November 13, 2019 4:00 am Published by

Episode 32:

Jennifer Smith is recognized as a ‘culture innovator,’ creating workplaces where people love to work and are inspired to make a difference. As the Founder and CEO of Innovative Office Solutions, Jennifer’s mission is to inspire people to love what they do and who they do it with while living out the company’s core values.

Jennifer is proud that her team has helped them become the largest independent office solutions company in the Midwest and one of the largest in the Nation. Their contagious culture has been the secret to the Innovative success story. Employees are guided by a shared vision, set of core values and a brand promise that sets the tone for all interactions; and has helped Innovative, a women-owned company, be named “100 Best Companies to Work For” by the Minnesota Business Journal every year since its inception.

Innovative has re-invented how they go to market, offering their clients new categories such as cleaning and facility supplies, educational supplies/furniture, workplace branding, managed print services and technology, along with office products and furniture and design.

Jennifer is passionate about her community. She is on the Forum for the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) Board, Dealer Advisory Board of Essendant, Minnesota Vikings Women’s Advisory Council, and the InSports Foundation, the charitable arm of Innovative Office Solutions. She is honored to have received many accolades, including EY Entrepreneur of the Year for the Upper Midwest, Most Admired CEO by the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal, The (Real)Power 50 by the Minnesota Business Magazine, 50 Fastest Growing Women Owned/Led Companies in North America, presented by the Women Presidents’ Organization, 100 Best Places to work for seven consecutive years, and ranked for ten years on the Inc 5000 fastest growing privately held companies in America.
Growing up in the small town, family-owned office supply business, her Mom and Dad taught her at an early age that relationships matter and that guides her today.

What You Will Learn:

  • Jennifer Smith’s role as CEO of Innovative Office Solutions
  • How IOS grew from $3M to $150M under her leadership
  • The challenges associated with IOS’s growth
  • Why intentional culture and strong core values are important
  • Why Jennifer did the opposite of everyone else when the recession hit
  • How Jennifer is facing the decline of her industry and the rise of Amazon
  • High-level problem solving as a team effort
  • The evolution of Innovative Office Solutions


Core Values | Intentional Culture

Intentional Culture and Core Values

Jennifer Smith is a “culture innovator.” She has a track record of creating workplaces where people are inspired to make a difference. It is one of the many reasons her company, Innovative Office Solutions, has become one of the largest independent office solutions companies in the nation. Her team is guided by a strong vision and shared core values, putting IOS in the Women Presidents’ Organization, 100 Best Places to Work for seven consecutive years.Core Values | Intentional Culture, with Jennifer Smith

From $3M to $150M

When I first spoke with Jennifer, Innovative Office Solutions was at $3M. Since then, it has grown to $150M, a size that female leaders rarely see. Inspiration, strong core values, and intentional culture are the main forces behind its success. Relationships matter and you have to treat your customers, your employees, and your vendors how you want to be treated. Every member of IOS understands the role they play in the big picture. It enables them to grow no matter how difficult things get.

It might sound easy, but it is extremely difficult when you move past the $100M mark. Strong core values help scale the culture, but Jennifer has taken a lot of calculated risks to see ROL (return on luck). It helps to be in the right place at the right time, but you cannot take advantage of the opportunity if you are not ready for it to come your way. You also need to have the right people in place.

Your Business is a Family

When you grow your business, each milestone is something you haven’t experienced before. Jennifer has experienced a lot of luck attracting talent to fill those gaps, hiring people with skills that she doesn’t have. For so many of us, our businesses are like family when we start them. But when the family expands, there is an unwieldy feeling. It becomes difficult to maintain the family spirit. Even when you hire great talent, they have to be so aligned and so invested that it is almost like you’re imparting yourself through them. Your culture and core values should be intentional because it will be easier to scale them as you grow.

Growing Pains

There are a lot of growing pains when you’re working to achieve growth and scale, and when Innovative Office Solutions reached $15M, they had the same number of employees. That was a difficult scenario heading into the recession because there was nowhere to cut. With no options left, Jennifer decided to hire. She doubled the company size and increased revenue by 70%. She invested in her brand, her people, and her technology while everyone else was doing the opposite. The only way to preserve your core values and culture is by doubling down when the going gets tough. That is exactly what Jennifer did, and that is the type of leader she will always be.

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