The Carnahan File Featured

7:00pm EDT February 23, 2010

Born: Wilmington, Ohio

Education: Bachelor of science degree in business administration, The Ohio State University

Firsts: Carnahan joined Cintas in 1979 as a staff accountant. Since then, she’s been the company’s first female treasurer, first female vice president and first female president and COO. For 17 years, she’s been Cintas’ highest-ranking woman.

On her greatest leadership challenge: The only way I’m going to be successful or this company is going to be successful is having the right people — attracting, training, motivating energized teams of people. As easy at that sounds, probably the biggest challenge that any executive has is to make sure you have the right people on your team and that you provide challenging opportunities for them in order to achieve their personal goals and career aspirations.

What is your definition of success?

To me, success isn’t defined by my own personal achievement. I am only as successful as my team, so I measure my own success based on whether my partners are meeting their professional goals. I also define success through my ability to ensure my people have satisfying careers and are achieving their own professional goals.

Whom do you admire most in business and why?

The person I admire most in business is Cintas founder Dick Farmer. Dick was the person who greeted me when I first interviewed with Cintas in 1979, and he has been a tremendous leader and mentor ever since.

One of the things Dick used to always say was the true success of a company was understanding the front-line partner, the person who’s out there in the trenches, day to day. They understand our company, they understand the trials and tribulations of executing the business, and we must respect that. When I joined the company as a staff accountant, I felt that he had the same respect for me. So that’s what I try to emulate every day — to be a leader that people look to and people say, ‘She understands me, she understands my trials and tribulations, and she realizes the true potential of my contribution to this company.’