WHEN subordinates called Pamela Forbes Lieberman
"the dragon lady" at her
former job, she
didn't balk at the name.
embraced it, and even hung a watercolor of a dragon in her
Ms. Lieberman, the chief executive of the hardware co-op TruServ, based here, makes no apologies for her management style: a bottom-line-driven mentality that has been credited with helping to restore the good name of her company three years after accounting problems nearly crippled it.
, which supplies inventory to its members, who own True Value hardware stores, lost $131 million and hundreds of investors in 1999 because of accounting errors.
But after a revamping that called for the dismissal of top executives, a 5 percent staff reduction and the sale of Canadian holdings, TruServ
, under Ms. Lieberman
, is trying to pay its debts.
So far, the numbers look good.
Ms. Lieberman, who joined the company as chief financial officer in March 2001 and became chief executive that July, said it has abandoned the accounting practices that led to the problems in 1999.
"With regard to the time the C.F.O. and myself were here, we gave clean certifications," Ms. Lieberman
said in an interview.
, 48, who started out at Price Waterhouse in 1975, is a Chicago native with an M.B.A. from the Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University.
She worked in the manufacturing and distribution industries for 26 years before joining TruServ.
, whose mother and sister were opera singers, calls herself a workaholic, but she
spends some of her
free time at the Lyric Opera House here.
husband, Stuart, is an avid golfer, but she
has also had some luck on the green, once even hitting a hole in one.
is not the type to sit at her
desk sipping coffee and talking about her
weekend, but she
has been known to loosen up.
At a recent conference in Colorado that included a karaoke night, she
grabbed the microphone, hit the dance floor and belted out "We Are Family" with her
top executives at her
"I don't think they really understood the changes in the economy, as well as members' buying patterns, and they didn't cut costs fast enough," Ms. Lieberman
was soon on the phone with lenders, trying to renegotiate TruServ's
immediately started cutting costs and even put the paint business up for sale.
But when she
was able to raise capital elsewhere, she
took it off the market rather than sell it at a fire-sale price.
was hired for her
business acumen but says that lifting morale is just as important.
ends monthly executive meetings by playing the song "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now."
An animated speaker who makes sweeping hand gestures to emphasize her
also uses humor in meetings.
once asked top executives to meet at an ice rink at 6 a.m. dressed in full hockey gear to film an in-house commercial spoof about teamwork that was shown at a conference in Dallas.
also has a hard-nosed approach that has helped weed out poorly performing employees.
"If they succeed, then they will be rewarded, but if they don't, then we're going to have to look for new people sitting in their chairs," she
said recently, drinking bottled water in a conference room at the headquarters.
Employees and store owners hold her
to the same standard.
was eager to lead the effort to turn around the company, but she
knows that there are naysayers who question her
as a leader.
Ms. Lieberman, the first woman to be chief executive of TruServ, a business with roots going back to the early 1900's, does not think of her gender as an obstacle.
"In a turnaround situation, it doesn't matter what the gender of the person is, as long as they can be successful," she
Coworkers say Ms. Lieberman
is trying to rid her
workplace of an industry "good ol' boy" mentality.
"She's a straight shooter," said Neil Hastie, who has known Ms. Lieberman for 11 years, starting when the two worked at Fel-Pro, an auto products company, and is now TruServ's chief information officer.
has also worked to rebuild TruServ's
image, starting with seeking better relationships with store owners.
Jay Weathers, a partner in a True Value store in Sacramento, said Ms. Lieberman has greatly improved communication between headquarters and members.
In the meantime, Ms. Lieberman
visits wavering stores to try to keep them on board.
"There is nothing so broken here it can't be fixed," she