Women in Leadership Profiles

Jennifer Burke Applies Engineering Know-How to Leadership Role at Masco

As a young girl, a light bulb turned on when Jennifer Burke watched an episode of “Sesame Street,” and she realized she wanted to be an engineer. That early interest in how things work has never left her, and she now serves as vice president of logistics and distribution at Kichler Lighting — part of the Masco family of companies. No two days are ever the same, and that is just how Jennifer likes it.

Current role: Solving problems and making data-based decisions   

Your bio describes your role as leading “logistics and distribution of multi-site teams to deliver upon our customer promises while evolving the footprint to meet future demands” and “executing on a multi-year network optimization journey.” In simple terms, what does that mean? What is the main mission of your job?

We prepare products to be shipped from our vendor partners in Asia to our distribution centers in the U.S. so that inventory is available for our customers.

“Evolving the footprint” means we ship to different types of customers, whether residential or distributor, to meet the demands of the company. There are a few different channels we serve — for example, in the retail market we have customers like Lowes and Home Depot. In the e-commerce channel, Amazon and Wayfair are customers. We also have dealer channels like Ferguson and a landscape channel that sells to distributors who specifically focus on outdoor spaces.

Throughout my career, I have gotten the most energy and built the strongest bonds when working with others to solve problems.

What characteristics does someone need to be successful in a role like yours?

  • Flexibility and problem-solving skills because no day is ever the same.
  • The ability to work across the organization and not get stuck in a silo.
  • I lean heavily on analytical skills — being able to dive into data and understand root causes of what we are trying to solve.
  • The ability to communicate and tailor messages, as well as motivate and rally people, because we have to delight the customer.

What is your favorite part of your job? 

No two days are the same. Throughout my career, I have gotten the most energy and built the strongest bonds when working with others to solve problems.

What is most challenging?

Being an engineer, I love data, but it can be difficult to balance data with the need for urgent action. At some point, you have to lift up from the data, make a decision to take a leap, and say, ”let’s go.”

Early influences: Sesame Street was a lightbulb moment   

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Michigan, south of Detroit. I lived in the same house my entire childhood, and my parents still live there. It was a simple, wonderful childhood with a tight family.

Is there someone (parents, teachers, grandparents, friends, etc.) or something from your upbringing that influenced your career path?  Did you ever dream about a career at a young age (other than engineering/business)?

I wouldn’t say I have a one-track mind, but I knew what I wanted to do at age 6 or 7. I grew up with Sesame Street, and one segment was about bottling milk. It showed bottles getting filled up on the conveyor belts. I was mesmerized and asked my mom and dad, “This is cool. How do you do that?’ My dad said, “You need to be an engineer.”

In school, I created a poster of my favorite things, including what I wanted to be when I grew up. I included professional ice skater (like Dorothy Hamill, and I even had the haircut), but I also included project engineer. By 2000, that was my title.

Career path: Pivoting from engineering to business

From your bio, it appears you have worked at Masco since graduating from Michigan State University in the early 90s. How did you first learn about Masco, and what is it about the company that has kept you there for so many years?

During the summers in college, I worked at a temp agency as an admin or office clerk. Between my sophomore and junior year, I got a temp assignment at Masco working in logistics, and I loved everything about working there. I told the temp agency that I would work for Masco — anything, anytime, and anywhere.  Later, I got a summer internship there and, as it was ending, I walked my resume around to everyone I had met. 

I started working there full-time two weeks after graduation, and I’ve stayed because the people there feel like family. There is always something new to work through, a problem to solve, and it has an entrepreneurial energy.

It looks like you started in engineering roles and pivoted into more broad business role. How did that transition occur and was it deliberate?

Early on, I spent time on the plant floors and in distribution centers in engineering roles where we implemented new processes utilizing lean concepts. From that viewpoint, I realized that the manufacturing floor can only do what the business tells it to do. I needed to see what was happening in the business, so I pivoted.

When considering a move into a new role, how do you come to your decision whether to transition?

Sometimes I would be told, “We need you to do this,” or I would be asked, “You have never done this before, do you mind trying?” Pivots require a balance between what is best for my family and my career.  One role I considered would have required me to travel 90% of the time. I love traveling, but another role came up at a location 10 minutes from my house and my kids were in elementary school. Before making a career transition, I ask: Does it open more doors than close?

Business lessons: Trust and listen to yourself

Are there one or two important lessons in business that you always keep top-of-mind?

I once worked for a phenomenal director, but he was a gruff man. I was heading into an important meeting, and I was nervous to speak in front of a large group. He pulled me aside: “Jen, they all put their pantyhose on the same way you do.” We are all just people, regardless of level.

You have to listen to and trust yourself.


What advice do you have a for a young woman just starting out in her career in business?

More than likely, you have the right answer. You have to listen to and trust yourself.

You have a BS in Engineering from Michigan State University and an Executive MBA from Eastern Michigan University. Why did you decide to get an MBA, and how has it benefitted you?

The MBA opened my eyes to the construct of cause and effect in business. If we are spending money in operations, for example, we have to pull back elsewhere or reach for higher sales in another area.

Going through the MBA program with people from other companies gave me a broader understanding and appreciation for all aspects of business.

Is there anything you would do differently on your career journey? What do you think young professionals can learn from your path so far?

I was 26 when I started my MBA, and I always wondered if it was too early in my career. People in my classes who had been working much longer had leadership experiences they could apply more easily to what we were learning.

Personal passions: It’s all about family

What is about Forté’s mission that makes you want to support our efforts?

I have been fortunate in my career to have mentors and am happy to give back and help women in any stage of their careers. Masco has programs that hire people right out of undergrad, and they are excited and inquisitive. I always want to have someone right out of undergrad on my team.

Is there anything on your “bucket list” you’d be willing to share?
My family and I love to travel. We want to do a world cruise when we are retired, and I’d also like to visit seven continents before I am 70.

How do you spend your time when you are not working?
I don’t have a lot of hobbies…it’s all about family and friend time. Our kids have always filled our calendars, and we have spent a lot of time as benchwarmers at soccer games and dancing recitals and loved every minute of it.  The best time of day is when I come home to a pile of shoes at the door because it means people are home.

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