Leadership Profile: Shelley Huff, Serta Simmons Bedding – Advice Eating

DORAVILLE, Georgia – Shelley Huff has assumed the role of CEO at Serta Simmons Bedding in December 2021; Prior to the move, she was the company’s Chief Operating Officer and CEO of Tuft & Needle, the company’s online direct selling brand.

Her career path is characterized by e-commerce experience, including several positions at Walmart, including President of Hayneedle.com; Vice President of Operations, Private Brand and Direct Sourcing for E-Commerce; and vice president and general manager of home and apparel at Walmart.com.

Here we talk about the lessons she learned earlier in her career, the importance of work-life balance, mistakes she made — all those Mardi Gras pearls — and her passion for cooking.

Where do your best ideas come from?

I get some of my best thoughts — and get some of my best ideas — from spending time in retail stores.

Having grown up in retail, I have always been driven to solve consumer problems. One of the best ways to identify and then solve consumer problems is to observe and then listen to shoppers in retail.

I regularly make time to visit stores where I have the opportunity to hear directly from consumers, experience innovative shopping concepts, layouts and merchandising approaches across a variety of categories, and to see product designs and emerging trends from a consumer’s perspective evaluate. I am inspired by the innovation and creativity in stationary retail.

Who opened doors for you?

I had an incredible group of professional mentors who shaped my career. My college professor and advisor at the University of Arizona, Melinda Burke, was my number one advocate, investing in my professional development and helping me build the foundational skills that led me to success. I credit Melinda for helping me secure my first internship at Walmart.

There were also several key people at Walmart who gave me unique experiences and opportunities. Doug McMillon, CEO of Walmart, was a mentor of mine. Getting insights into his world and the choices he faced at times was invaluable.

In addition, Andy Barron and Marybeth Hays, both Executive Leaders of Merchandising for the organization, were two people who invested in me, held me accountable and created pathways that have helped me through new experiences throughout my more than ten years with the company. to grow .

What is the biggest risk you took?

Deviated from my in-store merchandising path at Walmart in Bentonville to pursue a role in Walmart’s e-commerce division. It was a major turning point in so many ways, from the skills required to transitioning to the Silicon Valley culture. I came into the role with minimal experience in areas such as website merchandising, digital marketing and technology and was focused on learning as much as possible.

This risk is one that put my career on a different track. Two and a half years after I switched to e-commerce at Walmart, I was promoted to President of Hayneedle.com, Walmart’s online home improvement platform. After that I had the opportunity to manage Tuft & Needle and now Serta Simmons Linens.

Where was the most interesting place that your work took you to?

I was incredibly lucky to travel all over the world for work. Whenever possible, I take the opportunity to personally experience the places I visit.

For example, after a merchandising trip to China, I was able to take a few days off and flew to Chengdu to visit one of the largest panda conservatories in the world. On the same day, I was able to hike to Mount Qingcheng, where Taoism was founded. It’s a hike through a lush, heavily forested area where you’ll listen to musicians playing flutes and cruise along riverbanks in boats along the way. To call it majestic would be an understatement.

How do you arrange work and private life?

I believe we all need to individually define what balance means to us and what we need to replenish ourselves. I made some big mistakes with it earlier in my career and it has taken its toll on my health.

Now my personal and professional lives are mixed together and it works for me. It allows me to do what I need to do for work while setting boundaries and taking the time I need to rest and recharge. I am committed to developing a culture at SSB that also prioritizes the importance of creating balance.

I recently read a really great book called Sacred Rest by Saundra Dalton Smith which offers a perspective on rest in relation to preventing burnout and maximizing performance. I specifically referred to her chapter on creative burnout. She challenges the reader to creative replenishment and how we should all delve into the creativity of others to reignite our own creativity.

What questions have you been asking yourself lately?

As with many business leaders, my questions right now relate largely to the US economy, consumer confidence and consumer needs given the many economic, geopolitical and social issues affecting both consumers and workers.

At SSB, we’re also thinking about how, with the ever-evolving sleep industry, we need to work differently to drive innovation and ensure we deliver to our retail customers and consumers.

At the same time, after the last two years, we keep asking ourselves internally how we can create more flexibility in our way of working.

What was your biggest business mistake and what did you learn from it?

My first job as a buyer at Walmart was in party supplies. In my first Mardi Gras season, I bought ten times the amount of Mardi Gras party supplies to support our New Orleans business. As a result, I had to ship Mardi Gras beads all over the United States. You probably won’t be surprised to hear that several dispatchers have called me and asked why they are receiving the beads.

That was really a lesson in the importance of taking responsibility. I immediately acknowledged the mistake and shared how I would fix it. By acknowledging the mistake and the solution, I have built trust in my leadership. They knew that I would always show extreme personal responsibility for my work and my results.

When you meet with others in the industry these days, what is the main topic of conversation?

We almost always talk about the consumer, as we should.

I became a merchant and now a manufacturer because I believe we have a responsibility to help people improve their lives. The sleep industry plays an important role in this. Consumers no longer see the mattress as a commodity, but as an important investment and part of their wellness journey.

We dedicate resources to create innovative products and innovative retail experiences that shape the future of the industry and advance our mission at Serta Simmons Bedding, which is to help people sleep better so they can lead healthier lives.

If you could change one thing about this industry, what would it be?

In many ways, the mattress industry is unnecessarily complex. There is an opportunity to simplify and demystify the mattress buying experience to ensure consumers have confidence in their purchasing decisions.

What was the best advice you ever got and from whom?

I’m a big sports fan. I have long valued what sport teaches us about leadership, triumph and defeat. The greatest athletes have one thing in common: they constantly strive to be the best version of themselves and, arguably more importantly, to empower and motivate their teammates to do the same.

At a young age I learned a lesson from legendary basketball coach John Wooden: “Success comes from knowing you’ve done your best to become the best you can be.” It’s a quote, mine personal and professional approach to leadership has guided for a long time. While my best can look different every day, I always focus on being my best in every interaction.

What three things would surprise people if they found out about you?

I cook dinner almost every night. Cooking is a passion of mine and I often attend cooking classes in countries I travel to learn new techniques.

I’m five states short of visiting all 50 states, a personal goal of mine. I’m still working on visiting Alaska, Delaware, North Dakota, Rhode Island, and West Virginia.

I occasionally take creative writing classes. It activates another part of my brain and helps me recall memories from my life that I wouldn’t normally think of.

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