Photo by Sarah Whiting
Photo by Sarah Whiting

When Tanya Korpi Macleod’s husband of 17 years died suddenly last year, leaving her in possession of his Bemidji-based Valvoline franchise, her first intention was to sell. She already owned Macleod & Co., a successful Minneapolis-based marketing firm. 

She didn’t want to deal with the mess of an 80-hour work week, raising two teenage daughters, 
and running two businesses. Such a male-oriented franchise, known for its instant oil changes, 
“just wasn’t my jam.”

Filled with self-doubt about her ability to lead a group of Valvoline managers, who she understood to be under-performing, Macleod walked in to a meeting with the team. Her intention was to simply say all the proper things. 

Instead, she broke down in tears. She told them her husband didn’t think highly of them. This team of men, largely in their 40s, indicated, “we know.” Macleod learned later that each of the managers had intended to quit while working for her husband. 

The team made a commitment to do whatever was needed to keep the franchise thriving. What that involved, Macleod says, was vulnerability and trust. “Teach me what I don’t know,” she told them. In the process, she learned how much they did know, and how much of the business she could entrust into their hands. She valued their input on budget approaches, and together they figured out how to support each other with a long-term plan.

Macleod says with a smile that what she’s learned from the past nine months is not that crying in front of the team works as a leadership strategy. Rather, it is about being willing to say “you are better at this than I am, and I’m okay with that.” She believes women do this generally much easier than men. 

Many leaders traditionally have a desire to want to feel smarter than everyone else in the room, Macleod says. A good leader can say, “I know your superpower.”

The Arc of Power

Macleod was at a recent Valvoline annual 
meeting in Las Vegas — one of only two 
women owners, compared to more than 70 
men owners, and a rarity as someone under 50 
years old. Macleod acknowledges that she gets 
more respect now as the boss, not the wife. 
As a white, now wealthier woman, without 
the common marital clashes that came from 
being with a strong-willed man, Macleod says 
her life feels significantly different in this “year 
of me.”

It is apparent to her that her daughters are 
stepping into a different world. Her oldest is 
an engineering student at the University of 
Minnesota. The other, 16, likely has a creative 
entrepreneurial path opening up for her.

The goal in 2018, Macleod suggests, is not 
necessarily for women to become “equal” in 
the boardroom as a way to combat sexism. 
Rather, she believes businesses simply thrive 
with women decision-makers. 

Conscious capitalism is the future, she 
says. That means creating companies and 
communities focused around shared values 
and operating with partnership rather than 
ego. “It’s less about stream-rolling others, and 
more about being ‘and, and, and!,’” she says.