It was a diverse path that brought Chris Watson, to the woodworking industry. The COO of East Earl, PA-based Conestoga Wood Specialties started out in marine sciences, then detoured to the “world of computers and healthcare systems,” before becoming national marketing manager at American Woodmark prior to joining Conestoga. “While I can’t say that I envisioned a career in the woodworking field initially, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this industry and meeting so many interesting and hard working individuals,” he says.
Watson himself is no stranger to hard work. In addition to his position at Conestoga, Watson has served as president of the Wood Components Manufacturers Assn. and is active in other industry groups. “Yet my proudest moment came when members of my management and sales teams unexpectedly presented me with a Leadership Award. I care deeply about these folks, and the award let me know that my efforts on their and the company’s behalf had not gone unnoticed.
“I’m fortunate to have a team of highly seasoned professional managers that excel in their roles. We’ve been together for over 10 years now and these folks know the business and what it takes to make things happen,” he says.
Among the recent strategic decisions was the resizing of operations and the shuttering of three facilities to “meet current demand and protect the overall health of the company. We were able to implement the fairly significant transition strategy with very few issues, largely in part due to the professionalism and commitment of the individuals at the impacted facilities, a testament to our company culture and the quality of our employees.”
While Conestoga continues its lean initiatives, “our biggest challenge will be to diversify our products and programs economically to satisfy the requirements of niche markets and individual opportunities,” Watson adds.
In practice, Watson adheres to a simple mantra: “If you treat others with respect and listen carefully to what they say, you can find ways to help and your own success will follow. And fortunately,” he adds, “Conestoga’s ownership developed a culture of honesty, trust and accountability that allows this to happen.”
Outside of work, Watson enjoys spending time with his kids. Other pastimes include outdoor recreational sports, such as golf, kayaking, hiking.
• Education: BS, Florida State University and MBA-Darden School of Business, University of Virginia
• Years at the company: 18
• Years in the industry: 21
• Word that best describes you: Perseverance
• The best advice received: Rather than trying to overcome weaknesses, I focus on developing my strengths and trust those around me to provide the necessary balance.
• The person you have tried to emulate in business and why: I’ve found I can learn something from most every person I meet.
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