Renee Cacchillo was named the first female CEO in Safelite's history in 2021.

The 2022 Women’s Industry Network (WIN) Education Conference wrapped up May 4 with a keynote speech by Renee Cacchillo, president and CEO of Safelite.

Cacchillo presented “What’s Behind the Glass---Reflections on My Leadership Journey,” in which she talked about how her education and career path led to becoming Safelite’s first female CEO in 2021, and the challenges and opportunities both along the way and going forward.

Cacchillo was announced as the CEO of Safelite, a national company that will celebrate its 75th anniversary in June and the leading provider of auto glass for repair, replacement and recalibration, in September 2021. She officially assumed the role in December.

Cacchillo said she was born in Japan while her father was stationed there with the U.S. Air Force. She and her family then moved to Texas, Oregon, Seattle and finally Norman, OK, as she began her senior year of high school.

“Moving that much taught me how to be adaptive,” Cacchillo said.

Both of her parents were the first from their families to attend college, Cacchillo said, and education was very important to them.

Cacchillo attended the University of Kansas, initially with the goal of becoming a pediatrician. But after a friend took organic chemistry, Cacchillo said, she decided she didn’t like science and switched her major to business.

After graduating with her bachelor's degree in business, Cacchillo got a job with Dillard’s, Inc., a department store company. Her first job was managing a store with 250 employees.

“I learned all the different personality styles,” she said.

Over the next several years, Cacchillo worked for Hallmark, while taking night classes to earn her MBA, and then Accenture, Lbrands and Bob Evans. She and her husband, Dave, also had twin daughters along the way, now finishing up their junior year in college.

In 2011, Cacchillo started with Safelite. Over the next 11 years, she worked in a range of areas within the company, including service delivery, customer experience, marketing and technology, before being named the company’s CEO.

“People kept telling me, ‘Renee, you’ve broken the glass ceiling,’” Cacchillo said. “Other people paved the way for me, but I’m paving the way for others.”

Cacchillo encouraged women to get comfortable possibly being alone in a male-dominated area, but to not be surprised when other women see their success and are inspired to emulate it.

“Be fearless; don’t be afraid to be the first ‘pink peg,’” Cacchillo said. “Think about the shadow you’re casting for others. You’re creating a pathway they may never have visualized for themselves.”

To illustrate her point, Cacchillo said Safelite only had two female glass technicians nationwide before the company created a recruitment ad featuring one of them. The day after the ad started running, the company heard from 6,000 interested applicants---40% of whom were women.

“Every market has female trainees in class now,” Cacchillo said. “They are still the minority but [the ad] brought their attention to the fact they could have a future at Safelite.”

Reflecting on mistakes she made along the way, Cacchillo said the biggest was when a former employer was eliminating her position, so she took another within the same company, even though she wasn’t passionate about it, rather than looking for a more fulfilling job elsewhere.

“I wish I had just taken a severance package and found another job,” Cacchillo said. “That was one of the biggest lessons of my life.”

Cacchillo said another big lesson she has learned is to not put so much pressure on herself or her team to have all the answers.

“Sometimes you should be able to just listen and learn,” she said, suggesting everyone learn how to say “I don’t know,” “let me find out” and “can you help me.”

“It’s not about always being on or impressing someone,” she said. “Partners recognize that I’ll ask for help and might need help, but I am curious and learning.

“Be part of the discussion and don’t worry about being perfect because none of us are; we all have our flaws.”

Cacchillo said she has rolled out three priorities for Safelite.

The first is to inspire and embrace change.

“Other people might not be ready to go yet,” Cacchillo said. “The question is how to we bring people along in that change, including them in the mindset that this is going to be OK.”

The second is to evolve from functional leadership to organizational.

“You may have to make sacrifices in your functional area for the overall goal,” she said.

And finally, think “now” to “next.”

When Sony was trying to make the Walkman smaller and lighter, Steve Jobs was developing the iPod, she said.

“We have all these things going on right now, COVID, inflation,” Cacchillo said. “We need to keep looking forward and have that eye there as well.”

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