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‘You can’t take the people out of it.’ Leadership insights from Mary Crosslin

By Lauren Mau

March 4, 2024

Mary Crosslin, co-president and chief operating officer, Alert Rental Software, Colorado Springs, Colo., was a veteran employee at Alert when Kara Longmire, a colleague, approached her about buying the business. Crosslin was in immediately. They shook hands and the partnership was solidified. The innovation and evolution of the company in the last seven years is credited to the duo’s confidence in each other, their instincts and their commitment to putting people first.

“We knew the company inside and out and worked together a long time,” she said. “We loved what we did, we loved our clients and we knew the owners were looking for a transition so we gave them that. Kara runs the finance side and I run the operations side.”

With a staff of around 25 employees, all in North America, Alert is small but mighty. Crosslin and Longmire like it that way. They want their customers to know that when they call Alert, they’re talking to someone who knows their account intimately.

“Once you know who you are, once you project that to your employees and sit down with them to explain what the company will look like moving forward with new ownership, then, and only then, can you communicate your brand to the industry,” Crosslin explains.

Crosslin notes that there is more than 300 years of Alert experience among their current staff and that some of their clients have been partners for multiple generations.

She credits this longevity in staffing and client relationships to ensuring a great company culture with innovative practices, including a 32-hour work week.

“It’s a totally different way to doing business, and Kara and I both liked the science behind it,” Crosslin says. “For us to implement this, we created an employee committee to troubleshoot any issues that may arise, and then we determined a trial period. We had to know that it could fail and accept that it might.”

Tactically, for Crosslin and her staff, this meant rethinking all of their processes.

“You have to think about how you spend your time, you have to say no more, you have to send emails instead of having meetings and you have to stop doing things because you’ve always done them,” she says. “As a rental software company, we had to automate our own processes and look inward, and that was something we were used to just doing for our customers.”

Alert is in year three of the 32-hour work week and Crosslin says it has been a huge success for employee retainment and morale. The company continues to innovate for its customers as well. One way they do this is through their approach to software development.

“We ask our customers,” Crosslin explains. “Our founder implemented a user’s group conference and to this day, we have these conferences every year. At my first conference, I couldn’t believe that we were operating this way. I just kept thinking ‘this isn’t how Microsoft worked, they just told you what they were going to do.’ But, after watching this process for years, I figured it out why we did it.”

Crosslin firmly believes that rental technology should make everyone more efficient, challenges rental operators to use just one more feature of their rental software and encourages them to embrace, not fear, technological innovation.

“People get very nervous that technology can replace them and they shouldn’t be,” she says. “We want to automate what we can to free them up to do the important work that computers can’t. For example, artificial intelligence [AI] is good, but it can’t do what your dispatchers can do. There are so many moving parts to an order, you need human oversight. AI can tell you what roads are closed, what the fastest route is, but if there are multiple deliveries on that route then there are variables that require human intervention. You can’t take the people out of it.”

Crosslin’s confidence in that statement and in herself through years as a female entrepreneur has been tested. She credits her business partner, Longmire, and her intuition for maintaining her guiding principles.

Crosslin’s advice to other female entrepreneurs in historically male dominated fields is to be true to yourself.

“Women like to say ‘Oh, we’re lucky, we have a great team, we were fortunate to have XYZ experience,’” she says. “Read The Confidence Code by Claire Shipman and Katty Kay. You’re not lucky, you work your butt off. Also, don’t let anyone tell you how to run your business, not your lawyer, not your accountant, not anyone. You know what’s right for your business. Will you make mistakes? If you’re pushing the envelope, yes. But that’s how you learn.”