Posted online 

2018 How She Leads

Springfield’s Top Women Executives


Susan Marler, ERPA, QPA, APR

Strong, Approachable Leadership 

When starting my company 20 years ago, I knew I wanted to create one where people wanted to come to work every day. In those 20 years, I’ve never had one person resign. There were several decisions I made that were critical to reaching that goal. 

Hire the smartest and most talented people you can find. I make sure the right people are in the right seat on the bus and then I get out of their way. However, that doesn’t mean that they are on their own. Our atmosphere fosters team work.You must also be approachable. I have an open door policy because I want my employees to feel like they can come to me with anything—an idea or a frustration—and know that I will listen with an open mind and no judgment.We spend many of our waking hours at work, so find things that make work a little more fun. At Advanced Plan Designs, we have company happy hours, birthday lunches, afternoon snack days, early holiday release days and the week off before Christmas.  Create an environment that you yourself would want to work in. As a business owner, you need to remember how it felt when you worked for someone else. Treat your employees like they have ownership in the company and they will treat your company like they own it. 

If you work in a male dominated industry like 401K third party administration, you have to be a little tougher as a woman. Balance this with the knowledge that respect has to be earned and your reputation is everything. 

Susan Marler, ERPA, 


Managing Member 

Advanced Plan Designs 

3859 S. Cox Road Springfield MO 65807

417.885.0181  |


Tara Calton

Leading Through Experience 

I like to think of myself as a coach. When a new employee is learning our line of work, it can take a year or two to really get that person up to speed. It’s not a quick training process so it requires a little coaching along the way. I believe in letting the person try out their new role knowing that it is okay to make mistakes. We are all human and that is part of improving. As a leader and coach, embrace mistakes as they allow us to grow and celebrate victories as they come.  

As a leader, acknowledge that you aren’t there alone. Get to know your team’s family, hobbies and interests. Exceptional results come from a leader who thinks of the team as a “we” and not a “me”.

A “we” approach allows for that feeling of ownership within the company, which is something our owner, Susan Marler, has always encouraged. She is an incredible boss who I one day hope to emulate. She has created a work environment that inspires teamwork combined with gratefulness while encouraging a wonderful work/life balance. We all feel a part of the decisions made within the company, which makes the team want to work harder for the vision of the firm. 

A personable and approachable leader will allow for employees to feel at ease when they need to ask questions, have a family issue arise or feel like they need additional instruction over a project they are working on.  

Tara Calton

Operations Manager Advanced Plan Designs 

3859 S Cox Rd Springfield MO 65807 417.885.0181



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