January 19/26, 2015; Volume 28/Number 15
By Jenna Lippin
Following in the footsteps of her mentors—David Duncan, senior vice president of marketing and sales operations for Mohawk, and Phil Prince, former vice president of sales promotion and marketing services for Karastan Bigelow—Elise Demboski likes to lead by example. While she has created much success for herself and the companies for which she has worked, she attributes her recent accomplishments as Mohawk’s vice president of creative services to collaboration with a strong team. “I never ask anyone to do anything I wouldn’t be willing to do myself,” she said.
With that, she encourages her marketing team to share ideas as she has during her career, going the extra mile and encouraging each other to help them develop and grow as a group. “I once had a boss who did not want his team to advance,” Demboski recalled. “He wanted a good team and wanted them to himself. That was hard for me because it really limited my ability to grow. I want to be able to give my team every opportunity to grow, to advance and try new things.”
And grow she did. Nearing 30 years in the industry, Demboski can certainly provide insight on what the journey of a successful woman in the flooring industry entails. Strategic—though sometimes lateral—moves brought her to the prominent role she has today, helping create some of the most innovative advertising and marketing campaigns in industry history.
After earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology at UNC Chapel Hill, Demboski had plans to earn her Master of Arts degree in Business from Elon University in North Carolina. While pursuing her higher-education dream, she worked for Karastan, which was soon purchased by Mohawk. Though strides were being made in her career, Demboski’s plans had to change.
“I started as a co-op advertising clerk for Karastan,” she said. “I was very ambitious. I wanted to climb the corporate ladder, which is one of the reasons I went back for my master’s degree.” A new opportunity at Karastan soon presented itself; however, it was a lateral move to the position of administrative assistant for the vice president of advertising. While it wasn’t necessarily a leap in her career, Demboski was positive about new opportunities, refusing to be discouraged by titles. She also credits her mentor early in her career, Prince, for giving her the confidence and support she needed to make moves of which she was initially unsure.
“I really admired Phil and saw the opportunity as a chance to learn more about advertising and public relations. A year after accepting the position, we were purchased by Mohawk. Only a handful of positions were being transferred to Calhoun and assistants were not one of them. Phil stood by me and convinced upper management to promote me to communications manager and move me to Georgia. I was blessed to have someone who believed in me. You can work really hard, but unless you run across people who give you a chance and believe in you, the results may not be the same.”
With someone in her corner, Demboski had faith that the baby steps would move toward something big. “I told Phil in my initial interview that I was trying to get my master’s degree and that I aspired to be more than a clerk and assistant. I wanted more than a lateral move and needed to know there would be opportunities to grow if I worked hard. Phil promised that if I put in the time and effort, he would do everything he could to support my career aspirations—and he held true to that promise.”
Demboski’s hard work and creativity continued to drive her forward, working as Mohawk’s communications manager for several years until she was contacted by Wools of New Zealand to hold the same role. While she eventually went back to Mohawk, her time spent with Wools of New Zealand gave her the opportunity to travel the world, exposing her to a global market. But again, plans changed.
“I started having children, so traveling far became challenging,” she said. But becoming a mom didn’t mean losing sight of her career. Though Demboski gave up her position at Wools of New Zealand, her ambition continued to hold strong and she started her own PR and marketing business in 1998 called Impressions Marketing. She kept the company thriving for 11 years and during that time Karastan and Wools of New Zealand became clients.
After going back to Wools of New Zealand as executive director in 2008, Demboski landed in 2011 in the role she carries today, a new position developed by Duncan. “I’ve known David for many years and couldn’t turn down the chance to work with him,” she said. “David is incredibly talented and is one of the few people who can think creatively, rationally and analytically at the same time. He can see the full effects of an idea and quickly map out a strategic course of action that turns a potentially worthy idea into an attainable and successful initiative. His passion is contagious and I have learned a lot from him. He is the reason I came back [to Mohawk].”
Her journey has, in fact, been successful, but Demboski cites one of her biggest challenges as getting that first break in her career. What helped her? Staying dedicated and having people who believed in her from the start. “When you’re at that beginning, base level, you’re learning, whether man or woman. At that point it’s hard for people to take you seriously. You have to work extra hard to stand out and be recognized.”
She also sees obstacles—which tend to come up more often for women—as opportunities. “This is a man’s industry; we all know that. But if you think about it, women make up a large portion of our target audience. Women in this industry know what a woman wants, and not only what she wants in a product but how she wants her home to feel. That’s why it’s important to have diverse perspectives in the conversation because it allows us to find new, exciting ways to reach the consumer that others may not think of.”
What goes hand-in-hand with those ideas, Demboski said, is having the confidence to share them with others. “Take your idea and present it to your boss in terms of the value it can bring to the business. Even if your ideas are not embraced, at least you are showing executives you have ideas, that you are willing to take that extra step, that you have passion for your career. This is what helps you stand out from the rest.”
That confidence is something Demboski encourages others to seek within themselves. Finding something you love to do is the first step, she said, along with hard work and perseverance to help prove your strengths to others.
“I love being a woman in this industry; there is a lot of opportunity to grow. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or to ask questions. The more people see your desire to learn, the more you’ll get recognized. That’s what a go-getter does.”
These are qualities Demboski seeks in her own team members, male or female. “We don’t require anyone to work long hours, but they do because they’re passionate about their work. We treat each other with respect, and we care about each other beyond work—we are family. My team loves what they do and it shows. I think that’s important.”