Ariat’s CEO on Being a Female Leader in a Male-Dominated Industry

Ariat International, known for its Western and workboots, is marking its 25th anniversary this year. Co-founded by female entrepreneur Beth Cross, the executive has successfully navigated the challenges of starting a business in a male-centric industry.

Here, she shares her advice for women entering the business, how to find the right employees and the importance of making time for family and friends.

My first paying job:

“I grew up on a farm, so my first job was cleaning stalls and feeding the animals. From the age of 15, I worked a variety of jobs. In high school, I was a server in a restaurant and, at 20, a cook on a salmon boat in Alaska. During college, I sold and delivered bread for a small bakery in Colorado. With each, I learned how to work hard, get along with everyone and have fun.”

My leadership style:

“I believe in creating a culture where everyone understands the strategy and the critical role they play in achieving our goals. I’m an optimist and look for the best in people while working to understand their essential humanity. We have many incredible people at Ariat who are themselves founders of the company. They’ve built it through a leadership culture of hard work, commitment to our values and dedication to each other’s success.”

Most important business course in college:

“Technical writing. We learned how to write product catalogs and instruction manuals. The teacher was relentless about achieving a high degree of clarity and precision in our writing. A spelling error was a fatal mistake.”

Favorite mentor:

“Joe Fortino on our board of directors. He was a senior executive in the toy industry and taught us about planning, supply chain and leadership, and the risks of relying too much on on-the-job training. Sometimes you can’t afford costly mistakes in critical functions, and need to hire the most experienced person possible to supercharge the growth of your company.”

What I seek in new employees:

“We look for people with a strong learning mindset who are naturally curious, humble, bright, positive and who enjoy building personal connections.”

Advice to young women entering the industry:

“Focus on building skills that are relevant today and learn about how things are evolving. Read everything you can that deepens your understanding of a specific job. Expect to encounter bias based on your gender, age, skill set, even height. Many people operate with some degree of unconscious bias, and it will be your challenge to figure out how to work around that while demonstrating why they’re incorrect or outdated.”

Most challenging part of my job:

“Deciding how to allocate my time. Our business is global, and it’s important to stay connected with customers, factories and our team around the world. Prioritizing and processing the daily data input is a challenge — from email to national and international news and social media platforms.”

If I weren’t in the shoe business:

“When I was in middle school, I thought my perfect job would be working as a book reviewer. When I wasn’t riding horses or playing sports, I was reading books.”

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