Three of NECA’s top contractors made up the panel for Women In NECA’s (WIN) annual roundtable yesterday, taking questions from over 80 WIN members about how they built successful companies, without compromising or apologizing and by focusing on being the best at who they really are.
And who they are is proud Women In NECA contractors, who have been lauded by their peers, recognized by their state governors, and loved by their employees.
Gloria Ashford, Susan Ernst and Lynne Harker opened the session by sharing how they entered the industry. Ashford and Ernst established their companies with their IBEW-electrician husbands; Ernst, a self-described “serial entrepreneur,” bought her company after selling her computer-training business. Download 2012 Roundtable Panelist Bios >>
The women described how they’ve adjusted company operations during the economic downturn. Each has made significant changes, with Ernst moving into a completely new market. “We started from scratch. We threw out the old way of doing things, and it forced us to make necessary changes,” she said.
“It’s another way of ‘being the best you’,” Ashford said. “You become more selective. You focus on what you know how to do really well. And you do it better than anyone else.”
When discussing field workforce management and technical knowledge, the women echoed the need to be true to their professional goals and identities. “My door is always open,” Harker said. “Everyone at Placer knows they can come in any time. And I have zero problem with asking someone to explain how something works. People like to talk about their work – I make sure to give them that chance.”
“It’s an attitude,” Ashford said. “I let my employees know that I’m no different from them: I have a family to support and a mortgage to pay. That’s why I’m doing this.
“I’ve worked hard to be a contractor and to be myself,” Ashford continued. “I’m not going to pretend I’m ‘one of the guys,’ because I’m not. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. What would be wrong is for me to act like I was. I’m Gloria, and I’m an electrical contractor.”
“I’ve gravitated to what I do best,” Ernst said. “Sure, sometimes you have to attitude. You have to fake it until you make it. But you will make it.”
Graybar CEO and constant WIN-booster Kathy Mazzarella joined the roundtable audience, and offered her encouragement to the women in the session. “The best revenge is success,” she told the group. “And you don’t have to broadcast what you’ve done. Just exist. You know what you’ve accomplished.”