Leadership can be all about what goes on in team meetings when the leader isn’t there.
Cummins Inc. Vice President Tracy Embree remembers a moment working with a team of employees when one commented, “We had a great meeting after you left.”
“Half of me — well, I was being selfish, I thought, ‘I missed something great,’” Embree said as she reconsidered the moment. “But then I thought, I’m so proud of those guys. They could do it without me, and that means they’re going to continue doing great things.”
Embree, who is president of Cummins Turbo Technologies, has been leading many teams in various roles for Cummins since 2000.
She is one of four women executives being honored Thursday by the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce Women in Leadership event at the Clarion Hotel and Conference Center.
Jacque Douglas, Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. director of special projects; Lynne Hyatt, owner of Lockett’s Ladies Shop; and Cindy Waddle, regional manager of Dora Hotels, also are being honored.
The event is honoring the women for their integrity, innovative ideas, entrepreneurship, collaboration and efforts to achieve professional excellence, said Cindy Frey, chamber director.
“We also felt we had all this wisdom and talent in our midst,” Frey said. “We wanted to honor four women who are noteworthy. We get to hear from them what they are passionate about — about their career journeys.”
Each honoree will be featured in a short video and then be introduced by a surprise guest, Frey said. The women being honored will then speak about their career paths and leadership challenges.
The idea behind the event to highlight “so many bright, accomplished women transitioning into new roles in the community,” Frey said. “We’re fortunate to have so many women leading organizations to our community’s success.”
Embree, a Midwest native, went to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and worked for Colgate-Palmolive before receiving her Master of Business Administration degree from Harvard.
From there, with a chemical engineering degree, she was looking for a different type of corporate role when recruited by Cummins.
She started in information technology.
“Not a lot of people know that,” she said, smiling.
From there, she moved into different jobs and teams throughout the company, learning more as she went from one role to the next, until she arrived at her current position, which she described as general management.
One of the best things about working at Cummins is its collaborative culture, Embree said. She quickly learned the company is all about relationships, and not just those on a team or an area within the company. It’s about global relationships, too.
“We need to have a broad understanding of what is happening in different parts of the world,” she said, something she kept in mind as she moved from jobs in sales and marketing, corporate strategy and as an account executive.
She learned the value of trying different things and having the experience of leading in many different environments, something that has served her well and led to her current role directing the Cummins turbo division with an estimated 3,000 employees.
“It’s all about people and teams,” she said, “And making sure they can do their very best — making sure they can do things they never thought were possible.”
When that happens, Embree says, she knows she’s doing her job as a leader.
Becoming the mentor
Embree credits every single boss she has had at Cummins for having an impact in some way in how she leads today.
“I’ve worked with bosses who were watching their teams getting smaller, and I’ve watched how someone deals with that,” she said. “I’ve had other bosses who at times had to execute something that was important for Cummins and difficult for the customer and had to move through the process in a respectful, fair and tough way,” she said.
As she has been mentored, she in turn is now the mentor — averaging 130 hours last year, about 10 hours a month — working with Cummins colleagues who seek her advice.
On occasion, she will meet with high school age students of Cummins co-workers who are seeking advice about a senior project or a career path.
And she finds time to help out at Foundation for Youth, where the mission is all about helping young people grow up to be amazing adults, something that lights up her face as she talks about it.
During Thursday’s event, Embree has been asked to talk about excellence in terms of leadership, Frey said.
Embree said she is still in the process of putting those thoughts together.
“I really think it’s about watching a team perform and do things that didn’t seem possible and helping them do something at their very best,” she said. “That’s what excellence means to me.”
Her leadership philosophy is all about being brave, being willing to try different approaches, she said.
“Being brave is sometimes about the notion of owning your choices,” she said.
Being brave about a choice may or may not be about your career, she said. It could be about being willing to be a stay-at-home parent who devotes time to being the best for her kids at a particular time in their life.
The most challenging thing about being a leader for Embree is that her work is all about making choices, and sometimes having to make those choices without perfect information.
“There is always the chance that people won’t agree with your decision,” she said.
But she reiterated leaders have to be brave and courageous and own their choices.
One of those choices for Embree was to move back to Columbus in 2008 — a choice that was made for herself and her family.
“I knew this was a great place to raise a family,” she said. “When we moved back, we could tell the city has moved forward — it’s a more inclusive culture — a more welcoming atmosphere. It was a conscious decision. And it was the right decision,” she said.