With an inherent entrepreneurial spirit and a committed attitude towards excellence, Sharon Reynolds had set out on a journey. A journey towards achieving excellence as a leading businesswoman and inspiring fellow women business owners towards success. In an exclusive interview with Beyond Exclamation, Sharon Reynolds shares the story of her journey as a leader and a businesswoman. She dives into her inspiration, her vision, and her distinctive traits that separate her from the crowd.
What are your first thoughts when you hear words like leader and businesswoman? What prompted you to move beyond excellence initially as a leader?
When I hear those words, I immediately think about strong women leaders who have been a powerful influence in my life beginning with my grandmother who was a professor at Fisk University. She helped me see that women can lead, provide for their families and not have any limit on their abilities because they are a woman or a minority. I’m a proud fifth generation Nashvillian and my father was one of the first Black firemen in the city while his father was a very successful entrepreneur during the late 1950s. My mother is my rock and greatest supporter, and I channel the power of YES from my late Aunt Gloria Snell who helped shape my leadership, I learned early on the values of hard work, respect and giving back to the community. I was raised with these values and a commitment to excellence was instilled in me at a very young age. There were small business owners in my family, and I always had an entrepreneurial spirit and applied that to a career in real estate and founding my own company. Now I’m applying those principles to inspire other women business owners and help them succeed.
Give a brief account of your journey as a leader and as an inspiring individual? What seeded the vision to start a company that distributes environmentally friendly products?
When the economic downturn hit, I had to reinvent myself from being a real estate broker and started helping my husband’s company Reynolds & Reynolds Facility Services, Inc. by selling the firm janitorial and cleaning suppliers. I noticed a trend towards environmentally sustainable cleaning products. I started looking at chemicals that aren’t harmful to landfills, people and the environment. I formed DevMar Products, named after our two sons, Devin and DeMarco, to distribute sustainable cleaning and safety products to make an impact and help preserve the environment for generations to come. I started participating in supplier diversity programs with Fortune 500s and the federal government who wanted to partner with woman-owned businesses. I became nationally certified through WBENC and gained exposure to corporations who wanted to source products with woman-owned businesses. I won a major contract with Metropolitan Nashville Airport Authority and was the first African American women to have that contract in the organization’s 75-year history.
What were some of the key achievements and highlights during your journey?
There are so many company milestones for DevMar Products. One that I’m most proud of is that we developed a product called Clean Up Biohazard Absorbent that makes a difference in the lives of human beings. Clean Up can eradicate Norovirus and C-difficile infections commonly acquired in nursing homes and hospitals. We are in the process of seeking EPA registration and the majority patent is owned by DevMar Products with our research partner Morehouse School of Medicine. Another highlight is we were able to expand nationally with CoreCivic and our products are in more than 100 facilities in 30 states and going into our seventh year with them. Our partnership with Marriott International helped us grow our footprint worldwide into 6800 hotels and hospitality groups. Another product, PreventX 24/7, is EPA registered and FDA clearance to be used on food contact surfaces to keep our restaurants, hotels and schools safe from harmful bacteria and pathogens.
Amidst all your responsibilities and roles at DevMar Products, how do you manage to balance between professional and personal life?
I also serve on boards including Second Harvest Food Bank in Nashville and was recently named the WBE Star for WBENC in 2019 that will involve me representing the organization nationally to support women-owned businesses. It is a labor of love and I have learned so much being a part of these organizations and giving back to the community. I benefit greatly from seeing other businesses succeed that it does my heart good to do good work. Since my husband and I both own our businesses, share office space, and work together we are challenged to find downtime together. We recently celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary with a trip to Mexico with our family and close friends. It was the trip of a lifetime, and those memories are worth every penny to share those special experiences with others. We enjoy time with our family and especially our granddaughter. She is a light in our lives that keeps us focused on what matters in life.
Do you believe to have achieved all that you have desired? What keeps you driven and determined towards work?
I see my professional journey as having no end—it simply evolves over time. I recently earned my Executive MBA from Tennessee State University, and I am a lifelong learner. That innate curiosity about the world drives me to be a better leader and continually look for ways to be more efficient and drive innovation at DevMar Products. I have launched plans to pursue my Doctoral degree in 2020.
For years you have helped inspire individuals to take innovative actions and surge ahead towards success. What is your advice for emerging and budding women leaders?
It’s really important to know who you are and what your values are when you’re developing your career or thinking about starting a company. Also pursue your passion and don’t listen to those who tell you no. Keep going until you find a yes. I think young women today are living in an incredible time in history with so many resources available to help them grow businesses and connect with others. You have to create your own opportunity and have an unwavering belief in yourself to achieve your dreams. We recently sponsored an event at a local high school to promote STEM and STEAM careers for girls called Young Enterprising Women Mentoring Forum in partnership with Enterprising Women Foundation. It was so inspiring to match girls with women entrepreneurs who shared their stories and words of wisdom. It was really powerful to see their eyes light up when given an opportunity to meet women leaders who overcame many obstacles in life to reach their goals.
What are the most critical skills of a leader? How do you impart the same upon your colleagues, employees and children?
Listening is one of the most critical skills in a leader. You really need to listen to what’s said and unsaid with your clients, partners and employees to understand their needs and what you can do to help solve a problem. Sometimes they just need to commiserate but that’s how you form strong relationships to achieve great things together. In addition to listening and problem solving, I think articulating a vision and inspiring a team to work toward a shared goal are highly valued skills in a leader. Collaboration is also high on my list. When I meet with fellow CEOs, we always bring solutions to the table or a connection or resource that’s needed. It’s about what we can bring to the table to benefit others—not what we can get from it.
What does the future hold for you and DevMar Products?
We have been on a roll this year reaching new levels of success. Our pipeline is extremely strong, and we anticipate growing 200% in revenue in 2019. We’re planning a few major product announcements that will reshape the jan-san industry and we’re looking to continue our expansion with strategic new hires and growing our federal contracting. We’re seeking funding and looking to grow internationally in China and recently had a trip to Shanghai to lay the groundwork. In addition, our plan includes partnering with one of the largest companies in the world in a collaborative effort that aligns with our core values to improve lives around the world.