From Intern to Business Unit President: Stanley Black & Decker’s Maria Ford Shares Advice for Women Leaders

Maria Ford blazed a trail for herself to become part of Stanley Black & Decker’s C-suite. Now, she uses her senior role at the company to empower other women leaders to excel.

As President – Industrial, Construction & 2-Step for Stanley Black & Decker, Maria Ford has accomplished a lot in her career. With grit, an open mind, empathy, and support from mentors, Maria has excelled as a leader. Her 20-year journey with Stanley Black & Decker is a reminder of what’s possible when women have access to opportunities, occupy a seat at the table, and can show up fully and authentically.

Maria credits her tenacity to her days playing for a top collegiate lacrosse team, and most importantly, to the female coach whose words still resonate with her today. 

“My coach was continuously challenging us to not only change and better ourselves, but to set our sights on changing the world,” Maria remembers. “We heard this message daily for four years – a message that’s stuck with me and has been my north star every single day.” 

Back then, Maria was interning at BLACK+DECKER, with big dreams of continuing to fashion school after graduating from Loyola University in Maryland. 

“I approached my coach to talk about my plans to become an independent fashion designer and she said, ‘You can do anything, but your gift to the world will be leading other people,’” Maria says.

Taking her coach’s advice to heart, Maria accepted a full-time position at BLACK+DECKER. Though she had no specific passion for power tools, Maria forged ahead with a “little by little” approach to see if she fit. Beginning with assembling product displays at a major home improvement store partner while also leading a small sales and marketing team, she realized that her core passion was partnering with customers and inspiring people to be the best they can be. 

A True Calling

Fast forward more than 15 years – a span that included taking various roles at the company and becoming a working mom – Maria was exposed to a community of independent business owners, who she admired for their grit, determination, and passion. 

“Our incredible customers are business owners who give 110% every day,” said Maria. “Realizing that our products and solutions play a major role in helping their businesses succeed was it for me – I knew I had found my true love and calling.” 

Maria says her relationships with her customers go far beyond the purchase. She thinks of her customers as extended family – a relationship she says she’s not sure she’d get working at many other places. 

Put Me In, Coach

When offered the opportunity to pursue a “very dynamic” and “challenging” role as Vice President of Marketing – a job that involved managing 30-40 people – Maria jumped at the chance to blaze new trails at a time when the industry was predominantly male-driven.

“When that role became open, I knew I could do it, even if I was still a little fresh and young,” she says. “I didn’t have my C-suite legs yet, but the opportunity was there. The timing was never going to be perfect, but I knew that I wanted to do it.”

With so many others – including various leaders at Stanley Black & Decker – believing in her, Maria had faith that she could rise to the next challenge in her career. 

“I’ve had some great mentors along the way,” she says. “They encouraged and pushed me to realize that I could do the things that I wanted to do.” 

Next to motherhood, Maria calls her work the most rewarding experience of her life.

Her Best Advice

Through the years, Maria has learned a lot about what strong leadership truly means. Her advice to others in management positions includes:

1. Lead with empathy

As a leader, Maria maintains that her strongest quality is her directness: “I don’t pretend to be anything that I’m not. I lead with that. I am who I am. I’m real and my team sees it. I show them my good days, I show them my bad days.” Maria says that with the stress we’ve all experienced during the pandemic, it is more critical than ever to lead with empathy: “I am extremely passionate about being empathetic to people and what they’re going through. It’s the most important thing that I can do as a leader right now.”

2. Embrace mentorships

Maria says one of the strongest elements of culture at Stanley Black & Decker is the tendency to offer big responsibilities early: “I think about some of the mentorship and training programs that I’ve been a part of over the years that have allowed me to develop and discover my strengths and blind spots. They’ve done an excellent job of developing us and challenging us with some pretty incredible opportunities.” Comparing the experience to being offered the keys to a car, Maria says: “And you get in the car and go, ‘This is a big deal.’’’ 

3. Support an inclusive culture and reward opportunities equally

Maria rates Stanley Black & Decker’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion initiatives as some of the most powerful actions she’s seen come out of the organization, which ties right back into her personal credo of empathy: “Stanley Black & Decker has taken the opportunity to listen to people and embrace all of the unique backgrounds, skill sets and lifestyles that are out there.”

Maria says she’s felt supported to make big advances in her career along the way: “I’ve never said, ‘I don’t feel as though I’m being taken care of.’ I’ve never done that. I firmly believed that if I put the points on the board, the sky’s the limit for me at Stanley Black & Decker.”

Stanley Black & Decker, which employs more than 50,000 people, is a proud supporter of #EqualEverywhere. Informed by employees like Maria, customers, and communities, the company has laid out a path to parity for women. “We’re unique in our perspectives but united through our support of gender equality.” Learn more.

February 22, 2022