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Speaker Stories: Marcia Barnes, Founder and CEO of Valve + Meter

Aug 25th, 2019

Author: Heather Lowey

“I love Jesus and I cuss a little….”

One of my favorite lines ever from a Linking Indy Women Wednesday. Marcia draws you in with her dry, quick humor and leaves you feeling amazed and full of admiration for her resilience, compassion, and straight talk.

Marcia began her discussion on Ceilings and Curveballs with a walk through her humble and often broken upbringing. However, Marcia credits her outlook on leadership to their family garden. Her mother, who struggled with mental health issues and addiction, loved being the boss. Barking orders to Marcia and her siblings and wanting them to work harder on command. Her father, on the other hand, was efficient and showed them how to care for the land and the plants. Just in general to have a love of the work.

She thinks about this often in leadership positions and what it was like to be a follower of the two very different leadership styles in the childhood garden. Often in today’s world, people think their value as a leader is determined by the number of bodies on their org chart. Not the case. Be successful at the work, then you will have the influence of a leader, regardless of those reporting to you on paper.

Being a leader is being an influencer with an abundance mentality.

I feel I am not going to do this story justice in re-capping. Marcia had everyone in tears of laughter and also gaping mouths of amazement with this one…. But here goes. After being bullied for years on the bus by neighbor boys, her mother had had enough. No more being the victim. Her mother loaded them up into the station wagon and headed into town to buy the girls each their first pair of high heels. She taught them how to walk in their heels, then kick in their heels, and eventually where to kick in their heels…. You get the picture. “Bonding over violence was her s**t.”

The following morning, the girls loaded the bus dressed in their heels. Nothing happened. No bullying. However, on the ride home and just about the time Marcia was convinced today was not the day, neighbor bully Bobby made his first move. The girls attacked. It was such a brawl, the bus pulled over to stop the fight, which was not something that had ever been done when the boys had attacked the girls. This put an end to the bullying of Marcia and her sisters. With Marcia’s description, we could all vividly picture the satisfaction on her mother’s face at the end of the drive, seated on the hood of the car, smoking her cigarette when the bus driver pulled up yelling. Marcia credits her sense of justice to her mother and pointed out, even with a broken parent, there are good things you can take away.

Marcia’s adult life has been filled with curveballs, but her outlook is truly humbling. “Curveballs become our ministry, be grateful for them.” Marcia has worked through curveballs such as: an unsuccessful marriage, starting her own businesses, four children including one with special needs, and most recently being diagnosed with Parkinson’s. In typical Marcia fashion, she let us in on the Parkinson’s diagnosis by announcing she is really good at shaking a martini. Her perspective on curveballs are a great example in how to approach what may look like life’s challenges instead being opportunities for growth. Her advice for when you find yourself in the middle of your own curveball? Go serve someone. There is nothing better than knowing you have helped someone to provide clarity on your own situation.

Her first company initially served a number of clients, one being the early days of Defenders. Over time, Defenders wanted to buy her out, but she found the flexibility of her own company a necessary piece to having a child with special needs. Instead, they worked out a mutually beneficial deal. Over time though, she found herself in a position disagreeing with how some things in the field were being handled that were affecting her call center associates. She made a bold move with the CEO of Defenders. After complimenting his brand-new Plantronics headset and finding out the cost, she broke them in half to get his attention. “Realize you aren’t a victim and you don’t have to put up with it.” It DID get his attention and with Marcia leading the charge, sales close rates went from 24% to 53% in a mere six weeks!

While this was a bold move and she doesn’t encourage the violence, Marcia also explained her softer side. A key for her in marketing, is to always acknowledge those who make her job easier and are performing their roles in a way that have an indirect but positive affect on her marketing business. She wrote thousands of thank you notes to technicians in the field specifically calling out their hard work and dedication resulting in the positive effect for her. When she took over as President and CEO, the business grew to $180M. She credits this growth to engaging employees in important ways to grow the business organically.

In discussing the ceilings, Marcia points out we should always be developing and networking. But remember, growth doesn’t happen in a straight line, more like stair steps. Her advice for breaking through these ceilings:

  • Self-awareness
  • Assessments
  • Measuring progress
  • Identifying one or two things to get better at each particular phase but noting it’s not about perfection.

Marcia’s nuggets of wisdom:

  • Curveballs- find people who have been through something similar and discuss.
  • We all have curveballs. Yours aren’t bigger or smaller than someone else’s. They are big to you and that’s okay.
  • Find someone to serve and you will get through your curveball sooner.
  • Have a “what can I do for the world” mentality.
  • Thank you notes. People need to know they have been seen.
  • Know people’s names.
  • Develop the muscles to see people for who they are.
  • Pay attention to when you aren’t moving the needle. You’ve likely hit a ceiling.
  • Model the way for others.
  • Most problems for women can be attributed to being in a victim mentality. No prisoners win. You are not a victim.
  • Go to war for yourself, your family, and what you believe in.

“Heal the world with the strength within. You are more powerful than you ever believe.”

Want to connect with Marcia? Find her at or on LinkedIn here.