug Moore during Melissa’s hiring process, too. As he recalled it, “You can tell she listens well; she would strive to understand before she started speaking.”

He added that he knew she had potential by the way she answered their questions: “purposeful, methodical and well thought out. It’s that deliberativeness of thought and purposefulness of speech that said, ‘You know, she’s got a good head on her shoulders.’”

In her nomination, Melissa was credited with having a unique combination of creative skills and a sharp business acumen that helped her rise to a role of leadership and authority within Carboline.

Melissa agrees. She believes her creative background, paired with an MBA from Washington University, Olin Business School, in St. Louis, Mo., gives her a skill set that helps to differentiate her in the workplace.

Her design background gives her the ability to creatively solve problems in ways others may not initially think of, and business school has helped her to recognize how to apply that creative approach to improve processes or to translate creative thinking into different areas of the business.

And being faithful to that passion for creativity and finding ways to fit it into the coatings field is what she’s currently most proud of in her work.

Melissa has designed and issued a global brand standard and is working with teams to implement the change. “There was not a lot of emphasis placed on consistency of the company’s image.” As a B-to-B company she feels that positioning is crucial.

“We were having an identity problem because different affiliates around the world were going to market in different ways, so we were a company that seemed very disjointed,” she said.

It wasn’t a quick fix. It took about a year and a half to fully develop the new brand standards and to update and bring all of their literature, advertising and web presence into compliance. She had the foresight to build flexibility into the new system, meaning that they kept in mind that the literature would be translated into multiple languages and subject to various printing capabilities around the world.

To Melissa, all of these steps would “ensure that our brand was represented consistently, and that we were putting our best foot forward.”

Additionally, Melissa manages teams that are responsible for the company intranet site and include the customer relationship database, the new global project and account coordination initiative, and the creation of a process to improve internal communications with the company’s global sales teams. She manages the customer service team as well.

She is quick to acknowledge the great team of people who are working on these very diverse projects.

A member of SSPC, NACE International and AIGA, the professional association for design, Melissa was also appointed chair of Carboline’s vision committee. This team strives to communicate new ideas, discuss problems and develop strategic solutions to challenges throughout the company, whether in manufacturing, product development or finance.

And while she’s hesitant to name specific people within Carboline, she quickly acknowledged: “One of the things that has really kept me here, being someone new to the industry, is that there are so many people within this company who have been key to helping me get where I am and so willing to help all the time.

“Those are the people who have pushed for me, have advocated for me, and have always been there to support or give me advice, wanting me to learn and grow into the role,” she added.

For others coming up in the industry, Melissa advises the importance of finding mentors who are open and willing to teach and guide you. But more so, she feels that “having a drive, working very hard and staying curious would be the best advice that I could give anybody in any industry.”

She also advocates the importance of having a passion for what you do, because passion is contagious and can stimulate the people on your teams.

The coatings industry is a good fit for Melissa, as it feeds her curiosity and drive to learn; she loves how, seemingly every day, there is much to be learned.

Doug agrees. “Like most of us in this industry, you can tell she’s got the bug. How do you get involved in the painting industry? It always just kind of gets under your skin — and it got under her skin. She likes it.”

He added: “We see her as a key part of the future of our company, and I think she’ll be in the industry for a long time.”

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