Salute to Women: Leadership is putting yourself out there
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This month, Material Handling Wholesaler is recognizing the many contributions women make in the business. Here are a few of their stories:
Maria Rodriguez was working as a restaurant server when she lost her job during the pandemic. Little did she know that this loss would lead her back to school, into the trucking business, and shortly after that, waiting backstage with the President of the United States.
Rodriguez had been chosen to introduce President Biden at a White House event last spring for the administration’s Trucking Action Plan’s extended 90-day Trucking Apprenticeship Challenge. The event included freight executives, WIT (Women In Trucking) president and CEO Ellen Voie, truck drivers, and senior officials.
Rodriguez had been interviewed by a representative from the Department of Labor but found out closer to the event that her speech would include the presidential introduction. “They told me, ‘You’re going to be introducing the President.’ I said, ‘What?’ I think I was laughing and crying at the same time,” Rodriguez said.
Both Rodriguez and her boyfriend had lost their jobs as servers during the pandemic. She said that she had returned to school to learn to be an EMT / Firefighter and had encouraged her boyfriend to attend the New England Tractor Trailer Training School (NETTTS). “He ended up going and he loved it. He said, ‘You need to come with me,” Rodriguez said. Eventually, she agreed. “I ended up falling in love with it, too. I think it was the teachers, mostly. I really enjoyed it. They made it fun and they didn’t sugarcoat anything. I felt really well prepared,” Rodriguez said.
Both started work after graduation as professional drivers with NFI Industries, which Rodriguez said afforded her the flexibility she needed to be available for her 4-year-old son. When she was chosen to speak at the Trucking Action Plan event, Rodriguez said she was pleased that her family members were also invited. “That made me even more thrilled,” she said.
Rodriguez said she is comfortable speaking in front of people, having worked in the restaurant business, but had never given a speech in front of a large audience before. “The day before, I met people from the American Trucking Association,” she said, describing the encouragement the group gave her. “The day of the event, I was very nervous,” said Rodriguez, who said she was able to meet President Biden and Sec. Pete Buttigieg in the Oval Office. “We got to walk together to the stage,” said Rodriguez, who positioned herself to stand behind the group.
“The President turned around and said, ‘No ma’am, you’re standing next to me. You got this far and should be proud,” she said. She spoke to the audience about the importance she places on balancing family and work. “I spoke about being a mom,” Rodriguez said. “A mom to a 4-year-old. I’ve gotta be home for him. “She also talked about working to be successful in a male-dominated industry. “I was trying to send a message that we can do it,” she said.
In August, Rodriguez was named the Woman in Trucking Member of the Month. Rodriguez encouraged other women to look for whatever career best suited their situation. In trucking, she noted that many opportunities are available. “If one schedule doesn’t suit you, there are so many opportunities,” Rodriguez said.
Mary Madland was raised in the car business, working in service departments. But it still was a learning curve for the former horse racer when she took the helm at Madland Toyota-Lift, located in central California. “I knew manes and tails, not forks and counterweights,” said Madland, in a company video.
Previously, starting at age 20, Madland had raced horses. “I retired when I was 35. When my dad got sick very suddenly, I had the opportunity to take over a Toyota franchise because of my grandfather being in the tractor and car business,” Madland said. “To get a manufacturer line like that is pretty hard to do.” Madland quickly found the company was in need of financial organization. “There wasn’t an option of cruising. You just had to put your head down and work day-by-day,” she said.
For a time, Madland was only offered six-month contracts. Finally, she secured a two-year agreement. But she said the challenges of short contracts and the business’ needs proved useful. “It could have been the greatest thing that ever happened to me. Going into a business that was already successful, I might have failed,” said Madland, in the company video. “But coming in at that level, it made me learn a lot more very quickly.”
Under Madland’s leadership as owner and president, the company has grown to include over 100 employees. “Things just kept improving. There’s been an evolution of managers and different people. Each one is better than the last,” said Madland, describing how employees continue building on previous successes.
In the past five to eight years, Madland has seen an evolution in the industry and broader thinking throughout as a new generation of leadership steps up. She described the switch to lithium battery power by many companies and others planning to switch to hydropower.
Madland Toyota-Lift has won 21 Top Toyota Dealer awards, 20 out of the last 35 years. “I’m amazed that we’ve won so many president’s awards,” said Madland, who said some of the awards were won by her father. “It’s certainly good being in that group of high-performing dealers,” she said. “It shows the departments I have, the managers there and their leadership,” Madland added, in the company video.
Asked what has helped the company secure so many awards, Madland said she thinks it is the attitude of business’ staff. She encouraged other women getting into the business to find a good company with people willing to invest time and resources into their employees. “Put yourself out there,” said Madland, encouraging the practice of asking questions. “I love getting feedback and advice from people,” she said.
Darla Becking started her career with ACCO Material Handling Solutions 32 years ago. “I just started as a part-time receptionist and part-time sales assistant. From there, I gradually worked up the chain to account manager,” she said.
Becking said she has always felt well-suited for a position in sales. “I like helping people. I kept watching other people in the other positions, thinking, ‘I can do that. And I can do that.’ I kept applying and moving up the chain,” Becking said. As an account manager, she said she assists customers with their material handling needs and helps come up with solutions to move materials within their warehouses. Becking said she enjoys talking to customers nationwide. “It’s kind of fun to talk to people across the country,” she said, adding that she enjoys building relationships with customers.
She advised those new to the business to be open to learning. “You’re never too old to learn something new,” she said. “Every day, I’m still growing and learning about the business. Learning about the products.”
Becking said she believes material handling has become more open in recent years. “I don’t think there is the ‘men versus women’ mentality as much as there used to be,” she said, describing how she used to have to persuade callers that she was the correct point of contact. As to future challenges, Becking said she believes keeping up with equipment changes and increasing the use of robotics will be a top priority.
She said the leadership at ACCO Material Handling Solutions is working on new avenues and new growth. “The owners we have, the leaders, are helping us directly and go in the right direction,” Becking said.
About the Author:
Eileen Schmidt is a freelance writer and journalist based in the Greater Milwaukee area. She has written for print and online publications for the past 13 years. Email editorial@MHWmag.com or visit eileenmozinskischmidt.wordpress.com to contact Eileen. If your company would like to be featured, email editorial@MHWmag.com