Kellie Dodds: Chief Executive Motivator

Kellie Dodds Photo courtesy of Mauget.

I’m settling into an empty office I’ve borrowed for this phone call, knowing it’s a quiet day because everyone else is at a trade show, and therefore it’s the best day to do some freelance work over my lunch break. No interruptions.

Despite having this quiet space, I’m nervous as I do a last-minute check that I have all of the materials I need for this call, and then I dial the phone. I’ve been tasked with profiling Kellie Dodds, president and CEO of J. J. Mauget Company, a 48-year TCIA Associate Member company based in Arcadia, California, and a TCIA PACT partner, for the Women in Tree Care issue of TCI Magazine.

Mauget is a developer and manufacturer of tree-injection technology.

Did I mention I was nervous? I suspect now it’s because I had unwittingly fallen prey to the gender stereotypes that often come with women in leadership positions. Strong women can be – ahem – witches, but spelled with a “B.” They have to work harder than everyone else in the room, so how do I measure up to that? And yet, somehow, women leaders are still expected to take care rather than take charge. How confusing. Every woman I had encountered during my time working in the tree care industry was incredible. Why were my palms sweating?

Dodds answers the phone, and I can only hear half of what she has said due to static – cue panic! “Uh, hello? Can you hear me?” I ask. “I think I might have a bad connection on my end.”

“Nope, I hear you just fine,” says Dodds.

Of course, the potential for a technology mishap and my complete lack of professionalism right off the bat ratchet up my nerves. Murphy’s Law.

However, I quickly find I was nervous for no reason – Dodds is delightful. I discovered in the 47 minutes and 20 seconds we spent on the phone that we’re kindred spirits. She even confirmed it on her end, further cementing my positive vibes.

I’m not sure I can tell her story without including a little bit of mine, especially since she’s the type of leader I crave as a young professional. She’s a motivator, and I even joked that I need weekly “Kellieisms” to keep me going. I wasn’t actually joking, though.

Career exploration

What I knew going into this call was that Dodds took over Mauget, the family business, shortly after rejoining it in 2017 because, unfortunately, her father, Nathan Dodds, had passed away. Before becoming a third-generation business owner, Kellie Dodds had wide work experience outside of tree care, including sales, journeyman carpenter, retail management and business consulting – although she did spend some time working for the manufacturing branch of Mauget, too.

This is one of several reasons why I’ve decided I like Dodds. She, like me, has experienced a bunch of different career paths … unapologetically.

There has been a generational shift in the workplace, from finding a job and staying there for 30 years to having a handful of careers over time, and now to the gig economy. She and I, while not from the same generation (I am a Millennial who more closely identifies as an Xennial, and I suspect Dodds is Generation X), landed in that middle group.

Having multiple careers in one lifetime isn’t necessarily unique, but it speaks to a certain tenacity, flexibility and desire for continued learning that can be unique traits that are hard to find. Plus, it’s scary to start over. Do it more than once, and tackling that fear practically becomes a transferable skill.

Permission to fail

What I found interesting were Dodds’ thoughts on fear. I mentioned my awe of women who start businesses or take on leadership roles. While I’ve started over more than once, quite frankly, I’m just too scared to branch out and do my own thing. After 11 years of being a business consultant, Dodds realized that entrepreneurs are also afraid, but they’re not afraid to fail because from failure comes growth. Essentially, these people give themselves permission to fail, and fail numerous times before getting up and running.

Introducing Kellieism No. 1: It’s OK to fail.

I was reminded that I have failed. More than once. But then, I’ve learned from it, mastered my craft and moved on to the next – and the next after that. Coincidentally, it was then that the term “Renaissance woman” popped up during our conversation.

Renaissance women

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, a Renaissance man is, “the Renaissance humanism notion that men should try to embrace all knowledge and develop their own capacities as fully as possible.” An excellent example of a Renaissance man is Leonardo da Vinci, whose gifts included art, science, music, invention and writing.

Dodds and I feel like we could be considered Renaissance women of sorts.

Not to be confused with a Jack of All Trades, who is a master of none, a Renaissance woman brings a lot to the table because she has deep skills and experience as a result of diving in and fully exploring her work … all of her work. Renaissance women don’t specialize in one thing; Renaissance women specialize in many things.

Dodds’ diverse career paths provided her with a wide variety of hard and soft skills. She says she’s great at managing people and creating business plans – two very different skills to specialize in. However, Dodds also says her main expertise lies in helping entrepreneurs, small businesses, startups, etc., with no prior experience in California to set up sustainable, or even better than sustainable, business models and to navigate California tax and labor laws.

So what does this mean for Mauget? Certainly, only good things.

Shown here during Mauget’s 2020 Kickoff Meeting in February 2020 are, from left, Rodney Castellano, warehouse supervisor; Kellie Dodds; Rafael “Andy” Vega, DPM (doctor of plant medicine), science officer; and Roberta “Robin” Spitko, Ph.D., chief science officer. Photo courtesy of Mauget.

Kellieism No. 2: Good people trust good people.

Hello, 21st century

“Mauget was a pioneer. I realized quickly that we were the sleeping giant ready to wake up and take our rightful place back at the top,” says Dodds. “My grandfather, Dale Dodds, was a chemical engineer by profession, but at heart he was an environmentalist who wanted to save the planet. He chose trees, and tree health is the only thing that Mauget has focused on for 60 years.”

It is important to Dodds to keep that legacy going, she says. With lots of big ideas to move Mauget forward, she also knows her limits.

“I know how to put a business plan together, execute the plan, devise a community and culture within my business and be steadfast and tenacious’” says Dodds. “I am an effective and positive leader. But as CEO, I can’t do it all.”

Bringing Mauget into the 21st century meant expanding the company’s visibility and influence, so Dodds created a new role, director of marketing, and brought Jack Rikess on board to fill that role. She also wanted to revisit science, so Dr. Roberta “Robin” Spitko was hired to be the company’s chief science officer. As a result of these additions, Mauget has experienced some exciting developments and looks forward to pursuing them further in 2020.

“We invented this technology and are flattered by all the imitators trying to make a better mouse trap, but we invented the mouse trap,” says Dodds. “Mauget has businesses and universities from all around the world contacting us about our methods for tree injection. Education is huge for Mauget, and we currently support and work with several colleges and universities to integrate plant health care into their curriculum. We also started our Be a Good Neighbor program, where we work with communities to give back. The opportunities for a bright future are boundless.”

It’s hard not to feel sucked in by Dodds’ positive attitude about the future of Mauget. I would be surprised if each and every individual on her lean but scrappy 14-person team wouldn’t say the same. Which, by the way, is now a female-heavy staff , and not by design. “It just happened organically as the business evolved over the last two years,” says Dodds.

All good vibes

Here’s what I think: Dodds’ positive attitude and optimism are contagious. During our call, “good juju” came up more than once, and I couldn’t help but smile every time. I find that not only uplifting, but completely disarming. How often do you hear of a CEO talking about good juju? “We’re good people, and good people trust good people,” says Dodds. “I’m quite proud of my ability to connect with people. I have great staff and they support me. I support them, too.”

Kellieism No. 2: Good people trust good people.

Being a cheerleader is part of Dodds’ job. She figures out what motivates people so everyone is set up for the best opportunity for success. “It used to be that a CEO or a powerful woman, anyone making their way and being successful in business, had to be twice as good as their male counterpart,” says Dodds. “Today? Women, we stand up and we’re counted. Our voices are heard. We’re proud. That is where we can stand shoulder to shoulder to the men and women who are our peers and counterparts and succeed.”

What motivates Dodds? “I can’t wait to get to work. I am excited to get to come to work. I can’t believe I get paid to do what I do. I am driven because I know what I do has value.” Wow!

Kellieism No. 3: All boats rise.

Something else she said to me that really resonated is that it’s tiring to fight the river. As a young professional who has started over a few times, I feel that deep in my bones. “What creates success and the ultimate end result is not fighting the river, it’s navigating the river. All boats rise,” says Dodds. It’s even in her email signature. So simple, and yet – Kellieism No. 3: All boats rise.

Advice for the next generation of women in tree care

Asked, “What is your advice for the next generation of women?” Kellie Dodds’ replies:

• Don’t be afraid.

• Take your power.

• You are not less than.

• You are equal.

• You have a voice.

• You’ve got this!

Emily W. Duane is the marketing and social media coordinator for a manufacturer of hiking and camping gear, and a former marketing coordinator for TCIA. By night, she is a freelance writer specializing in business and marketing topics for the outdoor trades and recreation industries. She is currently based in Denver.

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