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Boss Babes Focus Online

Melissa Cross’ search for career fulfillment led her to the most unexpected place—home

Photo by: Sara Boone

Melissa Cross never intended to run a company, and she definitely had no desire to take over her family’s office furniture business.

“My dad opened McAleer’s Office Furniture when I was a young kid—I’m one of seven children—and none of my siblings wanted to go into the family business,” she says. 

The road back home

Instead, Cross moved to California and earned a law degree. Law turned out to be a poor match for her positive, bubbly personality. 

“Within two years, I realized how much I hated it,” she says. “Nobody is having a good day when they call their attorney. I started selling real estate in San Diego because I wanted to do something that made people happy, and I really loved sales.”

After a move to Dallas, Cross transitioned into a management role in the home building sector, and then—as fate would have it—she accepted a regional management position with a company that manufactured office furniture

“So here I am in Dallas, completely independent of my dad, working in the office furniture industry,” she says. “But I was working for a huge, corporate business, and I really disliked that structure. I realized the advantages of a family-owned company.”

So, when her family reached out to see if she was interested in managing the Mobile location of McAleer’s, Cross paused. They’d asked before, and she had always turned them down. But this time, the idea of returning to Mobile became more and more attractive. There was one catch—she didn’t want to run the store. She wanted to run the company. 

“I flew down, we all talked, and I made a decision,” she says. “I will come down here and do this, but I don’t want to be a manager of one store. I want to run the whole company. My family was thrilled.” 

That was almost eight years ago. Today, McAleer’s employs almost 30 people between its two stores in Mobile and Pensacola, and Cross is deeply invested in developing her employees as well as contributing to Mobile’s business community. 

Photo Courtesy of McAleer’s

“I don’t want to be a person who makes her employees scared to come into my office or terrified of making a mistake—that’s fear-based management rather than encouragement-based management,” she says. “I want people to know they can make mistakes and know exactly how I’ll react. Without clear expectations, you’re not setting your employees up to succeed.”

Management philosophy 

Cross says she’s learned running a company is all about clearly communicating expectations and balancing care for employees with maintaining a healthy bottom line. 

“As a small business owner, you want to do so many things for your employees, but if you did all of them, you’d go out of business,” Cross says. “It’s hard because people have this idea that women should always be compassionate and nurturing, but there are times you also have to be tough and realistic.”

Cross says throughout her career, she learned that people feel safe at work when they know their employer’s expectations and when there is an open line of communication to discuss how they are meeting or failing to meet those expectations. 

“I don’t want to be a person who makes her employees scared to come into my office or terrified of making a mistake—that’s fear-based management rather than encouragement-based management,” she says. “I want people to know they can make mistakes and know exactly how I’ll react. Without clear expectations, you’re not setting your employees up to succeed.”

Cross says she is also passionate about investing in her employees’ professional development—it’s good for the company in the short-term and for the individual throughout his or her career. 

“I recently hired a designer just out of design school who had no experience in sales, so I hired a sales coach for her,” Cross says. “I’m not going to fool myself thinking she’ll be with me forever, but I want to help her improve her life by improving her skills.” 

Photo Courtesy of McAleer’s

Community involvement 

In addition to sponsoring the Focus Women’s Conference, Cross recently began her three-year tenure as a board member of the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce and is this year’s Vice Chair of Membership. Cross also serves on the board of The University of South Alabama’s Melton Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation and volunteers to coach students when given the opportunity. 

“I love being a mentor to students who are interested in becoming entrepreneurs, and I think it’s important for our community as a whole,” Cross says. “I so believe in entrepreneurs and small businesses, so it’s a joy for me to make time to do that.” 

See more at McAleers.Com

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