Carol Fearns: Leading by Example
Have you seen the mayor? Blonde, beaming, buzzing around the Mall, Westfield Annapolis’s perimeter on a candy-apple red scooter? No, not Mayor Moyer; that’s Carol Fearns, general manager or mayor, if you will, of the Westfield Annapolis. Why the electric scooter? Fearns is a hands-on leader; she likes to see for herself that her Town Center welcomes visitors with its clean, safe, attractive appearance. So, Fearns scoots around the Mall’s perimeter, checking to be sure that litter is whisked away, flowers are watered, lots are tidy, shoppers are safe.
Carol Fearns has always been a “just-do-it” sort of gal—no excuses, no procrastinating. Growing up in Carroll County, she was one of five children. Her parents’ credo was: be smart and get good grades, have a sense of humor, work hard and be flexible. Fearns follows those dictums in her own life.
She and her husband Tom manage a two-career, two-children family. The family is a team, says Fearns, with children Colin, 17 years old, and Caitlin, 13, sharing the work and the satisfaction of family life. In fact, the scooter that Fearns uses at the Mall is Caitlin’s solution to her mom’s “gotta-be-everywhere” dilemma; Caitlin lent Mom her scooter.
When Fearns was the same age as her children are now, she thought she wanted to become a teacher. She earned a Bachelor’s degree from McDaniel’s College, then known as Western Maryland College. She majored in English and theatre while specializing in secondary education. Fearns applied the rules of her parents: be smart, have a sense of humor, work hard and be flexible.
After college Fearns and a friend set up an acting company called “The Theatre Shop.” They worked with schools in Pennsylvania and Maryland bringing theatre to special needs students. She learned that it wasn’t the stage but behind the scenes where Fearns excelled. Eventually, she opened a retail shop selling costumes, dance attire and theatrical gear. Among her clients were Maryland Public Television and movie film crews shooting in Maryland. Fearns loved her work as an independent business person, but she was convinced she needed to learn more about the business end of retailing.
Fearns earned a masters degree in business from Mount St. Mary’s College, and capped her accomplishment by landing the post of Chief Operations Officer for SWANA (Solid Waste Association of North American.) That’s when life really got interesting.
During her seven years as Chief Operations Officer, Fearns traveled the world; Singapore, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Germany, France, and parts of North Africa, doing trade shows, teaching classes and certification programs, addressing conferences—applying all the skills she’d acquired in business, theatre and teaching. Today, a huge map of the world hangs behind Fearns’ desk recalling her travels for SWANA.
Eventually, it was time to move on—and up, professionally. And that is how Fearns came to join the Westfield Corporation. Her broad organizational experience, her flexibility and work ethic, her charm and humor, combined with the polish from years of leadership and travel, made Fearns the perfect package to manage a giant retail community for Westfield. And the fit does work. “I love my job. I only wish I’d come to the Westfield Corporation earlier.”
As general manager, Fearns is the virtual mayor of the “town center,” Westfield Annapolis. She manages the teams that keep 265 stores, a movie complex and 25 restaurants humming, their employees happy, their shoppers safe and comfortable. Like the mayor of any bustling city, Fearns must hold the reins of management firmly, but lightly. She directs the maintenance department, housekeeping, security, the concierge staff, and the accounting department. Fearns also teams with the retail leasing and special leasing brokers to be sure the shopping wishes and needs of visitors are satisfied.
In addition, Fearns is handling yet another major project; she’s overseeing the construction project which will add 240 thousand square feet and 60 additional shops to the Town Center’s current 265 retail stores. That means Fearns is learning a great deal about the construction process, auto and foot traffic flow and safety. When asked if she encountered any resentment or was treated differently because she is a woman, Fearns replied, “The only difference I’ve noticed between myself and my male counterparts—I’ve got more shoes.” Fearns still relies on the same skills she brought to theatre and teaching—set your goals, meet your deadlines, keep your commitments, satisfy your audience—and always keep your sense of humor.
Life is far from boring for Carol Fearns, either at work or at home. Active in the Anne Arundel County Chamber of Commerce as a member of the Board of Directors, Fearns observes, “I am amazed at how effective Anne Arundel County’s Chamber of Commerce really is. They’re pro-active and support area businesses. Other Chambers of Commerce are not always this effective.”
And speaking of pro-active support: along with her daughter, Caitlin, Fearns is an enthusiastic volleyball fan. She and Caitlin play club volleyball; Fearns’ team is confidently named, “See you later!” Sudoku puzzles intrigue Fearns too. “I’ve always been a multi-tasker. I can’t just do one thing. But, I’ve always had to keep lots of things going at once. The sudoku math puzzles are fun to do while we’re watching TV.”
When Fearns isn’t working a ten to twelve hour day, attending a meeting, or playing volleyball, she may be reading. She’s a member of an active book club and also likes to have a book or two at her bedside for relaxing reading. Her teenagers have a tough time keeping up with Fearns’ pace.
As all good leaders and teachers know, the best leadership is by example. Carol Fearns does exactly that. As a successful business woman, a wife, mother and community leader, she does what needs to be done with wit, enthusiasm and intelligence. “My personality sees the cup as half full.” Her advice to her children and to anyone taking on a position of leadership is the advice she was given by her parents: Be smart, have a sense of humor, work hard and be flexible.