Don't expect to hear excuses from Meredith Fendenheim. She has none to give.
Because when she sets out to do something—achieve something—she puts everything she has into it. That's evident from the work she does as HB Chemical Corp.'s vice president of operations.
And her MBA from the University of Akron—the one she received while working full time at HB Chemical—is further proof of that.
"I actually walked the stage pregnant with twins," Fendenheim said, noting that—at the time—she also had three children at home. "I think it just (shows) my ability to persevere through the curriculum while being a mom, while working full time. Did I do it perfectly? No. But was I able to balance it all."
What makes that accomplishment even sweeter, she said, is the chance to share with her daughter, now 7.
"I was super-proud, and I showed that to my daughter—and my sons—but it was really (rewarding) showing my daughter that this is something I really wanted. … It wasn't something I felt obligated to do. It was something I wanted to do," Fendenheim said.
"And I could have gotten caught up in 'I'm too old to go back to school' or 'I have too many other things going on.' I could have made excuses. But I didn't. And I finished. And it felt so great to do that."
That drive and determination also is exemplified in her level of her performance at HB Chemical, as well as the excellence behind it. Further, it is the foundation for her Women Breaking the Mold nomination—another honor she is proud to have received.
"I am organized and really driven," Fendenheim said. "People like to make fun of me because I don't like to do things halfway. I mean, I have five kids, I am running the operations for my company. I am very dedicated and put 100 percent into everything I do."
Fendenheim's path to HB Chemical was unconventional at best.
But that's a good thing, she said, because it gives her new and broad perspectives—perspectives that allow her to lead more effectively.
She began her career in psychology, earning a bachelor's from Kent State University before obtaining a master's from Chatham University. And she worked clinically at Akron Children's Hospital's before making a major transition into the rubber industry.
In 2015, she took on a sales role at HB Chemical, and she remained on the sales side until 2020, when she moved into operations.
The transition to operations was a better fit for Fendenheim, who noted that her skill set is more aligned with the job she does today. Moreover, with a young and growing family, the travel time required from the sales role was feeling a little more daunting. So the chance to spend more time closer to home—as well as greater opportunity for more flexible work—made operations a perfect fit.
The job was a perfect fit, in part, because of the support she has received. Not just from her team, but from her leadership. They put her in positions where she can succeed because they give her the authority to do so.
"I have a company that stands behind me and my decisions," Fendenheim said. "If there is one thing that I have felt in this job and in this company, it is empowered as a woman.
"… There have been quite a few times I have experienced people who don't want to deal with me because I am a woman, or they want to go over my head and talk to my boss. And his response is always the same thing. It's: 'Whatever she says. Whatever her decision is. She is the one that you should be going to, not me.'
"Having a company and a leader that promotes women like that and empowers women is, I think, very special," Fendenheim said. "I don't know that I would be able to get something like this anywhere else."
Fendenheim is quick to note that she is proud of the things she has accomplished professionally and personally, but she also understands that those opportunities were possible because of the support system she had behind her.
Being driven is a good thing. Pouring your full effort into what you do is important.
But it can also be taxing.
It's easy, she said, to get caught up in the pace of life. And when that happens—when she's running faster for longer than she probably should—her support system is there to remind her to slow the pace and take a breath.
"I think it takes a lot of intention to make sure that I am not overdoing it," Fendenheim said. "Part of that is being very open in communication with my support system.
"My husband is incredible. He will—a lot of times—stop me. If I can't see that I am going a mile a minute, then he will stop me and say: 'You need to go out with your friends' or 'I booked you a massage on Sunday. Take some time for yourself.'
"I don't know that I could accomplish the things that I accomplish without them—my family," Fendenheim said.
But it's not just her family. It's her work family, too.
"A lot of it is the team here (at HB Chemical) as well. If they see me digging myself in deep, they will say 'no-no-no let me handle that. What can I do?' (It's about) trusting them and allowing them to take those things off my plate and not needing to micromanage them or needing to have control over everything, that is important."
As Fendenheim continues to build her career at HB Chemical—where she is in the midst of transitioning into her new role as vice president of operations—she is conscious of the fact that there are many other talented women working alongside her. And she hopes that she can not only help to mentor them, but open doors of opportunity for them.
"That is one of the big things that I have tried to do is pull them up with me and give them an example," Fendenheim said. "… I have someone who works beside me today, and I have really been focused on that, to try to drive her career as well.
"I didn't have a female role model or mentor in this job, because the rubber industry is a lot of guys, right? I didn't have a female mentor to (show me) that this was a path that I could take, and I think it's important to show that to other people."
From there, she said, it's just a matter of showing them again that when you roll up your sleeves, put everything you have into your work and refuse to make excuses for following your heart, you'll get exactly where you need to go.
Years with company: 9
Years in rubber industry: 9