Women CEOS of the North Shore: Sally Pofcher, Paper Source

We all know the North Shore, like its neighbor Chicago, is full of exceptional women.

But how many of those women rise to lead companies? And how do those few CEOs manage to rise through the ranks? According to Fortune’s 2011 rankings, there are only 12 women CEOs of Fortune 500 companies—a measly 2.4 percent. While many women have broken the glass ceiling in recent years, the progress can seem slow.

So, we sat down with five local CEOs to learn their secrets, tips and ideas. Much of their advice was variations on a theme: Find work that you love. And we also got a glimpse of their daily lives—from how they juggle parenting and work to how they spend their money, and what they do when they just need to get away from it all.

Her success story …
Sally Pofcher’s history can be traced back through several spots on the North Shore: She attended St. Athanasius School and Evanston Township High School, earned an M.B.A. from Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management, and is now raising a family in Wilmette. After stints at McKinsey & Company and the Gap Inc., the executive took over Paper Source in 2007 to oversee the Chicago-based brand’s national expansion, after a private equity firm purchased a majority stake in the small, then-disorganized company. Since then, she’s led Paper Source to open more than 30 new stores, created more than 400 new jobs and is approaching $75 million of revenue annually. Yet, her refrain in our conversation was “there’s always more you can do” …

Being real at work …
“There’s a certain degree of role-playing that a senior executive needs to do, but one of my mentors was extremely candid and authentic. People at the highest levels of management can become pretentious about their seniority. I feel totally myself in this role and at this company, and that’s one of the most satisfying things.”

Points of pride …
“Building this team of talented people—we have all our oars in the water. Taking the nugget of a retail concept that was financially and operationally flawed, and inconsistent as a customer experience, and turning it into something profitable, healthy and growing. And it still feels special.” Founder and longtime Wilmette resident Sue Lindstrom’s slogan for the company, “Do something creative every day,” is a mantra for Sally.

A new baby at age 44 …
Feeling triumphant about what she had accomplished at work, Sally began to think about what she wanted to accomplish personally last year. A third child—due this spring—was at the top of the list. “I have many doctors to thank. It’s an indulgence; most of it was not covered by insurance.”

Family time …
Sally never misses her kids’ school events, has family dinner every night, sees her kids in the morning and goes to all their sporting events.

Workout …
“I’m no Christy Coughlin [referring to Make It Better’s fitness columnist]. But usually, I make it to The Dailey Method three times a week.”

Next family trip …
Paris and Provence, when the new baby is six weeks old, with the whole family, plus her sister’s family and her mother.

Detests …
Produce left to go bad in the fridge.

Guilty pleasure …
Young adult fiction. “I love ‘The Hunger Games.’ ”

Giving back …
While Sally has been involved in many causes, including the Boys & Girls Clubs, and her children’s schools, her major effort recently is “creating a healthy work environment for hundreds of people.”

Career advice …
“Do work that you like, and get the best first job you can get. It’s your launch pad.”

Biggest accomplishment …
“My children. They’re the most important thing.”