In celebration of Women’s History Month, we’re happy to bring our Women in Furniture Series, spotlighting accomplished women shaping the furniture industry. While strides have been made towards gender diversity, the industry lags behind others. At 3D Cloud™, we stand behind and empower outstanding women propelling the industry forward. So, grab your favorite brew, take a seat, and delve into the inspiring journey of —

Shannon Williams.

Shannon has worked for the Home Furnishings Association since 2018 in several roles, most recently as its Chief Executive Officer. She brings a business development and managerial strategy background and is a Certified Association Executive. Shannon shares her career journey and insights into the furniture industry in this article.

We can start with your background in business development and managerial strategy. What sparked your interest in pursuing this as a career?

Shannon Williams: Most of my career has been in change management, sales and training process development, sales team building, and culture building in retail, finance, and services. My entire career has been built on the idea of…

“Surround yourself with great people, treat them right, and make everyone successful.” – Dale Carlson

What I’m most passionate about in my career is creating high-performing teams – where trust, healthy conflict, commitment, and accountability create high-performance outcomes. I want the people I work with to feel successful, supported, and appreciated, have a voice, grow, and have the autonomy to make critical decisions.

Can you tell us briefly about how you landed in the furniture industry?

SW: My career in the furniture industry began at Sleep Train, where I was responsible for the sales development of the West Coast events and exposition division. I had the opportunity to lead their investments into new product verticals, such as massage chairs and hot tubs, and grow a 1.6M division to a 13M division in just two years. Our team was the first to integrate with Mattress Firm after the acquisition. My responsibility was to support territory managers in the professional development and leadership and the development of their sales teams.

What steps did you take to become the COO of the Home Furnishings Association?

SW: Before being with the HFA, I spent most of my career in sales management, training management, marketing, sales, and recruiting. I invested most of my time looking at more efficient and effective ways to find the right people, invest in their development, ensuring they were well supported in the tools and processes they needed to do their jobs – while ensuring their customers had the best experience possible.

When I started with the HFA, I was leading the membership team. HFA was losing members, and I was responsible for changing that direction. In a short time, I was given the opportunity to lead the efforts of creating member value, which included programming, partnerships, events, and education, leading to more responsibility and the title of VP of Performance and Strategy. In 2020, I was elevated to COO, overseeing the association’s strategy and operations, including finance, operations, HR, technology, and marketing. Since then, HFA has grown in membership, becoming operationally efficient and financially outperforming our expectations.

Why furniture? What do you love about working in the furniture industry?

SW: It’s the people. The industry is filled with amazing people who are so supportive and caring.

What are some of the unique challenges of a career in furniture?

SW: The most unique challenge is operating a business at the intersection of nonprofit association management and furniture. While I operate in the furniture industry, my core focus is association management. I need to understand both industries at an expert level. While I operate a staff to drive outcomes, the association industry relies heavily on volunteer governance and community participation. I need to know what is happening in the furniture industry and build long-term foresight, anticipating members’ needs.

How important is having a network of other women as you mature in your career?

SW: I personally….have not found it critically important. What I HAVE found is having a network of people who understand the unique challenges that women face in business and advocate on their behalf. Frankly, having empathetic male leaders use their influence to elevate women through recognition and opportunities has been more important to me. Regardless of genre, there has to be someone respected who invites you to sit at their table, intentionally creates space for your voice, and stands up for you when you aren’t heard. I have had that support from men and women.

If you could offer your younger self one piece of advice, what would it be?

SW: Don’t fake it til you make it. You don’t have to be an expert or have all the answers. You need to be vulnerable and ask questions. Vulnerability is how trust is built in relationships. Lean on other people. Get curious and stay curious. Make consistent time for development and growth, and never stop learning. Learn everything that you’re curious about.

What leaders inspire you right now and why? 

SW: I highly respect Curtis Howse at Synchrony. He is a leader of leaders and will make uncomfortable decisions to advance.

What values are most important to you as a leader?

SW: First and foremost….emotional intelligence. It has become a core value at HFA, and we invest heavily in it and have for 2.5 years. All our staff attend monthly training and personal coaching sessions. Change is hard; while people WANT change, not everyone wants TO change. Doing so effectively requires trust (of yourself, your teammates, and your leadership team), communication, and creating our own sense of safety and security. We hear a lot about diversity, and focusing on emotional intelligence allows us to look at diversity not just from a difference in experiences from gender, age, race, etc… but from a cognitive and behavioral lens. We all use our brains differently, and we all behave differently. Emotional intelligence is about getting out of our own way and recognizing that how others want to be treated may differ from how we want to be treated.

Curiosity and Initiative…” because we do it that way/have always done it that way”…is not a good decision-making framework. Curiosity gets us out of our commitment to being right and opens us to possibility and exploration. It takes initiative to do that…to want to do better the status quo….to think bigger…to ask different questions…and to be unattached to our bias of how we think things should be based on our past experiences.

What keeps you grounded and energized?

SW: Vulnerability. I am not afraid of embracing what I feel…excitement, fears, concerns…and finding a productive way to share them. There is a stigma, especially in business, that vulnerability is a weakness…especially for women. I believe it is a strength. Teams want to know their teams and concerns are valid….and they are…by leading with vulnerability, they know we are in it together, more open to change, and are more open to coming together to take risks and going the path together. Without vulnerability, you can’t build trust; without trust, teams can’t build their own sense of safety and security (something no one can give to someone else). We live in a world where mental health is on the decline, and employees spend more time at work than anywhere else in their lives. It energizes me to support and enhance employee lives rather than to add insecurity, stress, and anxiety while achieving high-performance outcomes.

“Without vulnerability, you can’t build trust; without trust, teams can’t build their own sense of safety and security.” – Shannon Williams

2023 was a big year for the HFA team. Can you share some of the successes? 

SW: The HFA had a HUGE 2023. We won Best Trade Association and Best Buying Group. I was awarded Association Trend’s 2023 Young and Aspiring Association Leader Award. We had the largest membership growth year on record and had great financial success growing female leadership presence with our CxO group. In 2021, we had 10% women leaders; in 2023, we had more than 70%.

Do you know of women in the furniture industry who exemplify excellence?

SW: Oh god yeah….Mariam Farach at ElDorado Furniture, Nora Gomez at NFM, Emily Boyst at Hooker Furnishings, Elizabeth Ann Miskelly at Miskelly’s, Brittany Wagner at Synchrony, Amber Levitz at Levitz, Sydney Harris at Furniture Land South, Allli Adams at HomeZone, Bailee Nebeker at Walleroo/American Homestead, Randi Lynn Talsma at Blended Furniture, Melinda Whittington at La-Z-Boy, Ann DeMent at MFRM, I can go on and on.

Shannon Williams’s career journey reflects her exceptional leadership and dedication to fostering high-performance teams. Her emphasis on vulnerability, emotional intelligence, and curiosity underscores her commitment to creating inclusive and innovative environments where all voices are heard and valued. We feel honored to highlight her outstanding accomplishments.

Thank you, Shannon, for sharing your career journey with us.

Industry group participation

AHFA Logo
Home Furnishings Association
National Kitchen and Bath Association
NADRA
City of Hope

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