Cheri Dunmore Phyfer ’93, M ’99
President, Fortune Brands Global Plumbing Group
Cheri Phyfer got acquainted with the Carolinas in her childhood, traveling from her Maryland home just outside of Washington, D.C., to visit her grandfather in Florida. In high school, she put Clemson on her list of schools to visit; when she did, she fell in love with the University. Phyfer earned a management degree and, later, her MBA from Clemson.
“Straight out of college, I started with Sherwin-Williams in their manager training program and quickly evolved into the sales side,” she says. This began her 24-year career at the company, which would see her become vice president of marketing, where she ran Sherwin-Williams’ Southwest and Southeast divisions. Then Phyfer moved to Cleveland to run their consumer brands group, which sells to stores like Lowe’s, Menards and Ace. At that point, Sherwin-Williams was selling around 60 brands of paint globally, according to Phyfer.
After over two decades with Sherwin-Williams, it was time for a change. Phyfer turned to Moen, joining as the U.S. president. In 2019, she was named president of the larger group, Fortune Brands Global Plumbing Group, where she can be found out with customers, working with large partners, meeting with the outside sales organization and looking for innovation opportunities with suppliers: “It’s a fun job, and if you can picture every component of manufacturing, distributing, selling, inspiring — it’s all part of it.”
What was it like moving to Moen after being with another company for so long? What advice would you give for those wanting to make a similar move?
I will tell you there was fear. All of a sudden, I was thinking, “Am I only successful here? Is this the organization in which I’ve had success? Will that transfer?” I was very fortunate that I came into a great organization. I had credibility from the career I’d had, and I learned to have some confidence in the leadership style that I bring.
You have to get your arms around the role you’re in, and then I think you should be asking for more. Have proactive conversations and let people know where you aspire to go, especially for women. You have to lean in. And if you’re not seeing the opportunities, I would say be open to external ones. Make sure when you’re joining a company that you’re not just joining a company but a brand that you’re proud of, a company that’s moral and ethical, and, most importantly, a culture in which you see yourself succeeding.
In the job, how do you stay informed and keep learning about your role and your field?
Customer engagement is really important to understand what’s happening out there in the industry. I’m very blessed that I serve on a couple of boards, and I think that exposure to other businesses and other business opportunities or issues really helps me stay informed on the people side, on the legislation side and on the trend side. We’ve started a board matching program to get all of our presidents and above serving on a nonprofit board. I think it helps the nonprofit, it helps a person develop and it helps our organization.
Whether you’re a leader or a team player, how should you approach a meeting?
More and more organizations are moving to matrix organizations [where leadership positions are organized more as a grid than the traditional hierarchy], so I think communication is really important. The most important thing in being effective is having effective meetings. Put together an agenda, make sure there’s a pre-read and make sure there is a goal coming out of that meeting. Meetings should not be data dumps; that should be happening in the pre-read.
Also, make sure you have the right people in the meeting, and make sure people who aren’t in the meeting can find a place to be informed; that’s really linking to the IT side of it. You don’t have to be in a meeting, but you can read the pre-read, the agenda, what happened afterwards. Then you know when it’s going to hit your desk because when you’re taking a product from A to Z, there’s going to be a piece that you own. There are going to be a lot of pieces that you don’t own, and you’re going to have to trust the people bringing it in and trust the people that you hand it off to.