After his blockbuster book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, the late Stephen Covey wrote another very insightful book for leaders titled Principle Centered Leadership. In the book, Covey makes the case for the importance of having a core set of values by which you lead your life and organization. He states, “In the last analysis, what we are communicates far more eloquently than anything we say or do.”
While perhaps we know this intuitively, it is good to be reminded that character counts, and that who we are and what we stand for really matters. As a leader, people are watching you. They are deciding if they will trust you and follow your leadership. Leaders who have a deep sense of core purpose and principles are able to lead through the inevitable highs and lows of business and life. Mark A. Sorgenfrei, chairman and CEO of MISSCO Corporation, is one of those principle-centered leaders.
A native of New Orleans, Sorgenfrei has been with MISSCO and its predecessors for over 29 years. A graduate of Millsaps College, Sorgenfrei practiced public accounting for 10 years before joining MISSCO as corporate controller in 1984. He shared, “My first employer was a local CPA firm and the partners in the firm led by example. They did not expect me to work any harder than they did, which was a good lesson to learn early in my career, because nobody worked harder than the partners in the firm.” Sorgenfrei learned that ownership and leadership of an organization involves continued hard work rather than coasting on the hard work of employees.
MISSCO is a company with a rich history in Mississippi. The company dates back to 1919, when the founders formed Mississippi School Supply Company. The company expanded into office supplies in the 20’s and became a leading distributor in the Southeast. Sorgenfrei became president in 1992 and led the company through the sale of its Commercial Division and the school supply portion of its Educational Division to U.S. Office Products in 1995. Today, the company operates Sheldon Labs (a laboratory furniture company), a textbook supply company and MISCCO Contract Sales.
Sorgenfrei’s principled leadership style is based on his deep faith. He shared, “My leadership style has been influenced most directly by my personal relationship with Jesus Christ in that He has taught me that a true leader must be a servant and not just one who gives directives and orders.” In the corporate context, he applies his principles by seeking to serve customers and employees with a spirit of humility and a commitment to excellence. Reflecting on the decades of success of MISSCO, Sorgenfrei shared, “I have observed many fine leaders of these businesses over the years, and I have learned that it takes people committed to the common goal of excellence in all areas of life for a business to succeed and prosper over the last 94 years.”
For future leaders, Sorgenfrei wisely noted, “Surround yourself with people that are wiser than you are and listen intently to their advice. Put the interests of your employees and your customers before your own and seek to serve them.” Sorgenfrei has “walked the walk” of a servant leader, and he has carried on the tradition of excellence at MISSCO. Leaders like Sorgenfrei provide a calm and steady hand as they lead organizations into the future. I have found that leaders like Sorgenfrei are able to provide that kind of stable leadership because they are comfortable with themselves and have a clear sense of who they are and what they are trying to accomplish.
Up Close With Mark A. Sorgenfrei, CPA
Title: Chairman and CEO of MISSCO Corporation
Favorite Books: The Bible, Prodigal God and Counterfeit Gods by Tim Keller and any novel by Vince Flynn.
First Job: “I was a ship fitter’s helper in a small shipyard in Harvey, La., the summer before I went to college. It was the hardest work that I had ever experienced, and the yard foreman told me that the job was much more difficult in the winter than in the summer. His words stayed with me through college whenever I thought about goofing off and not studying.”
Proudest Moment as a Leader: “The sale of MISSCO’s Commercial Furniture and Office Supply Division and the School Supply Division to U.S. Office Products in October 1995.”
Hobbies/Interests: “Being with the family of God in corporate worship and small groups, being with my family and grandchildren, playing golf and fishing.”
Martin Willoughby is a business consultant and regular contributing columnist for the Mississippi Business Journal. He serves as Chief Operating Officer of Butler Snow Advisory Services, LLC and can be reached at martin.willoughby@ butlersnow.com.