Volume 48, Issue 2- February 2013

feature

Shattering the Original Glass Ceiling
USGlass Magazine’s First Ever Report: Women in the Industry


by Ellen Rogers

While the glass and glazing industry historically has been, and continues to be, predominantly male, an increasing number of women are stepping up and getting involved. Some enter the family business; others arrive because their research and development studies led them there; some fell in just by chance. But one thing many of these women have in common is they simply never made being a woman “in a man’s world” an issue. They have a job to do and they do it—and they do it well.

The role of women in this industry has transitioned from the support, administrative realm to some of the highest leadership positions. And the odds are good those roles will continue to evolve to even higher and higher levels.

Over the next 15 pages you can read about some of these dynamic women who are actively involved in changing the face of the glass industry. They are leaders, managers, directors. They volunteer in their communities. They are students and teachers. For the list we chose to focus solely on for-profit companies and therefore it does not include women leaders directly involved with associations or other not for profit groups.

If you know a woman who is leading the charge within the glass industry, please email erogers@glass.com to nominate her for the 2014 edition.

Vianey Barrera
Process manager,
Guardian Industries
El Marques, Querétaro, Mexico

“Twenty years ago in my country, women [in] a profession such as chemical engineering were relegated to jobs mainly in education,” says Vianey Barrera. “Today is different and the glass industry participates in this change. I consider myself an example of the change.”

Barrera, who has a master’s degree in chemical engineering, joined Guardian Industries in 2003 after ten years in the chemical industry. She also conducted performance testing for the automotive industry.

“I had accumulated along the way some experience with the raw materials that are included in glass manufacturing,” she says. “I fell in love with this industry.”

Over the course of her career with Guardian she has focused on a variety of process improvement areas such as raw materials, furnaces, quality control and lower line items.

“I have kept in mind the structured methodology that is normally followed in a R&D laboratory,” she says.

For Barrera, being a part of managing the technical group for a large float glass plant and contributing to its success has been a significant accomplishment.

On a global basis, she also sees the participation of women in the labor force increasing.

“Women around the world have been moving into occupations, professions and managerial jobs,” she says. “Over the last few decades, women have attained educational levels comparable to those of men in many countries and have been increasingly hired in jobs previously reserved for men.”

Valerie Block
Senior marketing specialist,
DuPont Wilmington, Del.

You might say that the glass business—the laminated glass business to be exact—is in Valerie Block’s blood. Her father, Martin Lerner, had owned a glass business, which was then called Laminated Glass Corp. and while in grad school she needed to make a little money.

“So I started working there part time and it ended up being a place I didn’t want to leave,” she says of the family glass business.

As she spent more and more time in the industry she began attending association meetings and that’s how she came to know Bill Birch, who was then executive vice president of the Glass Association of North America (GANA).

“He asked me to serve as technical consultant to GANA and then I became the technical director for the Primary Glass Manufacturers Association, before joining DuPont.”

While Block today has a hearty chunk of knowledge when it comes to glass fabricating and manufacturing, her educational background wasn’t technical. She attended Ithaca College where she majored in communication, and also has two master’s degrees in organizational dynamics and business planning.

She recalls in her early industry days there were not many women in this field.

“Many times I would be the only woman and young at that. And there were all these men who had been around for years and years and they were so nice, so supportive and generous with their knowledge,” she says. “I got all this technical background in how generous people were with sharing their knowledge and they still are.”

One of those mentors was the late Harry Miles, who was then with AFG.

“He told me, ‘Think big. Don’t pigeon-hold yourself in a particular role. Stretch.’ And there were times when I would feel the people around me were more knowledgeable than I was and I should keep my mouth shut. But I followed that advice to grow,” she says.

Over the years Block has worked hard in her career, despite the obstacles in her life.

“I am a two-time cancer survivor,” she says, having battled breast cancer when she was younger and early-stage ovarian cancer more recently. “In the whole scheme, none of this [professional accomplishments] is important; what’s important is being a good wife, mother, person, grandmother,” she says. “I could step out of my day-to-day role and know the real legacy is my interaction with others and family. That’s what’s important to me. On the glass side, I’ve always counted on people I know and friends I’ve made … to create a satisfying work career, but it pales to my personal goals.”

Karen Colacino
President, Hal’s Glass Co. Inc.
Bellflower, Calif.

Like father, like daughter, may not be as frequently heard as like father, like son, but it is heard often by Karen Colacino, president of Hal’s Glass.

“My father (Donn Harter) owned this business so I would come in as a child on Saturdays and clean up the warehouse. I started here in the office in 1970 when I was in high school on Saturdays. It was my first job. I went on to have several other jobs in other industries but kept returning to my home base. I finally bought the business in 1990,” she says.

And over the years she admits she’s pretty much done every job there is in the company.

“At first it was just sales in the office and answering phones. During college it evolved to a full time summer job doing the bookkeeping and accounting, which allowed my mother the summer off,” she says. “When I finally came back full time, I went into the service end and was the dispatcher. I liked the glass business. The service end is never dull. I made it a point to understand the mechanics of measuring and installing even going out in the trucks to help or observe.”

While more and more women are entering the glass business, Colacino says it’s still not an easy one.

“There are lots of ups and downs and [the industry] has certainly been affected by the economic and political climates, but it is always challenging and changing,” she says. “I think women add a lot to residential sales as we are more often than not dealing with women clients when it comes to home improvement. I measure, help design and in some cases help install glass and mirrors in bathrooms, kitchens and cabinets. I have found that women are more detail oriented and better at multitasking, which is critical in this business, and better at sales.”

Dina Dwyer-Owens
CEO/Chairwoman The Dwyer Group
Glass Doctor parent company
Waco, Texas

In 1998 the Dwyer Group acquired Glass Doctor and, according to Dina Dwyer-Owens, “The thing that has always stood out to me is how well Glass Doctor, its franchise owners and its front-line service professionals, felt right at home with our code of values and the way we do business across our service brands,” she says. “From the minute we welcomed Glass Doctor to our annual reunion after that acquisition, I knew these professionals would prosper, and so would the Glass Doctor name.”

Over the years, Dwyer-Owens has focused heavily on franchising as the business model that would best grow Glass Doctor.

“We are a positive voice for franchising and small business, and we seek an audience in areas of legislation, access to credit, and small-business growth and prosperity for the benefit of our brands, the ability to create jobs and positively impacting the economy,” she says. She also recently launched a Women in the Trades program to help recruit and train female frontline service professionals.

While professionally she has seen many successes, she says her life’s greatest achievement is at home, as a wife and mother and having the ability to balance both work and family.

“I am an example that women can have both, put family first, and experience a rewarding life. I give credit to my faith and to God for the ability to prioritize where it matters most. It is not an easy task, but hard work has its rewards.”

In that respect, she adds that everyday more and more women are proving themselves and breaking down barriers in every profession imaginable. “I had my fair share of naysayers as I assumed the role of CEO [here]. I simply asked to let my work speak for itself. I knew that I brought an invaluable perspective to my industry and the male-dominated trades that the Dwyer Group represents across its franchise family.”

Karen Elkin
President, Classic Glass Inc.
Alexandria, Va.

It was quite by accident that Karen Elkin found herself in the glass industry. She started out as an elementary school teacher in upstate New York, but moved to Washington, D.C., in 1980 to begin developing and writing teaching materials for the then newly formed Department of Energy.

“When my grant was cut I decided to stay in the area and expand on my hobby-level stained glass skills by apprenticing in a local glass shop,” she says. “I met my partner, Robert O’Toole, there and we soon decided to start our own business. Robert taught me everything he knew about sandblasting and beveling glass. We worked 24/7 in those days. It was a lot of hard work but so much fun.”

Elkin recalls their first big job was for the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, where they carved a 48-inch diameter of the organization’s seal, which was to be the focal point in the lobby.

The glass industry has also provided Elkin with plenty of learning opportunities and experiences.

“One [experience] that stands out was the time our installer needed to stand on top of an elevator cab with our glass because I had neglected to measure the interior of the elevator cab and the glass wouldn’t fit,” she says. “I was a nervous wreck, but it all worked out. After that I learned to always measure the elevator when doing a field measure.”

Living and working near the nation’s capital has also given Elkin the opportunity to work on many memorable projects. Her company has done installations as part of the Lincoln Memorial, 14 marble tablets carved with Lincoln’s quotes, and the Jefferson Memorial, a “bigger-than-life size” bust of Jefferson.

Elkin, who also serves on the board of the Mid Atlantic Glass Association, says while the percentage of women in the glass industry is still small, there does seem to be more and more getting involved. “I do think that there are many more women estimators and project managers than in the past and there are definitely more women in related fields,” she says.

Jill Foxworth
National sales manager, Dependable Glassworks
Covington, La.

Ever since she was a little girl, Jill Foxworth has been a part of the glass industry.

“I remember going on vacations when I was younger and not understanding why we would stop and look at storefronts or glass buildings, now I do the same thing,” she says. Both her father, Norm Foxworth, and grandfather were in the glass industry and she spent time even in high school working for the company, then doing jobs such as posting payments, mailing statements and filing.

In 1985 she earned her bachelor’s degrees in psychology and sociology.

“Although I obviously changed directions, my educational background has come in handy,” she admits.

Today, she has her hands in many different areas of the company.

“Being a family business I am involved in all aspects of the company from accounting to shipping,” she says. “My main focus is handling the sales side of projects.” She also coordinates the company’s internal team on the design aspects and “how we fabricate, and the challenges presented by designers and architects.”

“Not only do we work with glass companies, but we are involved directly in the design aspect with architects, from the design concept period until that vision comes to fruition,” she says. “It gives you a sense of accomplishment to know you were a part of something and it is difficult to put a dollar amount on that feeling. I am not sure you can even buy it; it’s similar to standing on top of a mountain,” she says.

And standing on a mountain is something Foxworth in fact did, too, when she climbed to Mount Everest base camp. “Doing these types of climbs has changed my views in many aspects, but has also made me a stronger person in business.”

Mazy Gillis
Director of organizational development for
Guardian’s worldwide flat glass business
Auburn Hills, Mich.

Everyone has their own unique first impression of the glass industry. Mazy Gillis, who has been with Guardian for about 18 months, was surprised to learn the plants never shut down. “We are a 24/7, 365 day operation coupled with the fact that we have operations on five continents. This requires a huge level of commitment and dedication from all of our employees, especially those with global roles.”

Before joining Guardian Industries Gillis spent a decade in the field of executive coaching and development. She says it’s most rewarding when someone she has coached in the past calls to tell her about a promotion or a significant achievement in their lives.

Even in her short time at Guardian, she has seen the significant role played by many women throughout the company.

“Women are contributing across all disciplines at Guardian every day. For example, we have women in key roles in our float plant operations, sales and marketing, finance and accounting, engineering design, legal and supply chain functions.”

Letitia Haley Barker
President, Haley-Greer
Dallas, Texas

Letitia Haley Barker’s first taste of the glass business came in the 1970s when her father, Don Haley, started the Dallas-based contract glazing firm Haley-Greer.

“I was only there two years and then moved away and went to work in human resources for 15 years.”

Years later, she re-located back to Texas, and was looking for a job when her dad told her he’d like for her to work for him.

“He said that he knew how to build a building and thought I had the experience to benefit the company,” she said.

Becoming actively involved in growing Haley-Greer also meant opening herself up to areas outside her comfort zone. She says when she took the glazier’s exam, for example, everyone in the office was taking bets as to how badly she would fail.

“My dad wanted me to take it. So, I got the books and the manual and I sat down with him and he gave me lessons,” she recalls. “I did not have trouble with the business part of the test, but the glazing portion was difficult. In the end, I only missed two questions more than the other gentleman from the company who had been there for years. It was the greatest moment ever and my dad was so proud of me. It was probably one of the most defining moments for me.”

In 2003 her father began stepping back and appointed his daughter as president of the company. The change, she says, has brought some interesting experiences.

“Going from getting the call where someone says ‘is your dad there I need to talk to him,’ to now having them come to me with their questions; we knew that would be the case so we had to have time for people to get to that comfort level,” she says.

In addition, she is heavily involved with the the American Subcontractors Association at both the local and national level.

Caroline Harris
Associate director of Research and Development,
PPG Industries
Pittsburgh, Pa.

Caroline Harris knows glass. From aerospace to construction, and over the past 26 years she’s been involved with many facets of glass R&D.

“I was attracted to the industry because I have always liked manufacturing. I was fascinated by the float glass process, the enormity of it—melting sand, a continuous strand of ribbon that is never-ending—and everything else that goes into it,” she says.

With an undergraduate degree from the University of North Carolina and a Ph.D. in inorganic chemistry from Northwestern University, she joined PPG after doing post-doctoral work at Brookhaven National Laboratory. She’s since had her hands in the development of many products.

“I was heavily involved in the development of Sunclean® glass. It was the first product I worked on from the lab to the production line. I also worked with the marketing people to help it get accepted in the marketplace,” she says, remembering that while it was very difficult, it was a lot fun, too.

“We traveled with our team to introduce the product on Good Morning, America. We weren’t on the air, but we were on the set, getting the glass ready, cleaning it, making sure it was going to function properly,” she says.

More recently, she’s been involved with the development of a new material for the aerospace transparency industry, called Opticor™ advanced transparency material.

“There hasn’t been a new material introduced there since the 1950s and this, we believe, will prove to be a significant advance,” she says.

Connie K. LaFayette
Regional manager, solar energy products,
NSG Group
Toledo, Ohio

“Every industry values knowledge, talent and hard work regardless of gender, and the glass industry is no different,” says Connie LaFayette, who began her industry career in 1990 when she joined what was then LOF Glass. Beginning as a project engineer in the automotive original equipment (OE) organization, she moved into OE sales and marketing and has held various regional and global roles of increasing responsibility within the Pilkington organization.

LaFayette has a bachelors of science in industrial engineering from Kettering University (formerly known as General Motors Institute) and a master’s degree from the University of Michigan, in Ann Arbor. While her career path includes automotive and manufacturing, these traditionally male fields did not intimidate her.

“The only boundaries are the ones we set for ourselves and I see an increasing number of women assuming roles in industries that have been traditionally dominated by males.”

Stephanie Lamb
Vice president, Giroux Glass
Las Vegas, Nev.

Stephanie Lamb has come a long way since her start in the glass business in 1977. Fresh out of high school she began with a clerical position at Northrup Architectural. “I had no specific training, just mentors along the way,” she says. “I’ve worked in residential and then commercial, estimating and then project management.”

In 2000 she was living and working in Las Vegas for CDC Consulting when someone she knew from Giroux Glass in Los Angeles told her the company wanted to start a Las Vegas branch and asked if she would be interested in heading it up. She thought it would be a good opportunity. It was a risk she was willing to take.

And it’s paid off.
“I’m beyond proud of starting this division. In 2000 this town was tight-nit … the local boys … yet we were able to build it to where we’re now one of the top three go-to’s in this town when they didn’t know us 13 years ago.”

For Lamb, every day there is something new and exciting about the glass industry.

“Nothing is cookie cutter. You have to be able to envision everyday what you’re looking at and what the outcome might be,” she says.

Beth Lesniak
Vice president, Grey Mountain Partners
Boulder, Colo.

People find their way into the glass business by all sorts of paths. For Beth Lesniak, it was an investing and financial background that brought her to it. Just a few years back, she recalls, the firm identified glass fabrication as an industry of interest. At the time Grey Mountain was the stalking horse bidder for Arch Aluminum & Glass. “We began learning more about the industry and felt it was one in which we could add value,” she says.

Lesniak attended Duke University where she studied economics and finance. Her first encounter with the glass and fenestration industry was in 2007 as an investor in the residential door and window manufacturer Polar Window of Canada.

And while her time in the glass industry has been relatively short, she says she is seeing how the role of women is changing—in all businesses—particularly from a leadership standpoint.

“I think [glass is] no different than many building products businesses and … there have not been a lot of females highlighted for their contributions,” she says. “I feel in the past decade or two more women have gotten involved and are building up the knowledge to be on equal footing in a historically male dominated industry. I expect going forward we will see a natural progression of females rising to the top.”

Nancy Mammaro
Owner, Mappi Italy and North America
Cisterna di Latina, Italy

From day one Nancy Mammaro loved the glass business; she loved to see the products and how they changed. At one time, she recalls, everyone was in the market for bending equipment; then it was flat glass; and now she sees the increasing demand for laminated glass.

“There is always something to work on,” she says, remembering the company’s transition as an Italian company into the U.S. and how “people started to believe in us.”

Mappi has been in business since 1993 and Mammaro, whose background is in accounting, became heavily involved in 1995 after spending time in the U.S. to better learn the industry.

“I wanted to learn what the market was looking for since we were more concentrated in Europe,” she says.

Today Mappi is selling its machinery lines all around the world, but the company’s primary market is the United States—it’s the market that Mammaro says is the strongest and the one with the most growth potential.

Mammaro has also seen how the role of women is advancing and evolving. She recognizes that in year’s past the glass industry was perceived as being one primarily for men. This is changing. She says in meeting with clients around they world, they no longer ask to speak to a man.

“They can addresses anything with me,” she says. She also is working to help other women who may be interested in working in this field and has mentored a number of young women.

Anne-Merelie Murrell
Owner/CEO Giroux Glass
Los Angeles, Calif.

Anne-Merelie Murrell didn’t start out wanting to be in the glass business; she actually just wanted the areas surrounding her alma mater, the University of Southern California (USC), to be a nice place to live. She says at one point in time USC was the area’s sparkling gem, but after periods of depression and decline, had become undesirable.

“So, I bought an apartment, fixed it up and used it for student housing. I later bought another.” In an effort to improve the image of the area, she continued buying and renovating apartments for students.

A few blocks north of the university, she recalls, there was another area that looked tired and rundown; an area that people seeing it for the first time might perceive all of Los Angeles to be like. She recalls an old Victorian building and inquired if it was for sale. “It was owned by Louie Giroux and around the corner he had a glass shop,” she recalls, telling him she wasn’t interested in the glass shop. “But he said the only way he’d sell [the building] was along with the glass business, employees and all. So I said, ‘OK, I’ll take it on.”

She continues, “So here I am, a middle-aged women, standing before these employees saying, ‘I’m the new owner and we have to work on this together.’

And they did. The employees pulled together and grew to become one of the top ten contract glaziers in the United States.

Looking back on her career as a woman in the construction industry, she says indeed there are more and more women getting involved. In fact, the company’s Las Vegas branch was started by and continues to be led by a woman, Stephanie Lamb (see page 35). And being a woman in a “man’s world” never bothered Murrell. She recalls she once heard Margaret Thatcher speak and someone asked her if she was ever intimidated by the men with whom she worked.

“And she responded, ‘I just had a job to do and I got on with it.’”

Mandy Marxen
Vice president of marketing, Gardner Glass Products
North Wilkesboro, N.C.

With a degree in advertising from the University of North Carolina, Mandy Marxen always thought she’d work in an advertising agency in a metropolitan area. “But when I graduated the ‘pickins were slim.’ So, I moved home to look for a job, and Mark Pegram, who was president of Gardner Mirror at the time and a friend of my family’s … [offered me a short-term job] to help with some line art,” she recalls, thinking she would take this assignment while continuing to look for another. “But, he liked my portfolio and called in John Meyers, who is now senior vice president, and they offered me a full time job as the in-house art department.”

Marxen started in 1993, and says she “missed the rolling good times of [North Carolina] being the mirror manufacturing capitol of the word in the 1970s and 1980s.”

“People would regale me with those tales,” she says, noting that’s what brought her to her first challenge.

“The owners realized the industry was changing and they realized mirror couldn’t continue to be just it; it was a commodity product,” she says. “They had to have something new to make this more exciting and get more product to the wall—surfaces—and that’s why I stayed so long because there was an opportunity to be creative.”

Those creative opportunities also gave her the chance to design the company’s Dreamwalls brand, which she sees as a great achievement.

“This was an industry not big on marketing, and was more content to depend on OEMs to carry them through, so to give marketing the power to create and develop new brands and products has been most rewarding for me.”

She is actively involved with GANA.

Diana Perreiah
President, Kawneer North America
Norcross, Ga.

While Diana Perreiah has been in the glazing industry for almost four years, she’s been in the aluminum industry for 26 years. With Alcoa, she’s been involved in many different aspects, from aerospace to automotive. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in computational science from Hollins University, a women’s college in Virginia, and today recognizes this industry becoming increasingly global. As such, she is focused on understanding global trends and implications of trends in North America.

“Another area of importance is the increasing emphasis on sustainability and how companies and the industry can help facilitate … the innovations we can bring to move and advance forward,” she says.

Likewise, she’s also working on strengthening the business in challenging times.

“As an industry we’ve been focused on hunkering down and surviving and hopefully now can leverage the plans for an upturn in the market,” she says. “When you’re in that survival mode you have to have those plans in place for an upturn.”

Looking back, Perreiah says the role of women has changed in so many ways. And as women grow and become more involved in the professional world many are also learning to balance their work and personal life.

“It’s funny how quickly your children learn to take advantage of you when you’re working,” she says, laughing. “Handling business when children are around, that’s when they figure out how to get what they want. It’s a balance you have to find,” she says, adding, “family always comes first.”

Helen Sanders
Vice president, technical business development,
Sage Glass
Faribault, Minn.

After finishing her Ph.D. in surface science at Cambridge in the U.K., Helen Sanders was looking for a job when she got an offer from Pilkington. She was there for only four years before making the move to the United States.

“My husband got a job with Sage as a scientist; I came here without a job and spent the first few months figuring out life in the U.S. (getting insurance, credit cards, buying a house, etc.)” she recalls. “When I began looking for a job Sage’s CEO said, ‘why don’t you work here, too?’ It was a great opportunity to work for a small company in the industry and I’ve been here since 1999.”

About seven years ago she also became heavily involved in various industry groups and associations. Her first experience was with ASTM.

“I began by chairing the dynamic glazing task group and over the years received a lot of support,” she says. “I’ve attended meetings and I’ve made friends and become more confident to speak up and say something, taking on a more active role.”

Looking back on her career, Sanders says she never felt she was at a disadvantage because she was a woman.

“Everyone has always been very accepting and welcoming,” she says. “We’re seeing lots more women in leadership and more women stepping up to those roles.” And this is also a message she passes along to her two daughters.

“My goal is to create strong, independent daughters who are well educated. I want to show them by example that you can have a career and a job that you love. You have to balance both work and family; by working I have the opportunity to demonstrate to my daughters that women can have [both],” she says, adding, “As John Van Dine [CEO and founder of Sage] once told me, you don’t go home everyday because your work is done, because your work is never done; you go home because you need to go home.”

Cathie Saroka
Marketing director, Goldray Industries
Calgary, Alberta, Canada

In the mid 1980s Cathie Saroka worked for a sports council that provided funding for Olympic athletes. Her husband, Greg, worked for a furniture company.

“He came home one night and said, ‘Surprise! I quite my job,’ and I said ‘Surprise! I’m pregnant.’ Neither had any experience in the glass industry, but somehow that became the direction in which they were headed.

“Greg was originally going to make lamps, but he had a friend with a background in glass and he got to know the products and started to go off on his own,” she explains. “We began by re-silvering mirror and doing other small glass projects. Any time anyone asked if we could do something Greg always said ‘yes.’”

Today Goldray is a significant fabricator of a wide assortment of decorative glass products, and Cathie heads up all of its marketing efforts. She became heavily involved with the business after their third child was born and, as her first experience in the construction industry, she recalls it was very much a male-dominated business.

“Often [men] wouldn’t like my answer and would ask to talk to the man at the company,” she says. “They don’t do that anymore.”

When she was 40, Saroka earned her master’s degree from the University of Calgary; she is also the company’s LEED AP—a test she said was harder than earning her degree.

She also believes in the importance of giving back and volunteers her time in her community, for example, with the area homeless.

“You certainly get back out of life what you put into it,” she says.

And that ties right into what she says was some of the best advice anyone ever gave her: “you are what you are because of what you’ve done in life.”

Julia Schimmelpenningh
Global applications manager – architectural,
Eastman Chemical
Springfield, Mass.

When Julie Schimmelpenningh started as a researcher at Monsanto 25 years ago she thought, “The entire industry is male!”

“The truth is there were three females at the time I got into the industry who you would run into; I’m sure there were more in independent businesses but I didn’t see them: Cheri Kellman (formerly with Globe Amerada), Val Block (see page 29) and me,” says Schimmelpenningh. “That changed after a few years as more women started to come into the industry and stay. I will never forget being called ‘missy’ and ‘gal’ but my favorite is when the ‘boys’ would forget I was there and curse—and then apologize profusely! That has all changed, too; no more apologies.”

She continues, “Women are much more comfortable and accepted in leadership roles. I think we will begin to see more corporate leaders being female and hopefully more young professionals coming into the industry.

With a bachelor of science from Emmanuel College in Boston, much of Schimmelpenningh’s work has been in research.

“My first memorable job was impacting headforms into windshields to determine the head injury criteria,” she says. “From there I was put on special assignments and eventually given the opportunity to be the applications manager for Saflex and Vanceva brand PVB interlayers.”

Today, she also plays a significant part in a number of industry groups and associations, including GANA. Her main focus areas have been in industry education, standards and code development and product qualification. In 2006 she also served as GANA’s first female president.

“But the proudest moment I have had was when I was involved with the design for the encasement of the Bill of Rights and U. S. Constitution. The day they unveiled the new protective cases to the public was as memorable a moment as I can remember in the industry,” she says.

Kris Vockler
ICD High Performance Coatings
Vancouver, Wash.

There was a time when Kris Vockler begged her father, Larry Vockler, for a job, not because she desperately wanted to work in the family business, but because she needed a job.

“And he refused,” she says. “He did not believe in nepotism.”

With a degree in geology and background in chemistry, she recalls there weren’t a lot of jobs in environmental engineering when she graduated from Portland State University. So, eventually, her dad gave in.

“I still had no desire at first to be there, but I eventually started working my way through various jobs,” she says. “I went back to school for more chemistry and a few years into it I got more involved in GANA.”

She recalls, “The industry seemed very old; very stale and everyone wore suits. It seemed so stuffy and was pretty much run by all men—great men.” What stands out the most, she says, is the fact that everyone has always been so helpful.

“People like Darrell Aldrich at Northwestern Glass Industries, the late Bill Knutsen [then with Viracon] and Mitch Edwards of Guardian. These fantastic people took me under their wings to help me excel.”

Vockler gives a lot of credit to her own role models and leaders who helped her over the course of her career; they taught her the importance of treating everyone the same.

“That can be applied to everyone from employees to customers.”

Linda J. Vos-Graham
President/owner Vos Glass Inc.
Grand Rapids, Mich.

Just a year after Clarence Vos started Vos Glass in 1982, he recruited his daughter Linda to come on board.

“I was working for an ambulance service when I made the move over,” she says. “It was a huge decision to go work for my parents and it seemed exciting.”

At the time, she recalls, the business was much smaller and her first role was to create and move forward the auto glass business.

“That was a big part of my first ten years,” she says, noting she later worked in office and accounting positions and in 2001 got the call to run the company.

“As the second generation, all eyes are on you and [I soon] saw the opportunity to grow and develop the company,” she says.

Today Vos Glass is involved not only in automotive glass, but is also a significant player in Western Michigan’s contract glazing industry—a part of the job she enjoys most.

“Construction is competitive and I am a competitive person. There is an aspect of winning and losing but it’s a rewarding industry,” she says.

Over the years she has been involved at the board level with the American Subcontractors Association of Michigan, and in 2011 served as its first female president. She has served on the board of the Associated Builders and Contractors of Western Michigan, and was founding president of the Michigan Glass Association.

And she’s seen many changes over the years. These involve new technologies and developments as well as an increasing push toward energy-efficient products. She also expects further change, in particular, the level of education and training that will be needed.

“I don’t have a college degree and neither did my father,” she says. “But I think going forward we will see more and more [roles] needing to have degrees. The ability to learn in the field and as you go won’t happen as much; you need to couple that with a formal education.”

Randi Walters
Estimator, A-1 Glass
Englewood, Colo.

As a child Randi Walters saw her father, Craig Carson, vice president at A-1 Glass, bring home blueprints and thought it was fascinating. So by 16 she got her own start in the industry with a job at Elward Construction Company, where her father worked at the time.

“They needed someone part time to answer phones in the summer. I took the job and I’ve never been out of the glazing industry since. That was 21 years ago.”

While Walters set out to study broadcasting, she soon had a change in plans.

“Construction paid my mortgage, and I did not really have the nomadic spirit that broadcasting requires,” she says. And as far as construction education? That, she says, was simply the school of hard knocks.

While Walters has been involved with pretty much all aspects of the glass business, right now, she says, she is working on building up a smaller projects division of the company. And being in this business, she admits, has been an incredible opportunity. “Getting to work in a place I love with people who I respect and love like they are my own family, has been a great achievement.”

Mary Carol Witry
Chief operating officer,
Oldcastle BuildingEnvelope®
Dallas, Texas

When Mary Carol Witry started at Trainor Glass in 1987 it was her first job.

“They needed secretarial help,” she recalls. So after a couple of months of data entry it was time for a change.

“I got bored, talked to Bob Trainer [vice president at the time, and later CEO] about learning and doing more. He had me work as an assistant production scheduler for a while and that’s where I learned the business.” Over the next 17 years she worked her way through many positions, including project management, estimating, general management, vice president and board member.

In 2004 she made the move to Oldcastle BuildingEnvelope®

Witry, who has no formal higher education, sees the goals that she’s achieved, starting in an entry level position and working up to senior level management, as a great achievement.

“In 1987 the world was different for everyone. Construction was primarily male-oriented and now there’s more diversity – and not just women – there’s many different people; it’s becoming a global melting pot,” she says. “I never looked at the gender part of the business. Sometimes people will use it as an advantage or a crutch, but if you’re a hard worker, are honest, have integrity and want to learn you can do just about anything.”

She’s also been fortunate to learn from some well-known, respected leaders in the glass industry. Recalling a lesson from her days at Trainor, she say, “I was disappointed when we didn’t win a project I was working on and I remember Ed Trainor [vice president at the time and, later executive vice president] told me, ‘honest, intelligent effort always pays off.’”

She also looks to her current boss, Ted Hathaway, her company’s CEO, as a mentor. “I admire his ability to connect with people and energize the team.”

Debra Levy
Owner Key Communications Inc.
Publisher USGlass magazine
Stafford, Va.

Debra Levy, owner of Key Communications and publisher of USGlass magazine, is one woman who knows the glass business. She’s worked in this industry for more than 30 years, is a member of the ANSI Z97 Architectural Glazing Standards Committee and she has worked tirelessly to bring safety issues surrounding architectural glass and automotive glass to light. She has bachelor’s degrees in math and Spanish from the State University of New York and a master's degree in economic development from Southern New Hampshire University.

In 1993 Levy started her own company, now Key Communications, with the purchase of USGlass magazine. Since then she has grown the company with new publications, event organization and association management.

“I will never forget my interview at Key with Deb Levy when I was 23. I had always wanted to write for a magazine but knew nothing about glass, windshields or window film,” remembers Tara Taffera, publisher/editor of DWM magazine, a USGlass sister publication, and vice president of editorial services. “But, I had a desire to learn and she was the perfect mentor.”

Taffera says if you have that drive Levy is more than willing to provide the opportunity. “After one year at the company I was promoted from assistant editor to editor of USGlass. A few years after that I was asked if I wanted to start my own magazine, DWM. What an opportunity to learn from Deb all facets of the magazine business from circulation to sales.”

Holly Biller, vice president of media services, was still in high school when she began working part-time after school and during summers for Levy.

“As a female leader, Deb shines in many respects. She is a strong mentor, role model, goal-setter, entrepreneur and highly motivated individual. Simply being in her presence has an osmosis effect on those around her causing them to reach for greatness in all areas as well,” says Biller. Many employees at Key Communications have been with the company for more than ten years. Biller says this stems from Levy’s style of leadership and a rarity in character, valuing employees’ needs first.

“The old adage of ‘Business is business; it's nothing personal’ doesn't apply here because Deb does make it personal when it comes to caring for her staff,” says Biller. “She takes a standard office environment and makes it a home for everyone who has the opportunity to work with her. That level of dedication to employees also carries over to her customer service policies and experiences our advertisers and readers receive when communicating with our office.”

Biller adds, “A team is only as strong and sharp as its leader and she continues to guide us through the waters, no matter what economic ebb and flow we experience, ensuring all parties involved are well cared for.” “There are several times that I go into her office with a question, as I am stumped regarding a particular issue, and Deb immediately has the right answer,” Taffera laughs, “I’m often asking myself, ‘Why didn’t I think of that?’”

Editor’s note: We knew if we told Deb we wanted to include her in this list of women she would humbly say no. So we had to do some stealth reporting to get this in without her knowledge.

Mars Vs. Venus
If the majority of the women interviewed for this article agree on one thing, it’s the fact that they never really felt all that different being a woman working in the mostly male glass industry.

“I see the same varieties of people, whether male or female,” says Valerie Block, senior marketing specialist with DuPont. “From the whiners to the demanders, it’s not the sex or age of the person, but range of personalities. So the challenge, as a manager, is figuring out how to be a good leader regardless of [who’s on] your team.”

Helen Sanders, vice president with Sage agrees. “There is a spread of personalities and [sometimes] you’re surrounded by the dominate, go-get-‘em direct communicator males. While some women are also very direct, more often women bring a slightly different perspective.”

“The key thing is having others to look up to and give you the confidence to do it right,” adds Kris Vockler, CEO of ICD High Performance Coatings.

“My mentors were men, but there were no females,” adds Block. “My mentors were just amazing people, and never made me feel I could not do it.”

Julie Schimmelpenningh, global architectural applications manager with Eastman Chemical, adds, “You can go to any of the veterans and they will be helpful. This is a unique industry; they love to teach and it’s an art form and they want to ensure it has a lifespan that goes on.”

“You don’t learn this in college,” agrees Sanders.

Block adds that there are many in the industry today who are nearing retirement. It’s therefore becoming increasingly important to educate others who can continue moving and directing the industry forward.

“If you’re receptive there are so many who would love to share information and help you out,” she says.

 

Like Father, Like Daughter
Tales of fathers passing the business to their sons are nothing new. Now, in the glass business at least, more and more fathers are bringing on their daughters, prepping them to take over, lead and continue the family business. And many agree, working with family brings its own share of unique challenges and opportunities.

“My father feared nepotism and I had to beg for a job,” recalls Kris Vockler, who is today CEO of ICD High Performance Coatings. “And I felt I had fewer opportunities at first, because I wanted to make sure people couldn’t complain [that there was favoritism]. There are those who will think you get more in pay, benefits, etc. and it can become difficult. But the key is the opportunity. Don’t think you’re given more opportunity than someone else; I received the opportunities that I did simply because I asked.”

Valerie Block, senior marketing specialist with DuPont, also started in the industry with her father’s glass company, and has a great first impression of the industry.

“I was attending the University of Michigan and had a part-time job at a radio station and one day when driving to work I passed by one of my dad’s customers,” she says. “And out of the blue, I went in to say hello; I told them who I was and I was passing by and saw them and just wanted to stop in and say hello. And they were so nice. I thought this is really a friendly, nice industry and I liked the people in this industry.

“All the way through [my career], that’s the one thing that’s been motivation for staying, I value the people in the industry.”

Jill Foxworth, national sales manager for Dependable Glassworks says working with her father has been a rewarding experience.

“On the professional side, to have unlimited access to someone who is willing to teach me what he knows has been rewarding,” she says. “On the personal side, to be able to spend so much time with my father has been priceless.”

Nancy Peterson, director of market communications for Azon, says she, too, has been fortunate to work with her father, and has learned from him each day.

“My dad has held a vital role in advancing thermal barrier technology in architectural fenestration throughout the world for the past 35 years. Of course he did have some ups and downs, but always the optimist, he has tried to profit from any business failures by seeing things through,” she says. “Every business leader ought to have the same kind of vision and a plan as my dad for how they like to leave the world better for future generations.”

Missy Palmer-Ball Bush has been a part of her family’s company, Palmer Products, since she was young.

“I worked other places after graduating from college which I think was a good thing. In 1984 my dad’s sister, who had worked in the business, died of cancer and I took her position,” she recalls. “I worked summers the last two years of high school and through college in the factory. My father [Shirley Palmer-Ball] thought it was important for us to know what it was like to work in the factory and to learn the business from the ground up,” she says, noting that her sisters and other family members also spent time working in the factory.

Bush, whose father passed away last August, says having the opportunity to work with him as part of the family business, was a wonderful experience.

“He came into the office up until the end of last May so I worked with him and saw him almost every day for the last 28 years,” she says. “I have also worked full time with two of my sisters and two of my brothers. (In the past I also worked with two uncles and an aunt.) At the moment, I work with two brothers, a sister and a sister-in-law.”

And though surrounded by so many family members, she says there are actually few conflicts.

“We have regular challenges as any business does but we work together to resolve the issues as they arise. We all have our areas of expertise and within those areas our opinion will be weighted more when making decisions,” she says. “We also continue the practice that our father started of not taking business home with us. We almost never discuss business at family occasions and that is helpful. My relationship with my father was very close and very good. I learned a lot from him about business and about family in a business since he also worked with some of his siblings and his father. He was an excellent role model in that regard.”


USG
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