Partner Profiles | February 12, 2015

Esther De Wolde on Cultivating People

Esther De Wolde’s passion for business is matched by her care for people. Esther shares what she’s learned about cultivating people as CEO of Phantom Screens.


C. Esther De Wolde, CEO of Phantom Screens, has nurtured and grown the corporation to become the leading brand in the retractable screen industry. In their first year of business, they sold just 500 screens. Over twenty years later, under her leadership, Phantom Screens has sold over 1.4 million retractable screens, and now has representation across North America, Australia, the UK, the Caribbean and the Far East.

Her passion for business is matched by her care for people—believing that Phantom Screens can only be truly successful if it has served its people, its customers, and its business partners with respect and integrity. Esther shares what she’s learned about cultivating people over the course of her career:

Articulate your Beliefs

Don’t assume that everyone understands what it means to care about people. When we introduced our corporate values, some of our people were amazed and astonished that a company could articulate and define what it stood for. Even some of our senior managers had never considered the concept of values in business. It was a radical step in some ways, because it forced all of us to think about what we’re doing, how we’re doing it, and what we’re teaching others by our actions.

Acknowledge Unique Voices

Communication is so important to fostering relationships. We have an all-staff town hall meeting once a quarter where we keep everyone up-to-date on how the company is doing, recognize and celebrate achievement, as well as provide a forum for questions, challenges and discussion. No question is off-limits—I might answer that it’s none of their business if they ask me how much I earn, but surprisingly I have only had to use that answer once!

Develop People

I’m also a believer in coaching to bring out the best in people. We have brought in an amazing coach to work alongside us and he’s helped develop the leadership team and managers. It’s been a privilege to see how others have grown and developed—both personally and in business. Some of the transformations have been extraordinary!

Let Them Go

Sometimes caring about people means that you have to make tough choices. If a person isn’t fulfilling their potential, despite being given lots of chances, you have to explain that they would be more fulfilled and achieve much greater things outside of your organization. That doesn’t mean you don’t care—far from it—it just means that you think they will grow and develop better outside of the organization. It’s not easy to do, but I’ve seen so many examples of people who have thrived and achieved great things after leaving Phantom Screens.

Get On Board

More and more businesses are recognizing the value of people. It’s people that create an organization and it’s people that build the culture within it. By nurturing people you’re fostering success. There’s a lot of talk about balancing work and life— and that’s certainly important—but what’s more important for leaders to remember is that people aren’t resources; they’re not raw material or inanimate objects. They’re uniquely created individuals and therefore should be valued and treated with respect. To me, that’s what being people-focused is all about.