Executive MBA alumna shares her extraordinary career and full life
Mary Rhinehart isn’t someone who takes shortcuts. The chairman of the board of Johns Manville (JM) puts in the hard work in every aspect of life—career, family, health and wellness—and reaps the benefits. For seven years Rhinehart served the global manufacturing company as chairman, president and CEO, and still, she woke up each day at 4:30 a.m. to get in a workout before work.
“I couldn’t have had the career and family I had without doing that because it gave me my energy and was a huge stress reliever,” said Rhinehart, who might sleep in until 6 a.m. now that she’s “just” chairman.
When you talk with Rhinehart, she never mentions aiming to be CEO. She just seems to be someone who works hard at each opportunity she’s given. She has worked at JM nearly 42 years, starting in auditing, global treasury, global supply chain, human resources and strategic business development, working her way up to CFO, president and CEO, then chairman of the board.
“I would change positions every two or three years,” Rhinehart said. “JM leaders knew I always wanted and needed challenges. Despite my fear, I would accept the new role and put all I had into succeeding at it.”
This zest seems to have been baked in at an early age growing up in Colorado. Rhinehart, who is one of nine siblings, describes how her dad would have four or five of the kids up for a jog at 6 a.m. before elementary school. Her engineer father taught the kids a strong work ethic, each child starting work early to put themselves through college. Rhinehart was drawn to business, already doing auditing work at JM before graduating from the University of Colorado, Boulder with a degree in finance.
Women in finance and female CEO’s in the construction industry are not in abundance today, but in 1980 Rhinehart was a rarity in both areas. She admits that she has stories that would shock people, but she doesn’t dwell on them.
“I wouldn’t let things get me down,” she said. “I learned a lot from my mom, to have faith and resiliency. She taught us to let things roll off our backs, not take ourselves too seriously.”
When Rhinehart became JM’s CEO, she made a commitment to raise awareness throughout the company about implicit bias, wanting to attract a more diverse work force and make the company more inclusive. In business since 1858, the Denver-based company has more than 8,000 employees across 46 manufacturing plants in North America, Europe and China.
She also prioritized mentoring fellow women in the industry. When Rhinehart was CFO she helped hire Sabine Schmidt as a financial planning and analysis manager.
“After my first year, I started working directly for Mary when she was CFO and received a lot of support and candid feedback,” Schmidt said. “She took the time to always do what’s best for her employees and the company. Now, after almost 15 years at JM, I can look back and see how much Mary’s mentorship positively impacted me and my career.”
Today, Schmidt is JM’s CFO. Her colleagues describe Rhinehart as someone who cares about people and cares about doing what is right.
“Our employees and customers respond to that,” said Eric Brown, director of corporate communications for JM. “Mary defined the JM experience as going the extra mile for employees and customers; it propels everything we do at JM. We’re a manufacturing company and we’re in a relationship business. I don’t think there is anybody better than Mary at building relationships. She does that with employees, customers and in the community.”
Despite Rhinehart’s demanding work and travel schedule with JM, she was committed to giving back to the community. She’s served on the boards of CoBiz Financial, PlyGem Corporation, UC Health, Kempe Children’s Foundation, Denver Chamber of Commerce, Craig Hospital and more. She also serves as a non-executive director for CRH, a global leader in building materials, and as a director for Graphic Packaging Holding Company, a leading provider of sustainable paper-based packaging solutions. In addition, she served on the Executive Advisory Board at Daniels and currently serves on the Board of Trustees for the University of Denver, her other alma mater.
In leadership positions at JM, Rhinehart encouraged many colleagues to get their graduate degrees. She was determined to get her own before she was 40. She chose the Executive MBA program at the Daniels College of Business. Professor Mac Clouse taught her in three finance courses.
“She was an excellent student,” Clouse said. “She was extremely dependable, meeting all her obligations with amazing attention to detail.”
Clouse, who has been at Daniels for 43 years, had the rare opportunity to also teach finance to both of Rhinehart’s sons. Devin earned his Professional MBA in 2015 and Colin earned his Master of Science in Applied Quantitative Finance in 2019.
“That’s a record for sure,” said Clouse, who, on behalf of the Reiman School of Finance, gave Rhinehart a Distinguished Alumni Award in February. At that event, Clouse asked Rhinehart about the most surprising event in her career. Rhinehart’s response was the call she got from Warren Buffett, the chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway. Berkshire Hathaway acquired JM in 2001.
In 2012, Rhinehart got an unexpected call from Buffett inviting her to Omaha to meet with him.
“I spent a day with him and then a week later he asked me to become CEO of Johns Manville,” she said. “Earlier in my career I never thought about leading a company.”
In September of 2020, when JM announced Rhinehart was retiring as president and CEO and Bob Wamboldt would take her place, Buffett said, “Mary was everything we had hoped to find in a CEO.”
“You don’t realize until you’re CEO that now you don’t just work for one person, you work for 8,000 employees; you work for everybody,” she said.
Given her career, one might think there was surely a short-cut taken on the home front. But, no. Even with regular global travel, Rhinehart was a very involved mom.
“Early on, I made a commitment that I was going to be there for them,” she said. “I never missed a major school activity or sports activity. And, when I was home, I wanted my kids to be home, so I had their friends over as much as possible.”
Whether at work, at home or in the community, Rhinehart goes the extra mile.
“She’s worked hard for every success she’s earned,” said Brown, JM’s corporate communications director. “She has a great story to tell, but she isn’t going to put the spotlight on herself. She’d much rather put the spotlight on the people around her.”