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2024 Women in Signs: Ashley Borell

In her family business, she tackles the judgment of others head-on.

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“To enjoy doing it we need to love what we do, be passionate about coming into work every day, whether it’s a rainy Monday or pizza party Friday.” — BORell

Ashley Borell | CEO, Steel Art Co. (Norwood, MA)

ASHLEY BORELL GRADUATED from Clark University with a Master’s degree in global business and corporate social responsibility. Amidst a struggling economy she entered a national high-end furniture business, where she excelled. She ended up running her own store, which she brought from the last-performing position at #44 to #1 within a year. Armed with a decade of experience in the furniture business, in 2012 she approached her father John Borell, Steel Art Co. owner and son of company founder Norbert Borell, and said, “You know, I don’t know if I want to stay in furniture. I would like to come and work for you, dad.”

Borell recalls not even having a title when she started at the family company, but she eventually worked her way to vice president of operations, a position she maintained for eight years. Now she and her husband are taking over the company, with Borell having become CEO just this year.

MBA TO CEO: Ashley Borell studied and worked hard to prepare to run Steel Art Co. after 12 years with the family firm.

She faces a two-fold barrier, as a woman and as a woman in a family business. “Everybody has judgment like, ‘Oh, she’s just here because she’s the owner’s daughter and she doesn’t have any right to do what she’s doing,’” Borell says. She has had to prove herself in different fields, including the manufacturing segment, where she had to leverage other aspects of her experience and expertise to compensate for what she did not have.

“I had a Master’s degree in business but I didn’t know how to make a sign. And I don’t really need to know how to make a sign,” she continues. “You need to know how to make other people make signs, right?”

In this regard, she was successful. Borell gained authority and credibility through her support of those in manufacturing, leadership and sales, as well as a steadfast commitment to honing her relationships with others. What she considers the greatest contribution to her mentorship efforts, however, is making use of “female traits” like emotional intelligence in a hard, fast and ego-driven environment. Younger generations express more emotion and sensitivity, Borell says; thus her team uses emotional intelligence to support and motivate employees so that nobody gets left behind.

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The best advice that Borell has ever received also concerns emotions — specifically, taking anywhere from a second to a couple of hours to manage your emotional response, according to what another person, department or the universe is telling you. “We are so results-driven, we can jump to react and respond because we think that’s what we need to do,” she explains. “No, what we need to do is fully understand what is being communicated so that we can intelligently respond.”

Signage continues to be a male-dominated industry, but the field is gradually expanding for women. When Borell surveyed the inspection area at Steel Art recently, she saw a woman everywhere she looked, which was not the case 12 years ago when she first joined the company. Continual hiring and training of female employees have contributed to this expansion, and she hopes to keep up the present work in the years to come. “To enjoy doing it we need to love what we do, be passionate about coming into work every day, whether it’s a rainy Monday or pizza party Friday — always something to be excited about to get up in the morning.”

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