Ask her how she’s feeling as she takes the reins as NAWBO Chicago’s incoming president, and Edie Comminos gives a warm, honest answer.
“It seemed soooo far off 18 months ago when I said yes!” she says with a laugh. “Now that it’s actually here, I’m excited and energized and just a little bit scared. Remember, the industry I’m in is all men. The prospect of leading a group of amazing, talented women is a huge challenge and I love that.”
Edie’s no stranger to big challenges. She founded Alpha Metals Corp in 2004 with a $100,000 home equity loan and the desire to create a company that was dramatically different from the other scrap metal firms she’d worked for in the Chicago area.
“It was like the torrential spring rains we’ve been having,” she reflects. “You know -- that moment when the ground can’t absorb even one drop more? That’s how I felt. I couldn’t continue working with people who didn’t share my vision of what a great workplace should be.”
She set out to build a company where people would feel respected, engaged, and above all, heard.
“I really feel that everything begins with listening,” she says. “When people know their perspectives REALLY matter to the success of the whole, they’re not afraid to give their best.”
As president, Edie’s strategy of deep listening will engage NAWBO Chicago members in creating an even stronger community for women business owners.
“I want to learn directly from members about what they need,” she explains. “What kind of programming supports their goals and interests? How can we build on the success of our local roundtables, but make sure everyone feels a part of the larger group? Finding out what our members think will give us a great foundation to build on.”
Edie also wants to learn more about the experiences of new members to make sure they feel immediately welcomed and engaged. Teaming with fellow board members, she plans to expand corporate sponsorships and begin gathering more data on members and their businesses – information that will point to new programming interests and opportunities.
What draws women to NAWBO is a strong sense of belonging and support, Edie says.
“Before NAWBO, I felt alone in an industry with few women – and those few weren’t always kind to each other! NAWBO introduced me to like-minded women who support each other and never apologize for leading in their own unique way.”
Edie’s own leadership style is based on her belief that kindness and humanity are strengths, not liabilities, in running a business. She’s proud that the first employee she ever hired is still with her. “I think I draw on my skills as a mom in running my company,” she says, sharing great stories of life with her two sons, now in their 20s.
“One day when Simon was 7 years old, I asked him how things were going. ‘Pretty good, Mom!’ he told me. ‘I’m getting more ‘yeses’ than ‘no’s.’ Solid insight coming from a second grader, I thought! Those words really anchor my thinking in business and life.”
Edie believes that leadership – whether we’re running a company, guiding a family or building a community like NAWBO – is more a lifelong process than a destination.
“We never actually arrive, do we?” she says. “Leaders are constantly growing, developing, being shaped and molded along the way.”
NAWBO is an essential part of that continuous learning, she says -- a place where women share their experiences and acquire an inner bank of wisdom they can draw on to meet their own challenges.
“Think of the value of that collective strength – freely given, member to member. It’s what makes NAWBO such an incredible resource for me and, I think, for all of us.”
Enjoy more insights from Edie in this great podcast, “A Fearless Woman in the Metal Industry,” from Women and Manufacturing.