Joan Waters '83 Bryant University
Joan Waters '83 is President and CEO of COFCO, a full-service provider of office furniture and related services based in Philadelphia.
Joan Waters ’83: Working harder than the average bear
Sep 18, 2018

Office furniture is a great deal more than just where people work or sit, says Joan Waters ’83; it’s an important part of a corporate culture. In today’s competitive world, organizations need to create spaces that reflect their brand and foster an environment to help attract the best and brightest employees. 

Waters never set her sights specifically on office furniture, but shortly after graduation, she got an unexpected opportunity to join a large supplier in Maryland. Soon, she found herself in the role of that company’s “fixer” – turning around poorly performing locations up and down the East Coast.

She later joined COFCO, where she excelled under the invaluable mentorship of owners David and Alan Einstein. She eventually became a partner, and later put together a deal to purchase the company. Today, she is CEO of the $40-million full-service provider of office furniture and related services. Headquartered in Philadelphia, the company serves clients all over the country, from six-person startups to Fortune-500 clients, and Waters says her time at Bryant gave her the foundation she needed to ascend to leadership.

“Bryant was a great education,” she says. “To this day, I believe that my college education was a big part of why I am where I am today.”

She and her husband, a two-time cancer survivor, are avid cyclists and are passionate about raising money for cancer research. 

“Bryant was a great education. To this day, I believe that my college education was a big part of why I am where I am today.”

Waters played basketball at Bryant, and credits the sport with helping teach her discipline, hard work, how to compete, and how to be part of a team. She feels extremely fortunate that her teammates are her best friends even today – their lifelong friendship is another important by-product of her time at Bryant.

She felt so positively about her Bryant experience that she was proud to be part of a new era of Bryant basketball by providing an entire suite of state-of-the-art COFCO-supplied furnishings for the team room and the men’s and women’s locker rooms, renovation of which is expected to be completed this fall.

Waters says she feels fortunate to work with an extraordinarily talented and committed team at COFCO, and says she is proud to be carrying on a remarkable corporate culture established by her predecessors. 

“There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about the fact that 70 families – not 70 people, but 70 families – are depending on the decisions I make. I take that responsibility extremely seriously,” she says.

A timeless piece of advice from author Stephen Covey still guides her leadership style: “Seek first to understand, and then to be understood.” Becoming a good listener, she says, is an important leadership skill.

But that’s not the only secret to her success. “The No. 1 reason I’m successful,” she adds, “is my willingness to work harder than the average bear – it makes up for a whole lot of other shortcomings!”

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