AKRON—Bonnie Stuck didn't set out to spend her career in the rubber industry, but she sure is glad it turned out that way.
"My intention was to go medical school, but I didn't have enough money at the time," said Stuck, president of Akron Rubber Development Laboratory Inc. since last June. "I needed to pay off some college loans. So I started at B.F. Goodrich and I was hooked. And I've never thought about going into any other industry, because it's exciting."
That was more than four decades ago, when it was rare for a woman to be working in a technical position in the rubber industry. "It was tough going. Did I ever dream when I was 22 that I would someday be the president of a company that does research and development in the rubber industry? Not in my wildest dreams."
She joined BFG not long after the United Rubber Workers' historic tire industry strike the prior year. She worked mostly with tires. She said it was a fascinating company to work for, as Goodrich made everything from components for the Space Shuttle program to rubber bands.
"It was a fantastic place to start in the rubber industry," Stuck said in an interview at her ARDL office in Akron. "They put you in classes. They had an education department. It was a great place to learn."
She also has great respect for the women now speaking up about sexual harassment and other issues in the entertainment and political worlds, as she saw a lot of that and experienced much of it early in her career. "I would say for at least the first 15 years I was always told you had to work twice as hard to prove yourself because you're a woman. Your new boss would literally tell you that. And I didn't have any problem with that because I came from a family of six kids, and I knew how to work."
Her father was a big influence in her life, fostering the idea that Stuck would just do what she needed to do, first in college and later in industry.
"I think that's the way I took the rubber industry," she said. "OK, I've got to work twice as hard, so I am going to work twice as hard. But you know it was fun. Were there rough times? Yes. If I started with the stories, I could probably write a book. Like Erma Bombeck, it would be funny."
Stuck recalled early in her career when she would have to walk through a tire plant, sometimes working around the clock to follow how developments were working in real-world production. "You would take a technical assistant with you. I remember in the Fort Wayne (Ind.) plant, he said he could tell where I was in the plant just by the cat calls. I was a young 20-something."
How did she deal with it? "I walked straight down the aisle," Stuck said. "I didn't look left, didn't look right. Sometimes on the midnight shift, I'd say, 'I'm married and I've got five kids (she only has two).' "
She also worked to make them feel like they were contributors, that they had knowledge that she could gain from them, because they did. "When you got people to buy into your ideas and that they were important, then you got over the hump of you being a woman," she said.