Late last year, Lynn Utter found herself in a tough spot.
As she was mulling over a decision to resign from her job as president and chief operating officer of Knoll Inc., the East Greenville office furniture design and manufacturing company, she learned she had been selected to receive the Paradigm Award, the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce's prize honoring female business leaders.
"I felt badly," said Utter, 53, adding that she had wondered whether "I dare make this move now or should I wait until after March?"
On Friday, Utter will receive the award at a luncheon. She will leave Knoll on April 10.
Question: So, do you think you'll stand at the podium Friday and say, 'Thanks, and by the way, I'm looking for a job?'
Answer: (Laughs) What I love about the Paradigm Award and the event itself is that it's not just about women. We need to have more men in the conversation in how we help more women further their careers.
Q: You've talked about how much you've loved your work at Knoll. If so, why leave?
A: Bear in mind, [Knoll CEO] Andrew Cogan is phenomenal. He's our Steve Jobs. His dad once owned the company. When I came, he said, 'Gosh, this is all I've ever done. Maybe I'll move on in the next three to five years.'
Q: And he hasn't moved on, and you haven't become CEO.
A: He's loving it and he's not going anywhere. He was very gracious. My fifth anniversary was two years ago. In front of our entire management team, he presented me with a bottle of wine that was supposed to mature perfectly in five years. [He said,] 'I know Knoll hasn't been able to give you the personal growth. Here's my personal wish - that the next five years give you what you personally are looking for.'
Q: Did you always want to be CEO?
A: I didn't. Most women say the exact same thing. They don't see themselves in that chair.
Q: So what's your thinking now?
A: I've believed that as long as I had a meaningful role where I could create value and really impact the business, the title didn't matter. And I still believe that, by the way. Title is not why I'm doing this. This is about growth. But really, I'm number two in the company. There is only one other title.
Q: Any offers so far?
A: I'm having lots of very interesting and promising discussions. I'd love nothing better than to land somewhere in Philadelphia [and] create another fabulous work environment using Knoll furniture.
Q: Why here?
A: There is untapped potential. How do we bring talent and create innovation in this community? I'd love to stay and be part of that. But I'm realistic. That's why we did this now and not two years ago. We wanted to get my daughter through high school. If we have to go, we go. I have discovery ahead of me.
Q: Speaking of office furniture, why are so many chairs uncomfortable?
A: One of the hard things about designing chairs is the range of body sizes. We work very hard to find that sweet spot covering 80 percent of the population.
Q: Talk about female leadership.
A: Executive presence matters. Whether you are male or female, especially women, you have to be able to lend credibility, speak with authority and be able to express confidence. Will she be able to make the tough calls? You have to be smart. You have to have the skills, but that's not enough.
Q: Gravitas also matters, right?
A: It's a bit of a combination of courage and compassion. You have to be able to show your teeth once in a while and have that tough backbone, but yet be open and fair. I think of it as being able to connect with people in the boardroom to the truckers at the platform.
Title: President, chief operating officer.
Family: Husband, Ward; children Andrew, 19, Ellie, 17.
Diplomas: University of Texas, business; Stanford University, master's of business administration.
Resumé: Consumer products-oriented, Frito-Lay, later with Coors Brewing Co.
Beer: Blue Moon.
What worries her children: That she'll try to cook when she has more time.
Useful executive tool: Meditation. EndText
Business: Office, home furniture sales, design, manufacturing.
Headquarters: East Greenville, Montco.
Why: Area reminded founder Hans Knoll of his German roots.
Store: Center City.
Highlight: Famous for modern design focus.
Dollars: $46.6 million 2014 net earnings on $1.1 billion in revenue.
Employment: 3,343 worldwide, 830 here.
History: Roots date to 1865 Knoll family furniture business in Germany; 1938 in U.S. by Hans Knoll. Wife Florence, a designer, had a major impact.
Lynn Utter: Why appearance matters for aspiring execs. www.philly.com/jobbing