For what has long been looked at as a male-dominated industry, the tire and rubber world sure does have a long list of impressive women working in it. That is what I take away from the 59 women who make up the inaugural class of Rubber & Plastics News' Women in Tire & Rubber.
I enjoyed reading each of the profiles that are at the heart of our report, and I thank each of them for sharing just a bit of their journey in our industry. As a whole, I think the word "inspiring" fits perfectly here. Some of their stories and answers to our questionnaire were straight-forward, but many were personal and insightful, and in a few cases quite humorous.
This inaugural class also spans across geography, experience and career paths. The group includes owners, CEOs and presidents, but also engineers, chemists, HR executives and plant secretaries. There are those who have made their marks in manufacturing, logistics, administration, along with a couple from academia. Some are relatively new to the rubber industry, while others have been in it for decades.
I personally have met or worked on stories with about a dozen of the class members. It was nice to learn more about them, as well as countless others I've yet to cross paths with. Here, I'll share just a few tidbits to show you why they have left me hopeful and inspired.
Irene Yurovska is one of those industry veterans who I've come to know throughout the last few years. She now is with YI Global and Himadri Specialty Chemicals, and I doubt too many others came into the rubber industry in the manner she did. Irene didn't make the choice herself, having started in rubber at the age of 17, having been chosen as part of the "national and gender discrimination in the former USSR." But she hasn't been bitter, and decades later still loves the global rubber industry.
Gretchen Brauninger, CEO of Da/Pro Rubber, joined the industry to work with her father, and said the relationship was the highlight to her first 20 years in the business.
Several class members echoed the long-held sentiment that once you join the rubber industry, you never want to leave. Casey Hedlum of Parker Lord came to the former Lord Corp. in the Materials and Processing Engineering group. Veterans would tell her that "rubber gets into your blood." Nine years later, she's a believer.
In relating the stories of their biggest achievement, a number were family related. Santrese Jackson, an engineer with Continental Tires, said she completed her college education in four years while having a child during her sophomore year in college.
She looked at the child not as a hurdle, but a blessing, making her more determined to achieve success for both herself and her child.
Katrina Cornish of Ohio State University and one of the experts in the field of research for alternative forms of natural rubber, said she has had many achievements, and looks ahead to what she hopes will be her crowning achievement: the establishment of at least one domestic rubber crop/industry in the U.S.
Several fascinating answers came from the question of what was your biggest failure and how you learned from it.
Manuela Lega, a plant secretary, for Cabot Corp., shared the most personal story, saying she didn't marry her one true love because it made her wary that they had different lifestyles. "This experience has taught to me that I should have been more confident in me, him and people in general," she said.
Nancy Triplett, now director of product supply for TireHub, had by far the most humorous response. Back in 1987, in a prior job, she was ordering Kleenex facial tissues for her organization. She tried to be proactive when the supplier kept shorting them by 8 percent, so she increased her order by 8 percent. This apparently triggered a production alarm at the supplier, and they began sending 105 percent of the new higher order. She didn't lose her job, but it took her a long time to get rid of all that extra Kleenex.
As for mentors, quite a few mentioned male mentors who bucked the stereotype and were welcoming of females into the industry. Bonnie Stuck, president of Akron Rubber Development Laboratory, said Kenneth Immel, one of her supervisors at B.F. Goodrich, who had five daughters and had no problem having a woman technical person on his staff.
Alaina Stephens, marketing and communications director for Texcel, worked with many strong, "trail blazing women" during her career. She said one supervisor stood out, a woman who had a family and climbed the career ladder "honestly and with integrity." Stephens recalls how the woman entered an executive meeting and was the only woman in the room, and a director from a different department asked her if she was there to take notes. She handled it with class, and Stephens said the woman became one of the most respected executives at the company.
As for what they would do if they were CEO, there were a wide range of responses, including one who said she would change the organizational chart because some have the leadership positions, "but don't work like it."
But only Lynn Sweeney, director of sales operations for Yokohama Tire Corp., came up with this tidbit: "Better quality chocolate in our vending machine."
Now there's a leader I think we can all follow.