Amway’s Candace Matthews describes the blend of experience, intelligence, and leadership skills that have helped her to forge a truly impressive career
Steel is an alloy: a mix of iron, carbon and other elements. Forged together, those elements become something extraordinary. Candace Matthews, Regional President – Americas at Amway, knows a lot about steel. And like steel, her career is an amalgamation: a complex blend of remarkable experiences, all of which have shaped her professional path into something exceptional.
As one can imagine, a girl growing up in Pittsburgh is very aware of the steel industry and its importance to the region. That cultural influence, combined with Matthews’ love of math and science, fatefully led her down an engineering path. She received a scholarship to study one of five different fields of engineering, and her calling to metallurgic engineering was clear. Her plan: Earn a degree, and operate a steel mill.
Making It Count
While completing her undergrad, an advisor recommended Matthews also get an MBA. There was one caveat: “When you get your MBA, make it count because they will be a dime a dozen.”
Matthews heeded that advice, and applied to and was accepted at Stanford. “I remember telling my mother, when I got accepted to Stanford, on the phone,” Matthews said. “I was so excited. I was screaming and crying.” She said, ‘Oh honey, that’s so wonderful, I am proud of you. What’s that?’” At the moment, her mother may not have understood the significance, but Matthews did— and she maximized the opportunity.
It was at Stanford that Matthews discovered marketing and brand management. It was that discovery that led her to Ann Fudge, who was at Stanford to recruit for General Mills.
“[Fudge] was talking to me about coming to General Mills, and she said, ‘I will teach you everything that you need to know to be successful in life, and all I ask in return is that you teach someone else.’ I was so intrigued by her that I said I have got to go and learn from this woman. Here we are 30 years later, and I spent last weekend with her at the Cape.”
At General Mills, Matthews quickly made her mark, working on campaigns for big-name brands such as Bisquick and Wheaties. While she was working on the Wheaties campaign, she realized that the world wasn’t nearly as “color blind” as she wanted to believe.
“During your career, I wouldn’t call them obstacles, but you hit things that open your eyes and help you navigate the future,” Matthews said. “When we were looking for the next face for Wheaties, I was going through who could be Wheaties worthy. Michael Jordan was the one that came to mind for me.”
Prior to Jordan, Bruce Jenner and Pete Rose were on the box, and the most recent face had been Walter Payton. Matthews pitched her recommendation, and the response was, “Oh, but will Wheaties then become the cereal for black athletes?” “Which to me was just a total shock,” Matthews said. [I couldn’t believe that] those were the types of conversations that could still occur.”
It was only when the General Manager realized the scope of Jordan’s popularity that Matthews’ pitch was approved.
She had her second eye-opening experience at Cover Girl, as she tried to broaden the product range for women of color. “It was really interesting to see that the image Cover Girl was clean, fresh, natural, blond-haired and blue-eyed,” Matthews remarked. “It was years before I actually got the company to extend their shade range, and it was only after they were acquired by Procter and Gamble, who had different leadership and ideals.”
Rather than be offended by those instances of bias, Matthews instead turned them into opportunities to educate and broaden people’s perspectives—to chip away at narrow-mindedness—with her team, with management and through speaking engagements, for example.
Ciba Vision gave Matthews her first true global experience. She was put in charge of new business development and based in Europe.
“I had to develop the future of eye care and to see that from a global perspective,” she said.
To conduct research, she traveled to 17 countries on four continents. Not only did the experience help her develop a worldwide marketing strategy for Ciba Vision, she also fell in love with travel and different cultures—a passion that continues to influence her work and personal life today.
“Ciba Vision really rounded me out from a global and strategic perspective,” Matthews said. “Being American doesn’t mean you have to be U.S.-centric. There is a big world out there that we too can learn from.”
Matthews’ extensive experience at big-name corporations like Coca-Cola, with a focus on consumer packaged goods, makes one question why she would make the leap to Amway, a direct selling company. For Matthews, moving to Amway afforded her the opportunity to work with a “clean slate” and to launch a global branding discipline.
“They knew they needed to make the company and brand more widely known among consumers for recruitment and [to increase use of the Amway products]. We needed a global organization.”
Matthews had worked for L’Oreal, helping make the global brand locally relevant. “I had an understanding of how global marketing should be developed and how you have an enterprise strategy, but you also have to understand how to make things locally relevant.” Equally important, Matthews had experience building international teams, not just in marketing but across functions and disciplines.
An Alloy of Experience & Perseverance
Henry Bessemer’s revolutionary invention to efficiently manufacture steel was met with a great deal of skepticism. Likewise, Matthews’ approach to branding Amway was met with cynicism.
“People were saying, ‘Why are we going to spend money on marketing? The Amway business owners are the ones marketing the product.’ I had to show them the power of marketing,” Matthews said.
Like Bessemer, she pressed on and eventually won over her skeptics. Matthews’ approach? Perseverance versus persistence.
“Persistence is like taking a hammer and going at something over and over again until you finally get it through people’s heads,” she noted. “Perseverance is taking two steps forward to bring people along, sometimes pushing them. Then saying, ‘Whoa, do they understand? Should we slow down, take a step back to see if everyone gets where we are going?’ It is being willing to take that step back in between. That is how I have been able to be effective and drive change.”
Matthews was exactly what Amway required. “The organization needed the discipline of classical marketing,” she said. “The marketing organization had been more focused on distributor relations versus brand building and strategic marketing.”
She was able to demonstrate the lack of branding. “People didn’t know what Amway and its products stood for in a global market. Products are a commodity, brands have value, and global brands have consistency,” she said. Matthews’ perseverance helped the company move from that low level of impact to a global presence.
“[I] laid the path… set that vision, and guided people to that strategic direction. Then I walked along beside them.”
Building a Team Stronger Than Steel
As the former Chief Marketing Officer, Matthews’ team has been instrumental in the success of Amway’s Marketing Division. “I have been able to put together a team that has “blossomed,” she said. One of the elements that makes her team successful is their ability to leverage one another’s strengths so they “have the full marketing package.”
When she joined Amway, she brought together a composite of people, including veterans who knew Amway and had a “deep understanding of our business model, the importance of spending time in the market, meeting the ABOs [Amway business owners], developing the relationship side from inside the company.”
Then she brought in new hires who were able to fill functional and skill gaps to make the team a stronger unit. “The whole has to be greater than the sum of the parts,” Matthews advised. She avoided people with dictatorial tendencies and instead looked for those who believed in servant leadership, people with a “bit of humility, who love to teach and drive change.”
Heart of Gold
Part of what makes the marketing team great is its leadership. One of Matthews’ many assets is her ability to stay calm on the outside, a skill she learned from Fudge. In fact, her optimistic and levelheaded perspective has led others to recognize the grace with which she leads and manages. Matthews purposely tries to be an example of positivity.
“My presence can impact others,” she said, “so I make it constructive and positive. I strive to be a beacon and remain calm and show how things can be done constructively.”
It isn’t that Matthews is truly made of steel—she does get upset, she is human—but she has learned to resolve the issues and problems behind closed doors.
Matthews also attributes her effectiveness as a leader to her nurturing nature. “My mother had an innate ability to make whomever she was speaking to at that point feel like they were the most important person in her life,” Matthews said. “She was an incredible nurturer.”
Matthews maximizes that characteristic to bring out the best in her team. “People don’t care what you know until they know that you care. They want to deliver for you when they know they care.”
Matthews has forged an impressive career: General Mills, Procter & Gamble, Coca-Cola, Bausch & Lomb and more. She works industriously to pay it forward: via Figure Skating in Harlem, Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park and Spectrum Health Foundation, to name a few vehicles. She has rightfully earned global recognition: 2009 Corporate Executive of the Year from Black Enterprise and Advertising Age’s 2011 Women to Watch.
And, like steel, Matthews is an impressive alloy—a blend of nobleness, experience, intelligence, solid leadership and warmth—making her someone to be admired.
Jill Yarberry-Laybourn is a freelance writer based in Colorado.