What drew you to the rubber industry, and what has made your career in the industry rewarding?
On a whirlwind tour of Southeast Asia in 1986, I made a stop in Cargill's office in Singapore. I was there selling chicken feed! A year later, I met my husband and offered my resignation to Cargill. The managing director of Singapore remembered me and asked if I would take a move to New York City instead of resigning. It was the '80s, and who could resist a move from Louisiana to NYC? So, I took it.
I find that my daily connection to people all over the world, working on a sustainable commodity is that which excites me.
What do you consider to be your greatest achievement?
The rubber world is largely a man's world. I've operated in an environment that is vastly different than the world I was raised in. I know things about colleagues that I wish I could unknow! Somehow, at the end of the day, I never ceased to be amazed by the love and respect I have gained from my two daughters and all their friends. I must have done something right.
What do you count as your biggest failure and what has it taught you?
Several years ago, a company I founded was bought by another company. Then that company bought one of my competitors. I was given a senior leadership position, but not the full support of top management. As result, I was never able to realize my vision of what the company could have been. I should have recognized my dilemma earlier and sought greener pastures. I finally learned to listen to that little voice inside me. It was truly hard to leave a company that I had built from scratch and start all over again.
Who or what inspires you?
There is one other woman who has been in the rubber trade as long as I have. She saw in me, years ago, the potential to lead that I did not recognize at the time. I am forever grateful to her for working her magic.
I am inspired by the transition I have seen in the last several years as Americans start to realize the importance of climate change on the earth. I sewed ecology flags in the '60s and '70s, and being part of a renewable resource industry, like natural rubber, fills me with optimism about the future of this planet. The recognition of the auto industry of the importance of sustainable natural rubber is a huge step forward.
Who were your career mentors, and what role did they play?
When I formed my first certified WBE (Women's Business Enterprise), a leader at Toyota introduced me to Rosa Santana. Rosa became Toyota's first Hispanic woman-owned direct Tier I supplier. From our first phone call, she has been an invaluable resource for me in terms of becoming a better CEO. Her experiences, the risks that she has taken and her willingness to impart her wisdom to me are a constant source of inspiration and support for me.
What is the best advice you have ever received?
I was on the board of our local domestic violence shelter and we read Jim Collins' "Good, To Great." I have never forgotten his advice to get the right people on the bus, then decide where you are going.
On a more personal note, right up there with Jim Collins is Marc Randolph's Rules For Success. Marc co-founded NetFlix. These are eight simple statements in his autobiography—"That Will Never Work"—that I have taped to my computer. They do not fail you, ever. I first saw this hand-typed letter from Marc's father to Marc back in the '80s and I copied it down and tucked it in my notebook and have tried to follow it ever since.
If you were CEO of a company, what would you do first?
I would take Jim Collins' advice and get the right people on the bus, from top to bottom. I had forgotten that recently, and it jumped in to one of my 2 a.m. wake-me-up realizations. Don't waste time on people that don't fit the organization.
What would you tell someone considering a career in the rubber industry?
I brought my daughter in to the business after her graduation from Stanford. The rubber industry allows you to be involved in a real, sustainable, global business—moving NR from Southeast Asia or Africa, through America's ports, to consumers big and small, and we can do this from an office that looks out over Pikes Peak in Colorado.
In your opinion, what needs to be done to encourage females to pursue STEM-related careers?
We need to somehow instill confidence in our daughters from the earliest age possible. I think that sports and teamwork help in this. We need to recognize that, for the most part, men and women respond to different stimulus and encouragement. We need to reduce the anxiety levels in our young women by bolstering their confidence and doing away with negative imaging in society.