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Starting her career in the world of financial services, Aimee Peacock always knew she wanted to lead people but was not sure when that opportunity would present itself.
As a college student, Peacock enjoyed the definitive nature of accounting and the gratification of answers always being black and white and numerically-based. However, as she moved forward in her career, Peacock quickly realized leadership is anything but black and white, and management is all about understanding life’s nuances and gray areas.
In 2018, Peacock joined Spencer laminated film manufacturer FLEXcon as its CFO. After Lavon Winkler announced he was retiring as the company’s president and CEO, Peacock said she was surprised to learn that she was being considered for a top leadership role.
On Dec. 15, FLEXcon announced Peacock would take over as president, effective Jan. 30, becoming the first woman to hold that position at FLEXcon since its founding in 1956.
“I am very fortunate that the McDonough family has the faith and trust in me to lead FLEXcon into the future,” she said.
If one theme defines Peacock’s career journey, it is the fearless pursuit of challenges and new skills.
After starting in accounting, Peacock ended up in the manufacturing industry where she worked in different sectors such as heavy industrial, semiconductor, and print manufacturing. She became well versed in cost accounting and controllership accounting.
Peacock received her first taste of a leadership position during her time at Rogers Corp. in Arizona as its controller, and she gained international experience.
While working as the CFO for Brooks Life Sciences Division at Brooks Automation, a semiconductor manufacturer in Chelmsford, Peacock helped grow the firm’s revenue from $148 million in 2017 to $196 million in 2018. During this time, a job opening for FLEXcon crossed her desk
The move to FLEXcon was a major transition for Peacock, who had exclusively worked in publicly traded companies focused on profit. She was now going to a private, family-owned company with its own set of priorities.
“I am not going to lie, coming in as a CFO had its challenges because I was always focused on growth and profitability, and I had to shift my thinking and approach to align with these family values of people first,” she said.
The employee-first mentality reflected during her time as FLEXcon’s CFO, where she saved the company more than $20 million without executing layoffs, all while navigating the financial toll of the coronavirus pandemic.
While women make up about 47% of the total U.S. workforce, they only make up about 30% of the 15.8 million people employed in manufacturing, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. Additionally, only 1 in 4 manufacturing leaders are women.
The numbers are far lower in Central Massachusetts, at least in terms of business leadership. Of the 313 most high-profile manufacturers studied by Worcester Business Journal’s Research Department, 10 have women in the position of either CEO, president, or principal.
Peacock said she was fortunate to have mentors throughout her career journey who helped her reach her full potential. While she said she never personally experienced the impact of sexism in her career, she is a member of the Boston chapter of CHIEF, a private organization where women senior leaders work to support one another through peer coaching groups.
“Though I haven’t really experienced being held back due to my gender personally, I know many women who have, so I think I have been able to help coach them and provide them insights and guidance,” she said.
Peacock said women have a sense of self-doubt, which men lack. As a result, she would encourage women to take the risk and apply for a position even if they are hesitant. If her mentors hadn’t pushed her to try, she would not be in leadership today.
“I really hope my role as president in a male-dominated industry helps other women realize that they can go after their dreams of being an executive. Although I have not been held back, it has not been an easy road,” she said.
The power of service is intrinsic to Peacock’s leadership style. Whether it is serving her 750 employees or spearheading sustainability practices, she is conscious of FLEXcon’s impact on others.
“While she brought a tremendous track record and a high level of confidence in terms of how to do her job, and do it well, she was also very humble,” said Winkler, the former president and CEO of FLEXcon.
Peacock’s humility and competence were a perfect fit for FLEXcon’s instituted servant leadership model, Winkler said. Rather than a traditional leadership structure where executives are in a top-down hierarchy, the servant leadership model focuses on supporting workers from the ground up.
“We have to serve the people before we earn the right to lead them,” Winkler said.
Winkler said Peacock easily embraced FLEXcon’s individuals-first philosophy because it is a part of her own personal ethos as well.
“It is easy for us to talk about the buildings and the products and the computers and the machines and the plants, the list goes on and on. The reality of it is that nothing is possible without the people,” he said.
While traditionally manufacturing has been male-dominated, the industry has improved throughout the decades and still has quite a way to go, Winkler said.
Winkler has always believed in hiring the right person for the job and is proud FLEXcon’s five-person executive team includes Peacock and Chief Operating Officer Kara Weiner.
“I did not hire female executives to satisfy some sort of quota or to intentionally balance the team. Literally in each of those situations we did exhaustive interviews … and we offered those positions to those individuals without looking at gender, skin color, or ethnicity,” he said.
Peacock has impacted the sustainability of not just FLEXcon, but other print manufacturers, said Rosalyn Bandy, vice president of sustainability at the Tag & Label Manufacturers Institute.
“There are leaders that are in the category of ‘Yes, but’ and then there are people in the category of ‘Yes, and’ and what that means is that she is always listening to ideas,” Bandy said.
Peacock is the chairperson of TLMI’s Sustainability Leadership Awards Committee, which highlights the sustainability of other manufacturers and suppliers.
Peacock developed the monthly Champions of Change campaign to help recognize the forward-thinking environmental actions of companies.
Bandy finds Peacock's leadership style refreshing, especially for the president of such a large organization.
Like Winkler, Bandy has seen the slow evolution of women leaders in manufacturing and believes the industry is gaining a greater appreciation for the different leadership styles women have to offer. Both TLMI’s president and chairperson are women.
“Her personality and leadership style are going to continue the trend within the industry of women in leadership positions because she has that mindset of service,” Bandy said.
In a world where all industries are facing labor shortages, having a positive leader like Peacock can be highly attractive to workers, said Bandy.
“As a worker, no matter what your level in a company, it’s just always good to be appreciated, and I think that is really where Aimee shines,” she said.