By Lynn K. Jenkins
This story first appeared in Women Leadership Magazine
Laurie Sayles, Founder, President and CEO of Civility Management Solutions, LLC (Civility MS) attributes her leadership style to the beliefs and values that were instilled in her during boot camp and throughout her active military and reserve service. United States Marine Corps Former Private Laurie Sayles recounts how this military branch changed her life by opening the door to a life unimaginable by a young girl who started her serial entrepreneurship journey in the projects of Chicago. As the Founder, CEO and President of Civility Management Solutions, LLC, she exudes a leadership style heavily influenced by the mores and values of her parents and the U. S. Marine Corps. “Leave no man behind” and “I am my brother’s keeper” are at the core of how she treats her team…employees, clients, partners and those in need. Today, Laurie Sayles is a model businesswoman who is clearly on top of her game.
Laurie attributes her drive and grit to watching her parents work tirelessly to help their children climb the ladder and avoid doing domestic work her mother performed or blocking hats at a dry cleaners that her father performed. During her formative years, Laurie sold candy to make sure she would have her own money as she didn’t want to ask her parents for more than they already did for their family. As a young teenager, Laurie’s mother enrolled her in a “charm school” with the objective of balancing her daughter’s girlie-girl side that was offset by romping with her two brothers and living in an environment where you had to learn to fend for yourself or become unwittingly involved in potentially tenuous situations. Laurie enjoyed transforming herself quickly standing out as an attractive young woman and became a professional model during high school.
Laurie loved the opportunity to earn money but wasn’t satisfied with just one job. She accepted a position as a cashier (always about the money) at a store in the Northwestern Train Station in downtown Chicago. On one particular weekend, Laurie observed a sea of Navy cadets swarming in the train station on a weekend prior to their graduation. One courageous cadet approached Laurie while she worked and asked if she could recommend things for them to do during the weekend. Young, vivacious Laurie agreed to show them the town that included going to an afternoon movie. A couple of navy cadets quickly befriended Laurie, became pen pals, and told graduating marines to contact her when they came to town.
She earned their trust, respect and friendship exposing her chameleon like persona that allowed her to get along equally with men and women. And Laurie got a close-up glimpse of the military life that she had never imagined. As discussions with her close Marine graduates centered on what she was going to do after high school, Laurie shared that her parents could not afford to send her to college. Her Marine connections told her that she had the character and grit to become a Marine where she could continue her education. Although Laurie never knew there were female marines, had never seen a female marine, she thought about it, signed up, and moved away from home at age 21.
During bootcamp, Laurie discovered that a female marine was expected to fill in for a male marine if they were called to active duty. There were specific duties that women were allowed and expected to perform. Laurie made a decision that she wanted to change feeling marginalized, so she decided to compete and do anything the men could do. If they ran 3 miles, she ran 3 miles. Nothing intimidated her drive. Her determination, competitiveness and confidence standing her ground earned her the respect and admiration of her superiors. She was called upon to mentor both new female and male recruits who needed support and a boost of “get it done.”
She was clearly a “ride or die” Marine who was not going to let anyone fail. If anyone on the team failed, everyone failed. One of her superiors wrote in her file that Private Sayles is better at helping others than she is in helping herself. Laurie learned and embraced the importance of being mission driven. She worked in the logistics office where mechanics and radio communications engineers repaired and maintained operating equipment that was used during war. Laurie started out creating reports and ultimately ended up reporting daily readiness to the Commanding Officer. After 2-3 years, she learned to preempt any reporting gaps by going directly to departments managing the process of discovering missing information. Laurie learned how to create value by making things happen. After 7 years of active duty, Private Sayles performed 3 years of reserve duty. She also decided that she no longer wanted to wear a uniform and was going to look for employment where she could wear a business suit! She learned a lot during these reserve years including how to negotiate salaries when she learned she was underpaid for the same work, and that you had to validate everything. Because she has an appealing raspy voice, she was hired as a full-time receptionist and started to amass career skills including becoming a secretary, administrative assistant, operations director, executive assistant, and eventually project manager for a small government contractor.
Regardless of her role on project teams, she always found a way to fix anything that was broken, even if it was outside of her purview. Her management skills were continually expanding as she always “showed up and showed out!” She loved the exposure to government contracting and decided to take a chance and form her own company. On one of her early projects working for another company, she performed leadership management consulting for NASA that enabled her to meet the Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Director who became a good business mentor. Laurie oversaw the NASA Mentor Protégé Program.
Laurie marched with purpose and grew her business gaining designations as a Woman Owned Small Business, Service-Disabled Veteran Owned Small Business, and 8(a) in 2016. Although Laurie was involved in advocating for women business leaders and veterans, she admits that she didn’t get traction until she became an 8(a) and received her first 8(a) award in May 2016.
Over a 20-year period, from the time Laurie started her business, she leveraged building relationships and focused on agencies whose mission involved protecting the country including the Department of Homeland Security Customs and Border Protection, Department of Air Force, and Department of Health and Human Services. Allegiance with her staff and clients is reciprocal. She knows the importance people taking care of each other. Her management skills have guided her to hire employees who are hard workers, have integrity, are class acts, are open to growth and nurturing. And, no drama please.
In addition to awarded contracts with federal defense and civilian agencies, Civility Management Solutions also performs work for commercial companies. Performing at 150% is the bar Laurie sets for all projects. She is disappointed if her past performance reviews are not exceptional and is always striving for perfection. 2021 is slated as another growth period. Cybersecurity and telecommunications solutions are available through Joint Ventures as it became apparent that expanding technical capabilities and adding emerging technologies is critical to her company’s continued mission critical success.
Morphing from a professional model to model businesswoman to model person, this former Private Marine who marches with a purpose has figured out how to evade marginalization, manage, mentor and motivate, make things happen and never look in the rearview mirror at the detractors, negativity or naysayers. There are situations that could have broken the spirit of any other leader, but not for former Private Laurie Sayles. Weathering the storm and throes of deception from close business and personal partners that lacked integrity and ethics and intentionally performed acts that could have destroyed a leader without the fortitude cemented during her tenure as a U. S. Marine, Laurie hunkers down and rebounds even stronger than ever. Always purposeful.
Laurie’s support and advocacy for women owned and veteran owned businesses, and those in less favorable situations is endless. She has provided testimony to the U. S. Senate, is involved in advocacy and growth programs, has been called upon by Congressional representatives to assist small business expertise, conducts summits and shows no end in supporting others. She recently started a non-profit, called, R3, focused on combating domestic violence for disadvantaged women that provides economic and emotional support. In September of 2020, Laurie Sayles became an author releasing her book; “As My Leaders Go, So Do I”. She loves sharing and giving back.
Afterall, Laurie walks the talk, “I am my brother’s keeper.”