Faces of productivity: Sophia Schade

From Home Depot’s First-Ever Woman Vice President of Merchandising to One of the Lowcountry’s Top Wildlife Photographers.

By Ellen Linnemann

Sophia Schade’s rise to become Home Depot’s first-ever female vice president of merchandising in 2001 is a true testament to her talent, tenacity – and take charge/”get it done” attitude. These attributes, as well as her passion for productivity, are just some of the things that have fueled her successful, high-profile career through the decades — and just some of the first things you’ll notice about Schade upon meeting her as she enjoys, and certainly makes the most of, retired life in the Lowcountry. 

First recruited as a buyer by Home Depot’s Southwest division in Dallas in 1996, Schade was quickly promoted and, a year later, given responsibility of the Northeast region – Home Depot’s largest division. In 2001, she was promoted to VP of paint and décor for the entire company – Home Depot’s first-ever female VP, and a position that garnered attention both within the industry and throughout the country. Not only did a 2003 New York Times article refer to her as the “princess of paint” and highlight her role as “the world’s largest purchaser of paint,” but the article noted her leadership in the industry, writing “she can force whole companies to change their palettes; she just persuaded Disney to come out with a new line of paint aimed at children.”

Today Schade follows many of the same business leadership strategies that she used throughout her groundbreaking career at Home Depot (where she was responsible for $7 billion in sales), and later as a vice president at Sam’s Club (where she was known as the “fix it” VP.) Retired for the past seven years and now a resident of the picture-perfect Lowcountry, she has quickly put her passion and talents to work by engulfing herself in the world of nature photography. In less than four years she has gone from a beginner in the Sun City Photo Club to expert – sweeping the monthly competition programs faster than you can blink. She is a regular contributor to the Bluffton Sun with her wildlife photos and accompanying stories. She also serves as a mentor at the Don Ryan Center for Innovation, where she is helping a new company get started. 

Whether running multibillion-dollar corporate divisions, or advancing quickly in the world of wildlife photography, Schade points to the productivity techniques that have helped her throughout all phases of her career – and what she believes makes for a productive person.

“Have a road map and a plan, and stick to it,” she says. “Be open to make adjustments as necessary and focus on finishing the most important projects first. Equally as important, be able to anticipate roadblocks and have solutions for each scenario.” When it comes to how to hold productive meetings, Schade points out the importance of always having an agenda – and making sure everyone has it in advance so they can come to the meeting prepared. “Don’t allow anyone to railroad the meeting,” she stresses. “It’s okay to put things in the parking lot and come back to them. If you don’t know the answer, it’s okay to say so and get the answer later.” 

Schade also points out the important role delegation plays in being a good leader and offers some tips for being a good delegator. “First of all, the leader must love to teach others in order to be successful – and don’t delegate something if you have not done it yourself,” she says. “Make sure to allow enough time for the task to be done – and always have a check-in point so you can see the progress and give feedback.” And once you have taught them how to do something and they are great at it, she advises, “Let them go, let them fly, and let them surprise you.”

With her many notable achievements at Home Depot (including having initiated and orchestrated a strategy to enhance paint quality, resulting in #1 consumer paint rating by Consumer Reports magazine in 2003) and her trademark “get-it-done” attitude, Schade is the picture of a truly successful woman in business – and continues to paint a picture of productivity in everything she does.

Productivity tips from Sophia Schade 

1. Maintain a sense of urgency. “Get things done on time – and right the first time,” she says. “Make sure to level out your workload though, and don’t burn out. And most importantly, stick to the ‘sundown rule’ – always call people back on the same day.”

2. Strive for excellence. “Add value to the organization by growing others who understand the work, live the philosophy and are happy to teach others. Be inclusive and embrace diversity.”

3. Don’t be afraid to take risks. “Use reflection for both successes and failures, and create a counter measure to avoid the same mistakes again.”


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