Pushing the Boundaries

Joan Davison of Staff Management | SMX on expanding globally and getting noticed

She may be a woman running a company, but Staff Management | SMX’s Joan Davison doesn’t dwell on the rarity of her position. “What works for me and what I would recommend is focusing on the task at hand; how you can fulfill your obligations, and support your company,” says Davison, president and COO.

In 1996, when Joan Davison joined Staff Management | SMX as a regional director,  few companies recognized the value of contingent labor. Davison, however, saw endless possibilities. It was her first position in the temporary staffing industry, and by marrying her past experience with some of the company’s key projects, she was able to climb the ladder and work her way up to vice president and COO. Sixteen years into a stellar career, Davison is now the president and COO of Staff Management | SMX, which has broadened its reach to Latin America, Europe, and the Asia-Pacific region—an accomplishment that is a direct result of Davison’s hard work and determination.

What personality attributes do you believe are necessary to be a successful COO and company president?

You must have a clear vision and a direct communication style. You must have passion and be able to communicate your vision in a way that gives people something to believe in. Clients have to know you’re being honest and straightforward with them and employees have to know that the goals they’re working toward are part of a larger vision that benefits everyone. I think that some of these attributes can be learned with experience, but personally, I’ve found that everyone has an inherent skill set. Everyone has particular attributes that work for them and when you learn how to emphasize those attributes and build on them, that’s when real success can happen.

Since you were appointed COO in 2006, Staff Management | SMX has grown by more than 50 percent and you’ve been credited with expanding the company’s reach into the global market. What do you owe to this success?

[The years between] 2006-2007 proved to be a transformational time that set the standard for how we would proceed. We came up with core business principles, like how to drive client value, how to best integrate our clients, how to provide a flexible product line, etc. Once we set the agenda, everyone in the company had a very clear focus.

When it came to reaching the global market, it was almost like we were playing offense and defense at the same time. While meeting the needs of clients domestically, we also had to recognize their international business needs. During this process we recognized our need for global leaders, so we brought in strong, ethical talent to act as our international executives.

For many women, the glass ceiling still exists, but you’re a woman who’s shattered it. What obstacles did you have to overcome in the process and what advice would you offer to young women interested in entering your industry?

Every position, whether you’re male or female, has its obstacles. To be honest, I try not to spend too much time thinking about how I’m a woman running a company and how rare that is. What works for me and what I would recommend is focusing on the task at hand; how you can fulfill your obligations, and support your company. If you can state your case clearly and show concrete examples of your hard work, you will get noticed. I’m not saying I didn’t face challenges or that getting here was easy, because it wasn’t, but the best thing about the glass ceiling is that it’s glass. It may not shatter the first time you try, but it will eventually if you keep on pushing.