For Women’s History Month at Gard: A Q&A with Liz Fuller on leading with intention, authenticity
Gard is very proud to be a woman-owned and woman-led company. So for Women’s History Month, there’s no one better to ask about women’s leadership than our very own president and CEO, Liz Fuller.
Liz started transitioning into a leadership role at Gard soon after she joined us as an account manager in 2010. Brian Gard, the firm’s founder, recognized her potential early in her career and approached her about eventually leading the company.
She was surprised at the time, because it was not at all on her radar, she says. Since then, she has become a strong and steady leader for Gard, maintaining the trust of long-term clients and adding new ones.
She became president and minority owner of Gard in 2017, CEO in 2020 and full owner in 2022. Gard applied this year to be certified as a Women Business Enterprise by Oregon’s Certification Office for Business Inclusion and Diversity (COBID), and our application is under review.
And her leadership is already getting noticed: The Portland Business Alliance honored Gard as “A Place with No Ceiling” for advancing women leaders, and the Portland Business Journal named Liz to its 2021 list of “Forty Under 40” honorees.
Thanks for taking time to answer our questions, Liz!
How did the leadership transition happen?
It was long, thoughtful and intentional. Reflecting back, there were three components: first, mentorship of the consulting work, business development and operations; second, a transition of leadership internally within the company and externally with clients; and third, a transition of ownership of the company. It took a good 5-8 years to complete all three aspects of the transition.
Why was it important to you to both own and lead the agency?
Leadership allows you to guide the work, but ownership gives you full agency.
What’s the hardest part and the best part about running your own business?
Hardest part: I’m not ever able to fully turn it off. I work at all hours and days. That can be quite tiring. Best part: extreme flexibility and control.
What is your approach to leadership, and do you think it’s any different because you’re a woman?
I surround myself with people who are highly competent, and quite frankly more skilled at what they do than I am. I trust them to do good work. I try to interfere only when there is a problem, or when it’s in my lane.
I am interested in getting to know the people at Gard. In any given day, someone might be balancing parenting challenges, worried about an aging parent or just really excited about the upcoming Taylor Swift concert. Getting to know people makes the work more enjoyable and brings humanity and humility into our day. I don’t think this is at all gender-based, it’s just my personal approach.
What have you learned from other women business owners and leaders?
Authenticity. I’ve been lucky to have many great female mentors. I’ve learned a lot from them and by watching them. For example, several mentors have encouraged me to explore finding a leadership style that works for me. I’ve learned to lean into a feminine approach to leadership. That’s more authentic to who I am than trying to be something else.
What advice would you give other women who want to be business leaders?
Be intentional. Don’t be shy to ask for what you want and be open to some degree of vulnerability or rejection. You might be surprised by how often people say yes.