By Andy Brown
With October named as the national celebration for women in small business, PalletCentral appropriately sat down with many of our female industry thought leaders in the wood packaging sector who share their stories that inspire us all. We applaud these women, and their accomplishments and drive have made a lasting impact on the industry. Below, we highlight seven of these notable women.
Good Things Happen to Those Who Hustle
Mia Allen, Vice President and Co-Founder, Rose Pallet
Mia Allen thrives on meeting new people, so after graduating from college she naturally began a career in sales. Six years ago, she and her sister Amy co-founded Rose Pallet and have since built it from the ground up. “Every anniversary is a milestone for us because there has been a lot of sweat, laughter and tears that have gone into our company,” she says.
Building a business from scratch is a challenge for anyone, whether it’s in the pallet industry or not. The key is to implement good business practices while remaining adaptable. “Business is always changing, I’m grateful I can adjust and don’t mind doing it. I’m always learning and that is what feeds me,” she says.
Mia also encourages more women to get involved in the pallet industry, saying that having different perspectives makes the industry stronger. “The future is bright for women in the pallet industry. Every NWPCA Conference or event I attend year after year I see more and more women joining the industry,” she says. “There are amazing opportunities out there if you are willing to hustle.”
Prove Yourself, Until You Don’t Have to
Carolyn Beach, Vice President, Westside Pallet
Carolyn Beach got into the pallet industry by way of her father, who started Westside Pallet. “He really started growing when I was expecting my second child. I wanted a more flexible job and I knew he was going to need someone to run his new office,” she says. “I never expected that pallets would be my career.”
When her father passed in 2009, Carolyn continued to oversee the company. “My management team have been with the company from the beginning, so they are the ones that keep the day to day operations going. I still work in the office but mostly I deal with customer relations, pricing and problem solving,” she says.
The business continues to thrive, with a new 3.5-acre expansion to their current facilities. “It's been great to look across the street and watch our pole barn go up for more production room. And the rest of the land will be for pallet storage,” she says.
Earlier in her career, Carolyn did feel she had to prove herself more than once. “In the beginning, it was assumed that my husband was the one in the industry and questions about the business were automatically directed toward him. He quickly referred them to me,” she says. “I always found it amusing. But that doesn't happen much anymore simply because I'm more known in the industry.”
As the pallet industry evolves, she also looks forward to a multiplicity of voices and perspectives. “Any time you have a variety of people involved in the industry, it is a positive thing. Not just female voices. We need both men and women, veteran pallet manufactures as well as the younger generation coming in. And we need voices from all regions of the US,” she says. “It just helps get new perspectives on the issues that the pallet industry faces.”
Just Try to Keep Getting Better
Debra Berry, CEO, Berry Industrial Group
Debra Berry and husband Peter co-founded Berry Industrial Group in 1984. “Peter had decided to start a company, but internal business process and protocol was not his forte. That’s not what he does, so I came in to organize the business, start building the foundations – production, accounting, legal, banking, HR – and that’s how we started,” she says.
The journey from start-up to established business has been a process of continuous improvement. “I’m always looking to improve what I do and who I am,” says Debra, who recently completed an exclusive mentoring program sponsored by Monsanto that dives deeply into every aspect of business. “It’s one of the most intense programs I’ve ever done. Anytime I had a question related to what I was doing, they would find somebody in the organization to help,” she says.
Among her proudest accomplishments is the work culture that sustains the business. “Our employees define our success,” she says. “It’s a small company with an open-door policy, and I‘m a strong proponent of work-life balance.”
As the business has grown and changed, so has the industry. “When I was younger, I felt like we had a lot of corporate buyers in the oil and gas industry. I would go to these meetings and feel like they were patting me on the head,” she says. “That was the business world then. It’s easier now. I’ve seen the difference, how that generational thinking has been phased out. Younger generation professionals are used to dealing with women in business.”
Work Hard, Have Passion
Kathleen Dietrich, Vice President, Commercial Lumber and Pallet Company
Kathleen Dietrich just wanted to earn some extra money while attending school, so she answered a Help Wanted ad for a receptionist at a local lumber company. That fortuitous decision led to a career in the industry when she joined Commercial Lumber and Pallet Company. “It was super exciting watching the company grow and utilizing so many day to day opportunities to increase my knowledge of the company and the pallet industry, and be a part of the innovation and initiatives that allowed the company to evolve from the then current technologies to what we have today,” she says.
Kathleen rose from an entry level position to become operations manager, vice-president and a partner in the company. “[Owner] Ray Gutierrez called me into his office at our new facility and thanked me for all of my efforts and years of service and contribution, and wanted to thank me by making me a part of the foundation of his new company. He made me a partner,” she recalls. “My heart was full of pride and gratitude.”
She cites hard work and a collaborative spirit as the keys to a happy and successful career. “I just worked really hard side by side with the key people to progress the growth of the Pallet Division, learned everything I could about the process from start to finish of what it takes to manufacture a pallet, provide quality service to our customers, and offer fair pricing in order to be competitive,” she says. “I paid attention and educated myself by reading industry publications, watching forecasts and listening. I’ve always felt that I just needed to know of what I speak, listen to others and learn, and most importantly care about your employees and the peers you work with.”
Set Goals That Matter to You
Molly Gordon, Sales, Greenway Products
Before she sold pallets, Molly Gordon bought them. As the purchasing manager for a label manufacturer, it was one of her duties. When she was ready for a career change, her supplier – Pallets Unlimited – was happy to bring her on board.
For the past 18 years, she has helped grow the company’s sales. “My proudest moment is when I won my first $1 million contract. It took a lot of time, and it was a team effort with the company,” she says. “Accomplishments are not reached by yourself. It’s always a team effort, from the person on the floor to the person who collects the money. Getting to that level was not easy, but eventually we got there.”
She advises young women entering the pallet industry to set goals that matter. “Motivation is the key to achieving goals,” she says. “So when you set goals for yourself, make sure they’re important to you, that there is value in achieving them. If you have little interest in the outcome or they are irrelevant given the larger picture, the chance to make them happen is slim.”
She also offers a word of warning that stereotyping still exists. “The perceptions of jobs and roles has always been stereotyped. However, there are women who have broken through barriers and made significant inroads in the male-dominated industries, dealing with some customers who were accustomed to doing business with only men,” she says. “I believe patience, concentration, quick decision-making, alertness and follow-up are required to succeed. You have to prove yourself a thousand times over. You have to bring something to the table that’s not just about selling pallets.”
Every Job Is Equally Important
Lindsey Shean, National Accounts Manager, Valley Pallet Inc.
Though her dad owns Valley Pallet, Lindsey Shean didn’t think she would get into the family business. An accomplished golfer, she took a shot at the pro circuit while working part-time at the company’s Phoenix location. “As I dove into it, I enjoyed the business. I enjoyed the challenge of getting orders out and working with customers,” she says.
Concluding that she no longer wanted to play golf, Lindsey took on more responsibility with the company, eventually managing accounts in Arizona and the southwest as a regional sales representative. Two years ago, she moved to the main plant in Salinas to take over as the national accounts manager and sales manager role. “I oversee our sales team and kind of handle our national accounts and oversee all that activity, anything from customer service to overall account management,” she says.
One of her concerns is getting the next generation of workers involved in the industry. “Our industry will continue to evolve. Society will continue to evolve. I think we do need more women leaders. I think it’s about getting more involved and getting new blood and new ideas,” she says.
Her advice to the next generation is to adopt a team mentality. “I think really what I’ve learned as I worked my way through the positions is to make sure you’re playing as a team,” she says. “My biggest thing has always been to respect every single position in our company. Everybody’s position is important, from people in the yard to building products to drivers delivering the load. Everybody’s job is as important as the others.”
A Good Team Equals Growth
Annette Walter, President and CEO, Timber Industries LLC
Annette Walter brought her background in banking and operations to the pallet industry when she bought Timber Industries in 2013. “I was drawn to this industry because there’s so much opportunity to elevate process and efficiencies and innovation in this space,” she says.
She describes her initiation into an industry filled with legacy companies as warm and welcoming. “As a new owner, a transition owner in this space and being a woman, I felt nothing but open arms and welcoming support and camaraderie from its members.”
At the same time, she thinks it’s important for women in leadership positions to embrace their responsibility as role models. “It’s important to show younger women that no space and no industry is not reachable or attainable. You can really stand wherever you want to stand as long as you have the discipline, the thoughtfulness, the integrity, and the tenacity and hard work ethic to build a company,” she says.
And the key to any successful venture, she says, is to work hard and stick to your mission. “If you step to the plate, you’re going to gain rewarding and profitable relationships from everybody. That’s what it’s all about,” she says. “We’re doing what we can to serve our customers and get people their products.”
Moreover, Annette advises business owners to discover the right way to conduct business without taking on everything themselves. “My philosophy is, if you grow a strong team, they can grow you to new levels.”
Andy Brown is freelance writer, specializing in stories for business publications. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone: 571-403-1306.