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Fastsigns CEO Catherine Monson: Five Traits to a Successful Career

Tell us a little bit about the company and what Fastsigns does.

Monson: We have been in business since 1985. We're the largest sign and visual graphics franchise. [We've won] third-party awards for franchisee satisfaction, which is really critical. If you're looking to become a franchisee, you want to consider a franchisor that [has] a really good franchisee/franchisor relationship. We have over 535 locations in eight countries. About 470 of those are in the United States.

[We're] very much a B2B model. What signage and graphics do is they inform, they direct and they sell. So it could be signage for a hospital so that people who come in know how to get to the right department or the right floor. That's one kind of signage. It could be marketing-oriented signage that helps a company sell more of their products and services to end users or it could be informational kind of signage that might be at a donor wall or where a company's just trying to communicate information to its constituents.

How has your upbringing has shaped your work ethic?

Monson: I grew up in a family business. When you get the opportunity to work in a small business growing up or to work on a family farm, you really understand that the way you get ahead, the way you build wealth in your family, the way you take care of yourself, is to do hard work. It builds a work ethic that perhaps does not exist for those kids who were given an allowance for doing nothing, just for being part of the family. It was expected. It wasn't until I was probably in my teens that I actually got paid by my family.

You've obviously come a long way since those early days. Tell me, as a CEO of a large franchise, where can we still see the roots of your strong ethic?

Monson: Throughout my career I always did whatever it took to do an excellent job. I am a workaholic. I love my work. It is normal that I work 60 or 70, sometimes 80 hours a week. Last week I was on vacation. I worked every day I was on vacation. Do I regret it? No. Do I resent it? No. I love what I do.

I knew as a little kid that I didn't want to be a mom. I just knew it as a little kid. I didn't think I'd be a great mom and I didn't want anybody to not have a great mom, so I decided kids weren't for me. Now that makes it easier for me to work very long hours.

That brings me to my next question. Where do the challenges lie for women executives in general?

Monson: The fact that women are expected to also be the primary caregiver of kids and expected to keep the home up and expected to do dinner, at least in our society, is that fair or not fair? It doesn't matter. It's called reality. There is more pressure on women to "have it all." I've never heard a single guy talk about, "Is it possible for a man to have it all?" It's not even a cultural consideration. So if you want to be a career executive and if you want to be the most amazing mother in the world, that's some real tightrope walking that you're going to have to do.

I do believe that if men are forceful, assertive and direct, they're considered to be powerful, smart executives. If women are forceful, assertive and direct they're sometimes called a witch with a "b" in front of it. Do I let that bother me? No. That's just reality. I'm going to be forceful, assertive and direct and if somebody's feathers are ruffled, I have learned to believe that's their problem and not mine. Now is that an excuse to be bitchy in the workplace? Absolutely not, because anybody who is bitching or negative isn't going to be successful.
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