Leadership Lessons with Connie Costner

Leadership Lessons with Connie Costner, President of Mathand

TMJ: Can you briefly overview your career journey and where you are today?

Costner: In the year 2000, I ventured into the material handling industry, despite being new to this field, equipped with my associate degree in accounting and a bachelor’s degree in computer information systems. My previous experience of owning and operating two successful businesses helped me to apply similar principles and skills to build the business. Initially, when I joined Mathand, I was the third employee. Later, I married the owner’s son, Damon Costner, and together, we purchased Mathand from his father, George Costner. With the proceeds from the sale of my previous businesses, I gained the majority of shares of the company and achieved the Women-Owned Certification. In 2008, I established a sister company called Material Handling Installers, aimed at providing turnkey projects for our customers. I held the majority of shares in this company as well. Today, the company has 25 employees. Damon and I work together seamlessly; he focuses on Mathand sales while I manage the businesses.

TMJ: What changes have you witnessed during your tenure, and what has stayed constant?

Costner: Advancements in technology have revolutionized the way we work and communicate. Communication with customers and vendors is now possible through video calls, while robots pick products and drones check inventory. However, amid all these changes, one constant remains: change itself. As the tools and methods for achieving productivity and goals continue to evolve, the importance of innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship remains crucial to drive economic growth and progress in our industry. These qualities enable businesses to stay ahead of the competition and adapt to the changing landscape, making them more agile and resilient in the face of uncertainty.

TMJ: In three words, how would you describe your leadership style?

Costner: Collaborative, empowering, and supportive.

TMJ: What was one of the biggest challenges you ever faced, and how did you address it?

Costner: Managing two businesses through the pandemic has proven to be a significant challenge. As an essential business, we had to navigate the complexities of operating during a global crisis while prioritizing the safety and well-being of our employees. One of the biggest hurdles I faced was managing employees who held differing opinions regarding COVID protocols. This required addressing their concerns and opinions with empathy and understanding. Despite the challenges, we remained committed to providing essential services to our customers while keeping our employees safe and healthy.

TMJ: What advice would you give to an emerging leader or someone new to the industry?

Costner: Take initiative. Don’t be afraid to be proactive in your work. Identify areas where you can make a positive impact and take action to make things happen. This will demonstrate your leadership potential and help you stand out as a valuable contributor to your organization.

TMJ: What is the best business advice you have ever received and from whom?

Costner: The quote “Take care of your employees, and they will take care of your customers” by Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Airlines, has been a guiding principle for me. I believe that by serving our employees, we can create a culture that translates into exceptional service for our customers. Our company prioritizes our employees by offering unique benefits and opportunities and supporting their work and personal lives. This includes helping them achieve their goals of home-ownership, purchasing their first new vehicle, providing personal financial training, supporting them through major medical crises, paying for home cleaning services, sponsoring couples to attend marriage enrichment weekends, offering healthy living coaching, a fitness area onsite, healthy meals for lunch and furthering their education or certifications just to name a few. By creating a culture of servanthood, we have been able to foster a productive work environment where employees feel motivated to go above and beyond for our customers.

TMJ: Is there anything else you would like to add?

Costner: I would like to acknowledge the women who are part of the material handling industry. Although it remains a predominantly male field, I have witnessed significant progress over my career. In the past, women were often hired as mere attractions to draw the attention of male attendees at industry trade shows. However, today’s reality in 2023 is much different. Now we see a growing number of knowledgeable and experienced women who are contributing immensely in various areas such as engineering, sales, project management, distribution, freight and inventory. These women are technically adept, strong and are making a significant impact in the material handling industry.