What drew you to the rubber industry, and what has made your career in the industry rewarding?
When I was presented with the opportunity to be one of the first employees at a greenfield tire facility, I could not resist. I had worked in several different manufacturing industries before this role, but never in a greenfield and never in a tire facility. The rubber industry is so different than the other industries. The complexity of rubber makes the job challenging, but so much more rewarding when you see the final product being shipped out.
What do you consider to be your greatest achievement?
I feel I achieved my greatest accomplishment before I even entered the business world. Each summer while I was in college, I worked as a summer associate with Americorps*VISTA at a local elementary school, helping to teach summer school students to read. One summer I was assigned to assist a seventh-grade classroom, but one of the students stood out. He was older than the other students—a teen-ager. I later learned that had been repeatedly passed from grade to grade until he hit seventh grade despite the fact he had never learned to read. By the end of that summer, after long hours of practicing with him, I saw his eyes light up, then tear up, as he read in its entirety Hank the Cowdog, a third-grade reading level book.
I realized that this was a moment that would most likely stay with him forever. He had finally learned the skill that was keeping him from so much in life. I learned that day that my greatest accomplishments are not what I personally achieve, but what I help develop others to achieve. It is their successes that I relish in, not my own.
What do you count as your biggest failure and what has it taught you?
A few years ago, I decided to leave the manufacturing industry, move back to my home state, and open my own business. I chose to be the first franchisee of a golf-themed sports bar. Ultimately, the business was not a success after a more well-known franchise sports bar located in the same area. I closed the business two and a half years in.
While this was a defeat, I learned so much during my time as a business owner. I did learn to appreciate money more, but really the experience taught me mindset is everything in life and in business. When you go into a situation with a fun and positive attitude, you are more likely to succeed or lead others to succeed. When you are stressed or depressed, your customers and employees see and feel it. Everyone enjoys being in a positive environment, so find ways to stay upbeat even in the most stressful times. As a leader, you set the tone for your organization.
Who or what inspires you?
The most inspiring characteristic I have seen in others is kindness.
My grandparents were poor sharecroppers, but they worked so hard to try to provide for their children. My father's mother grew up in the depression. She was a poor schoolgirl before the depression, so not much was different for her once it hit. I remember one story where she was bullied by a couple of wealthier girls for what little food she brought to school. Once the Depression hit, those girls were not left with much. My grandmother shared what little she had in her food pail with those girls. She said it was the right thing to do. Later, when she had her own children, and times were tough, she relied on the kindness of strangers at times to survive and feed her family. My brother and I are here today because of the kindness of strangers, and we will never forget that. Tough times can hit anyone, but a little kindness can make a difference for generations.
Who were your career mentors, and what role did they play?
I was lucky to have had managers that became my mentors in every role I have had so far. Each mentor gave me the knowledge, experience and confidence to help me to grow to be the professional I am today. At some point in my career, I was able to assist and mentor some of my previous mentors. I think this is a testament to a successful mentor/mentee relationship.
I just hope that I am fulfilling that role as successful with the employees I am now mentoring. If you do not have someone you consider to be your career mentor, find someone you trust to help guide you through your professional journey.
What is the best advice you have ever received?
Don't be afraid of failure. I am a perfectionist by nature, so early in my career, I would take too much time to get my work done without errors. I feared mistakes and assumed one error could cost me my job. While yes, there are career-ending mistakes that can happen, it was highly doubtful I would make one of those. But even if I did make a career-ending move, the world would not end, and I would still be alive and OK. Over time, I have found that I have learned so much more from my mistakes than my perfections.
If you were CEO of a company, what would you do first?
The first thing I would do if I were CEO would be to meet with the employees that are making the company's product. A CEO needs to understand every aspect of the business. This includes understanding if the employees at every level are embracing the company's mission statement and values, or are they just words on a piece of paper they once read?
What would you tell someone considering a career in the rubber industry?
You can find rubber in tires, shoe soles, rubber bands, erasers, inner tubes, mattresses and so many other items. It is such a diverse product that, chances are, just about every person in the world is using something made from rubber. For me, being in the tire industry, I feel like I am contributing to a product that is helping to keep our precious cargo safer on the roads. Each rubber industry is playing its part in the world, and each one is important.
In your opinion, what needs to be done to encourage females to pursue STEM-related careers?
I was exposed to STEM careers through the Girl Scouts when I was younger, but at that time, it was always men explaining these roles to my troop. Highlighting visible female STEM role models to both young males and females throughout grade school, I feel, will help to normalize the idea that STEM-related careers are for all sexes, not just males.