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How CST Brands' CEO Went From Lawyer to C-Suite

October 24, 2016 00:00 AM UTC
- Updated September 02, 2020 11:17 AM UTC

Kim Lubel shares her leadership journey.

Kim, when you were tapped to run CST Brands-- that was the first time you became CEO-- how was that different than other leadership roles that you've had? You're in charge. Even in all of my other executive roles, I was still a support function for our CEO. And I think the enormity of the position and the fact that I was responsible for 14,000 employees was really humbling-- to look at all of those folks and know that every decision I made was impacting not only them, but their families and their lives. And so it's much more serious than those roles. Did you find that you had to modify your natural leadership style to something else that-- so that you could be a more effective leader as boss of the entire company? I think at the core of all of it is being authentic and being who you are. And that's just who I am. And so I think, if you can keep your core piece there and be authentic wherever you are, you may have to modify the words you use and how you approach folks, but it's still you at the core. As the CEO of CST Brands, you are one of a very small group of women CEOs running the Fortune 500. Yes. There are only 21-- I know. --female CEOs out of 500. Why is that we're not seeing more women in those top slots? I wish I knew the answer to that, Susie. I'm sure it's a combination of things. It's not having enough people go from the entry level-- I think we have lots of women coming in at entry-level positions, but whether they're not getting promoted at the same rate as men inside or they voluntarily step aside-- it's probably a mix of those two things. Is there one key piece of advice that you could give to women on how they can advance to the top of their organization? One of the simple things I say is, while you're in a large organization, in particular, look for opportunities outside your organization to test your leadership skills. So nonprofits and serving on a nonprofit board, I think, is one of the best ways-- especially as you're in kind of a mid-level management. You're not stepping on anybody's toes around you, and yet you get to test your leadership skills in a less hostile environment. The risk-reward balance is much different in the nonprofit. World they just love having you there. Here we are at Fortune's most powerful women's summit, so I have to ask you-- how do you define power? Power isn't ultimately being the one in the front of the room. It's the one that gets things done. And so throughout my career, I have owned power in different forms, but I've been able to get the successes that the company needed from whatever vantage position I had. Clearly, being a CEO gives you the ability to make the decisions and those sorts of things, but sharing that power with a team is really, I think, even more important, as your CEO. Kim, you've had an amazing career. You've been a lawyer, a business executive, a CEO of a major Fortune 500 company. As you look back over your career, what's the best leadership advice that you ever got, and why did it stick with you? Susie, if I can give two-- the first starts back in high school back in Ohio. I had a track coach that recognized that I probably didn't have natural skill sets, but he told me, if I worked harder than anybody else, I would be successful. And that is a mantra that has lived with me ever since high school. If you work hard, good things follow. The second one I've been reminded of lately by Michelle Obama's, when they go low, we go high. If, as a leader, you stay on the high road, you will be fine. I have had folks tell me, when you get off the high road, it's much harder to get back onto it. And so clearly, as leaders, we need to continuously take the right path and stay on the high road.