CEO Attributes Success To Small-Town Life

By Shannon Marvel
American News, Aberdeen, S.D.

The person who decides what products go on store shelves and the South Dakota consumers who buy those items have more in common than similar tastes.

The CEO and president of JMC Retail Group, a company that develops products for retailers such as Target and Wal-Mart, is Eden native Camille Sommers Thompson.

In a career of traveling the world and choosing products that appeal to consumers throughout the U.S., Sommers Thompson credits her business success to her small-town upbringing.

“Growing up and being educated in South Dakota has taught me three or four aspects of life. Hard work and commitment are one and the same. There are no shortcuts. Creativity can be found in every individual if given the opportunity. And most important is humility,” Sommers Thompson said in a recent phone interview. “I believe a humble confidence can be learned from a South Dakotan upbringing.”

Thompson’s parents, Diane and the late Robert Sommers, taught their children to never limit themselves and that they are capable of achieving their goals, she said.

“Many times, we can be cast into a role or be told ‘You’re a really great designer,’ so we don’t really say ‘I’m really smart when it comes to finances’ as well,” Sommers Thompson said.

“That’s one of the things I encourage my own employees and kids (about is not casting) yourself into just one role. Whether it’s just women — for whatever reasons, I don’t have a lot of women that are in the same role as I am where they’re designing, manufacturing and selling. Maybe I’m just lucky I had parents that told me I was equally as smart as my brothers (Craig and Rick) and I was just as capable.”

While most middle school students are uncertain of what they want to do in life, it was crystal clear to a 13-year-old Camille Sommers.

“When I was in eighth grade, I had already determined what I wanted to do with my life,” Sommers Thompson said. “I knew I wanted to be a buyer in apparel, so I made a decision on what I was going to do then.”

After graduating from Roslyn High School, Sommers Thompson attended South Dakota State University, where she earned a degree in retailing and design. She went on to attend the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City.

“Imagine your parents letting you go off to NYC,” Sommers Thompson said. “But they were so supportive.

“My teachers and advisors at SDSU would also encourage you to do these things. It was wonderful to have that kind of encouragement and support all the way through,” Sommers Thompson said,

Sommers Thompson worked at Donald’s Department Stores and Target Corp. before taking over the JMC company as CEO and president in 1996. Since then, both the company and Sommers Thompson have won numerous business awards.

Most recently, Enterprising Women magazine named Sommers Thompson to its 2015 Enterprising Women of the Year class. It’s an award that recognizes businesswomen whose companies show significant business and revenue growth.

According to the magazine, Twin Cities-based JMC has more than $100 million in annual revenue.

Yet despite all the success, Sommers Thompson said failures are just as important to achieving goals.

“You will have good days and bad days,” Sommers Thompson said. “It’s OK to fail; you just need to pick yourself back up and start over or forge ahead. Business is hard, and that’s just a fact of life. You will fail; you will have success. I mentor a lot of women at all levels, and I encourage everyone, absolutely everyone, to not accept what is, but really push for what you want and what could be because I’m living proof that coming out of a small town in South Dakota that you can succeed. You can do it and don’t be afraid.”

When Sommers Thompson is not busy with her children or traveling around the world, she makes trips back to Marshall County when possible. Otherwise, there is one product that provides the comforts of home.

“I have a quilt that is handmade with discarded fabric from a company called Dakota that started in Eden,” Sommers Thompson said. “I don’t even know if it (Dakota) is in existence anymore, but you know it is a one-of-a-kind crafted item. It’s precious to me, and it’s precious to my daughter because she knows the story behind it.”

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