That search wasn’t easy. Lieff knew becoming a director on a public company board would be a strategic move, but landing such a position, particularly as a female, took a good deal of networking. Her first board seat came through a connection. When Alliance Entertainment was coming out of bankruptcy, Jim Bunk, the CEO of Camelot Music at the time, was asked to be on its board. He didn’t have time but recommended Lieff, who held the board seat for 1½ years until Alliance was sold.
Today she sits on the board of another public entertainment company, Hastings Entertainment, which sells books, video games and CDs. “It’s wonderful to stay involved in the industry that was such a big part of my life and really contribute,” Lieff says.
Connections and introductions also led to former board positions on what had been South Florida public companies — Claire’s Stores and Mayor’s Jewelers. Today she sits on the boards of Furniture Brands International and Herzfeld Caribbean Basin Fund, which invests in U.S. companies that trade regionally. Although she lives in Colorado where she previously vacationed, Lieff regularly reminds her Florida contacts of her expertise and interest in corporate director work.
Initially, Lieff found going from CEO to board member required adjustment. “I was used to moving quickly and making things happen,” she said. “It takes a while to get it, that you’re not management anymore.” But she has found that management appreciates the perspective she brings to the boardroom. “They know I’ve done what they’ve done and understand where they are coming from.”
Over the last decade, Lieff has juggled board work with caretaking for her parents and other aging family members. Martin Spector, her beloved dad who founded Spec’s, died in 2003. Her mother, Dorothy, died in 2006. Lieff now spends much of her time hiking, skiing and exercising in the Rockies.
However, she visits her brothers and sisters in South Florida often. Over the winter holidays, Lieff visited with former Spec’s employees just as they were facing the closing of Spec’s flagship store in Coral Gables. “I consider them my extended family.”
Formerly: Chairman and CEO of Ryder System Inc.; serving as executive chairman until May 3.
Current board positions: Harris Corp., a communications equipment company, and Lennox International, a leading provider of climate control solutions. He is also chairman of the board of trustees of Miami’s St. Thomas University.
Previous board positions: U.S. Chamber of Commerce; National Association of Manufacturers, Truck Renting and Leasing Association; Business Roundtable; American Trucking Associations.
Education: MBA with an emphasis in finance from the University of Chicago and a BBA degree in Marketing from Chicago’s Loyola University.
Personal: Married to JoAnn, one son, twin daughters and seven grandchildren
On May 3, Gregory Swienton will officially retire as chairman of Ryder System, where he has been a driving force for 14 years and chaired the board for the last decade. The succession process began in January when Swienton turned over his job of CEO to Robert Sanchez, former COO. Now, when Swienton walks out of the annual shareholders meeting on Friday, he leaves behind a strong transportation company and faces a Monday without strategic responsibility. “People already are telling me I look a lot less stressed,” Swienton jokes.