Laurie Barkman thought her future would be in Silicon Valley. She fully expected to move there after completing her MBA at Carnegie Mellon University in 1999, to build a high-tech startup career. But 14 years later she's still in Pittsburgh -- and happily so.
Three months ago she was named chief operating officer of Genco Marketplace, one of the country's largest merchandise liquidators and a subsidiary of the O'Hara-based Genco, a privately held company with $1.5 billion in revenues last year.
The firm was founded in 1898 by Hyman Shear, who started with a blind horse and a wagon, then run by his son, Sam Shear, and grandson, Herb Shear, who brought Genco into the Internet age with online marketing and NoBetterDeal.com, a website that sells returned and refurbished items to the public.
Ms. Barkman, 42, is the first female COO in the company's history and its highest-ranking woman executive. In September, she was selected to receive one of the National Diversity Council's awards for Most Powerful and Influential Woman.
"I was very honored to be among the recipients," she said, "and really proud to represent Genco."
As for California, she said, "I wound up building the Internet career here that I thought I'd have in Silicon Valley. I consider Pittsburgh my adopted home."
She was hired by Genco for a retirement-driven transition but can't say any more about what her future entails until the company makes an announcement, probably in November. Meanwhile, she's learning as much as she can about the firm.
"There's a lot to learn about our customers, buyers, retailers and the different businesses in Genco," she said.
Her primary interest has been Internet startups, and she's worked at several. But when the opportunity at Genco came along, she couldn't say no.
"They created an opening for me," Ms. Barkman said. "I'm younger than most executives. I credit Herb Shear with wanting to make an investment in the next generation of leaders."
The reverse supply chain industry, so named because it gets items off the shelves and into the secondary market, is a male-dominated one, she agreed.
"It's not your imagination," she said. "There are more men. But in my career, [being a woman] is not first and foremost. It's about results.
"Some issues that big corporations may have had are sort of irrelevant for startups and fast-growing businesses. There's a lot of opportunity there based on talent of any shape or color. They need people interested in learning, contributing and being part of a team. That's what I concentrate on."
Balancing work and family is easier for her, she said, because her husband, Martin Barkman, is an equal partner who does as much as she does at home and with their children, age 12 and 9. He was the CEO of SmartOps software developer, which was sold to SAP, a global software company.
"We met our freshman year at college when we were 18," she said. "We both knew what we were getting with each other, that we would be managing two careers."
Ms. Barkman comes to the job with 15 years of strategic retail industry and online marketing experience.
She grew up in Albany, N.Y., and attended Cornell University, having won 15 different scholarships ("I was always driven," she said). She earned a bachelor's degree in industrial and labor relations, then an MBA from CMU's Tepper School of Business.
She stayed in Pittsburgh, working four years in human resources at Ingersoll-Rand Co., followed by shorter stints at Lycos/WiseWire, MediaSite and Internet Venture Works.
"It was the early days of Internet marketing, and I wanted a startup," she said. "I wound up finding a growing tech community here, and a way to leverage the networks I was building. Something like 200 MBA graduates from CMU stayed close to the university. I'm now vice president of the alumnae board."
She also spent six years as senior manager at AE.com., the online presence of South Side-based American Eagle Outfitters; four years as president of marketing and advertising at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh's Education Management Corp.; and a year as marketing vice president at local startup The Resumator before she joined Genco.
Genco Marketplace is one of eight business units in the company. It's an inventory liquidator for other companies -- six of the 10 biggest retailers are clients, Ms. Barkman said -- that are looking to move unsold or returned items to discount places like T.J. Maxx and Gabriel Brothers. Genco either acquires the inventory for resale or sells it on consignment.
"It's a benefit to our clients because we have all these relationships that they don't have to build, and to consumers as well." NoBetterDeal.com. for example, sells 230 categories of merchandise, including electrical and kitchen appliances, health and beauty, bedding, children and babies.
"It's a growing segment of the marketplace," she said.
Ms. Barkman hopes to work on diversity and mentorship within the company, partly because her own mentors helped her achieve her career goals. That's something she would like to give back.
"It's important for me to help others as well," she said. "I would like to be part of Genco's recruiting, mentoring and coaching, maybe at some point working with students."
Sally Kalson: email@example.com or 412-263-1610. First Published October 12, 2013 8:00 PM