Today’s automotive recycling industry is teeming with women who are making a difference by taking the road less traveled.
When you think of the women who work within the automotive recycling industry, what comes to mind? Knowledge? Certainly. Experience in their field? Definitely. Determination and fortitude in an industry that is still primarily male-dominated? Absolutely. To highlight some deserving women in the auto recycling industry, we wanted to recognize their efforts within the field by hearing about their career paths, roles in the industry and what they’ve learned along the way. They are sure to inspire all of us. Starting with the first three women presidents of the ARA.
Destined for Firsts: Ginny Whelan
To look back on the series of events that occurred 22 years ago that carried me along to become the first woman president of the Automotive Recyclers Association (ARA) and lay claim to it in perpetuity is to invite endless ongoing of memories and thoughts that reside in my mind.
So many influences – all men – that carried my name to be nominated. To be in the room five years with Greg Freeman, Don Cowell, Norm Wright, Mark Buessing and Herb
Lieberman. To be mentored by Don Beagell Jr. and Bob Griggers. It took 57 years for ARA to select a women president – ME.
“Just one of the guys.”
There I sat suffering total numbness of body and brain, no longer having to wonder what it might be like to be the first woman leading the automotive recycling industry, and to answer to everyone. Consider all the erratic changes that I caused by being the first, disrupting the decisions made in the “men’s” boardroom.
Along with my peers, I faced mighty industry struggles, including a legal battle at the highest federal court to stop a monopoly of the Hollander interchange. ARA won and was awarded the Hollander license. Next up was modernization, including the introduction of automotive recyclers internet network to sell more parts. ARA also purchased computers to install in member yards with loaded network programs. Next up was the consolidation invasion – LKQ and Ford and two officers’ businesses are purchased. And in response, ARA developed a new membership category. Then came 2000 and Y2K; and a joke among the officers of me lapsing back into “girlish” behavior… “Wait ‘she’s the Man.’”
I joined ARA to learn more about the industry beyond my backyard business. ARA was my educator and mentor. I joined every committee and became a regional director representing New Jersey and New York. As president I traveled to 26 states to speak at meetings and state conventions. I was a novelty, a women president. Many came to hear if I knew about the auto recycling business. I passed the test. Many brought their daughters to meet me. I traveled to eight countries as an invited guest speaker. I met hard-working auto recyclers and their families worldwide.
I have a voice and it silences the rooms of auto recycling. My message for ARA was clear: certification was the way to recognize a professional industry. And technology will drive every aspect of auto recycling. Many recyclers pushed back. It did not stop me. I then pushed into a sister industry association.
Back home, in addition to running a family auto recycling facility which gave me all the experience I needed to gain a president’s view of ARA, I partnered with three recyclers, and we started a mobile crushing business and purchased a new site to start a self-service business. We later formed the first trading partners group with the vision of being a franchise.
The real estate boom hit, and I was made an offer on the property of my business, so I sold and relocated the business. Two years later I sold both my business and the self-service business. I retired at age 55, but I received a call and a request from then-ARA president Jim Watson to take over the ARA Educational Foundation and to create a training video on parts grading. Education was my core passion; of course, I said yes.
We had $46 in the budget. I reached out to several friends with the idea for the first online training platform and the ARA University was founded and launched in 2007. The rest is history.
I have been an industry educator for over 15 years. My message is clear: education and training are the power to success. Never close a door and walk into every door to listen and learn.
As I continue “tapping on the glass” as a woman in the automotive recycling industry; this quote plays in my head:
“Tiny ripple of hope, crossing each other from a million different centers of energy which sweep down daring those ripples build a current which sweep down the mightiest walls.” – Robert F. Kennedy
Challenge Taken: Sandy Blalock
I did not see myself like so many young women who are finding a career in the auto recycling industry, but here I am many years later and still loving every moment and challenge. It really all started in the mid-1980’s when my husband (Butch Capo) and my father-in-law (Jim Capo) decided they wanted to be in the auto recycling business. We bought a small family business from the wife of a local auto recycler shortly after her husband’s death. Butch and his dad started there and, in a few years, bought another piece of land and built a new facility.
I did what I could to help when needed, but at that time was busy in my career managing orthotic and prosthetic businesses around the state of New Mexico. Fast forward several years and Butch’s dad was nearing retirement and ready to move on to the next chapter. I found myself ready to do the same and decided my next career path was going to be auto recycling. At the time, Butch was, for the most part, running his new parts business while I managed the auto recycling business.
The early years of my career in auto recycling were difficult to say the least. I found that my father-in-law was running it by the seat of his pants and had not invested in the business for the future. We had to completely reorganize, clean up, restock and – wow – did we spend money doing that. Some days I just wanted to crawl into a corner and cry. One day the loader needed major repairs, next one of the lifts needed a part that was at least two weeks out. There were days I thought, “What have I gotten myself into?”
I have to admit if it were not for our state association and ARA, I probably would have found my way back to orthotics and prosthetics. It was such a huge resource to me, someone who needed to learn everything about the industry. After my first ARA convention, I was in awe of everything that was available. I came back from it energized and ready to move forward. I simply wanted to be the best and I made that my mission. I did not need to run multiple locations or even need to be the biggest, but I was determined to be the best in our state.
Being a woman in the industry in the mid 1990s was tough. There were very few women working in our industry in New Mexico, and none were managing an auto recycling business. So I decided that I did not need to learn how to run a business, I already had years of experience doing that. I simply needed to learn everything about the industry using the business skills I had and understand what our customers needed; the rest would fall into place.
I still remember being the only woman at the salvage auction, working alongside my other woman salesperson on the counter where we often were ignored by the male customers. Neither of us let that bother us – we just worked harder to earn their respect. I studied a lot about vehicles and parts, especially the ones that we got so many calls on, particularly engines and transmissions. It was not unusual to see me reading Transmission Digest or Engine Rebuilder. I wanted to know why certain transmissions and engines failed and at what mileage that tended to happen so I could direct our buying to avoid certain mileage vehicles.
I think one of the most important things I learned during my early years was listening carefully to customers, as they have so much to teach you. I attribute my success to doing just that and all the dedicated employees that had never in their lives thought they would be working for a woman auto recycler.
I had great support from my team and family including my two sons, Bill and Robert, who worked side-by-side with me once they were old enough. This teamwork and support allowed me to not only succeed in our business, but to be involved at a higher level at ARA. We all had the vision of owning and working in the best auto recycling business in New Mexico.
I was involved with several committees at ARA and learned so much from each and every one. I consider my involvement with recycling associations and committees paramount to my success in our industry.
I was honored to be asked to serve on the ARA Executive Committee and later as President of ARA in 2007-2008. This was a life changing time for me as I saw an even greater need for involvement in our industry in order to protect it in the future.
My goal as the second woman president of ARA was to find a way for ARA to assist states with state legislative issues. In July 2008, ARA convened the 1st Annual State Legislative Summit that has been held every year since. We continue to assist in monitoring state legislation and work closely with our members in promoting positive legislation and fighting negative legislative attacks on our industry.
I don’t think anyone saw what the future held for me as I myself have been recycled throughout the industry – first as a woman operator, to industry advocate, and now Executive Director of ARA. But I can tell you that I am still up for the challenges our industry faces and will continue to fight for auto recyclers to be recognized as professionals who are doing a great job, providing safe and rewarding jobs to tens of thousands all the while protecting our communities and providing cost-effective products and services.
Paving the Way: Linda Pitman
I grew up in the auto recycling industry and then after graduating college, I went back to work in the family business. It was only going to be for a few years (or so I thought), but I stayed for over 40 years.
At that time, there were a few women in the industry mostly doing bookkeeping and/or answering phones. A lot of these women were either married to the owner or, like me, a daughter.
There were no computers, no Internet, and no “instant” answers to interchange. There were interchange books, though it took some time to look up a part and the interchange. My family had “sheet paper inventory” of each vehicle while some yards relied on counter people that kept inventory in their brain as to what parts were available.
It was definitely a male-dominated industry. The customers who were calling or coming into the facility – 99 percent of which were men – always seemed surprised if I offered to help them and that I was mostly able to help them with their questions. My least favorite comment from so many, especially on the phone, was “I need to talk to a man.”
As time progressed, mostly due to circumstances, women became more involved in daily business activities. Other than with administrative duties, they began to work side-by-side with their male counterparts. That can also be said of the customer database. We all began to have more women customers and I think they felt more comfortable when another woman was around. Women didn’t always know for sure what they needed since their husbands/boyfriends usually sent them to pick the part up.
Women, I think, helped to “clean up” the industry.
That applied to things like helping to keep areas of the facility clean, to, in some cases, cleaning up the language of men who were used to being around “just men.”
That world changed and near the end of the time I was active in the daily business, we had a new brand of women customers that sometimes knew as much, if not more, about the auto problem they had than we did and what part they needed. We even reached one point in our business where I had a man taking care of the books, etc., and a female handling counter work and sales.
Soon there were a lot more options for women to be involved in at their facility. Environmental requirements from the state and federal level had to be taken care of. There was a lot of paperwork and research of what was being required. It seemed almost every week the federal or state authorities found and established new requirements for the industry. These things were a lot of the time tedious and we, as women, had a little more patience for the “job.” Time moved on and a lot of women became more active in the day-to-day activities of their businesses and were more and more involved in working with things such as handling advertising, the new world of computers, and just keeping apprised of changes in laws and requirements, which was almost a full-time job.
Some of us began to go to state and national conventions with husbands or other employees from our facilities. As time progressed, a lot of us became involved in industry association boards, foundations and committees.
Women have now increased their involvement with all aspects of the industry. There are women owners, managers, and employees. The road is open and none of us need to ever feel we aren’t appreciated or very much needed. My career experience from the 1970s has grown and progressed to today’s world where we are all needed to continue propelling the industry forward to define what it believes in, what it stands for, what it does, and how it impacts the world.
I am always proud to attend the LARA (Ladies of the ARA) meeting at conventions. The women who attend are actively involved in their businesses – whether it be at home rooting their family member on or working daily in the business, or as a supplier to the industry. We now have vendor companies with dynamic women at the helm. Let us continue to let nothing stop our input and work, including everything from our local facility to the national and the international levels. So ladies, move on into the future with your heads up and continue to lead.
Lean In: Shan McMillon
Take a moment to read the “Direction” column on page 4, written by Shan McMillon, ARA’s 2nd Vice President/Treasurer. Shan is set to become the 4th woman president of ARA in 2022-2023, after a 13-year gap in a woman serving in that top role.
As a young professional, an automotive recycling facility owner, a past state association president, and a woman, Shan’s perspective on leadership in this industry shows how far women in auto recycling have come, yet how far there is still to go. As more women enter the automotive industry, more will rise to the top of leadership within ARA as they lean in and gain the respect they deserve. It is with hope and expectation that capable leaders, men and women, will lead ARA into its future.
Sandra Adams, Manager, Cocoa Auto Salvage
By Sandy Blalock
Sandra Adams began her career in auto recycling as a title clerk at Cocoa Auto Salvage. Having previous experience working for the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) gave her a good background for the position. A few years later she moved into the accounting office and was given Cocoa Auto Salvage’s bookkeeping to learn. She noted, “this training could be compared to a college curriculum!”
Eighteen years later and Sandra still feels blessed to be a part of the amazing team at Cocoa Auto Salvage. She worked for 10 years as the bookkeeper and would later start learning about procedures and processes. She attended seminars and tried to absorb all the information she could learn about this awesome industry. She soon found herself moving out of the bookkeeping and into the production side where she soon became the production manager. After a few years of experience as the production manager, she quickly moved up to the position of manager of Cocoa Auto Salvage, managing her amazing team of 20 people.
Sandra wants women to know that you can work in our industry without a great deal of knowledge of auto recycling because of the changes in the industry software that allows anyone who can type to sell or lookup parts for customers, all the while learning what those parts are and intuitively understanding customer needs.
“When I first started, I was a bookkeeper – not even on location, we had one salesperson and a driver who were female,” Sandra says. “Back then I rarely spoke with customers, only to the bookkeepers.” She said that even now, some of the customers are still condescending because she’s a woman. She still feels some men do not want to speak with a woman for a resolution.
“The Cocoa team is great, as they all work together to solve all problems for which I’m extremely grateful,” Adams says. She can only recall having a couple problems with former employees who were not a fan of a woman in her management position.
Sandra shared that the highlight of her career in auto recycling has definitely been watching the company grow. “We have an amazing leader who has led her team to grow the company in so many ways. I have learned so much about the industry in the past six years that I could never have envisioned when I took a job with this company 18 years ago.” Shan McMillon puts the employee’s safety first and foremost, assuring that Cocoa Auto Salvage is one of the top tier professional auto recycling facilities not only in Florida but nationwide, and is recognized as a Gold Seal Certified Automotive Recycler by ARA.
“I have worked for Shan for 18 years. She is a great leader. Shan has encouraged and put trust in me that has allowed me to grow to be where I am today,” Adams says. “She works hard to make sure that our team has the tools they need to complete their job efficiently and effectively. She spends time mentoring and supplying me with resources to help me do my job and educate myself. Shan truly loves this industry and what she does, and her passion is contagious.”
So what does Adams feel women have to offer the industry? “Leadership. I believe that women have natural instincts and have the ability to balance compassion and intensity. I personally think we are a little more organized. Organization, is important to maintain all of the compliance record keeping in this industry while juggling the everyday challenges in our fast-paced business.”
Adams added that women should not feel that they are working in only a man’s world. She personally struggled with this after she left her comfortable bubble of bookkeeping and ventured into supervisory roles prior to management. Her advice to women who might consider an auto recycling career, “Do it! This is a very rewarding industry, not limited to men. Find a mentor who is willing to teach you. Start out in a sales position if the opportunity presents itself. Tour the other departments and understand what it takes to make those sales happen. Women can succeed and even lead in this industry.
Michelle Smith, Plant Manager, LKQ Pick Your Part – Southeast
Michelle Smith didn’t always want to work in the auto recycling industry. Rather, her career was in retail. She moved to North Carolina and started worked at LKQ in 1994.
“I did title work and inventory,” Smith says. “Eight years later LKQ purchased the business and I stayed on with them and quickly advanced to management. I am proud of the work I do – being able to answer questions about parts and helping customers to find what they need amazes them that a lady knows so much about cars.
The lessons Smith has learned throughout her time in the industry include learning a lot about car parts, learning the value that a vehicle has after it is brought from LKQ and understanding the process of harvesting the vehicles properly to make every part turn into money.
So what advice would Smith give to other women entering the industry?
“Take your job to heart. Be proud of what you can do and teach others what you know and be willing to learn from others,” Smith says. “Work with your employees and don’t be afraid to get dirty with them when they need help. They will appreciate you more.”
Katie Kinnard, Welder Fabricator, SAS Forks, LLC
Katie Kinnard always wanted to be a cosmetologist through high school and after she graduated she had her first son. “I wanted something more to provide for my family so I became a welder,” Kinnard says. “About two years ago, a friend of mine worked at SAS Forks and told me that they were hiring. That’s how I got my current position.”
Kinnard’s career path started about 13 years ago, her oldest son was going into school and she wanted to provide better for her family. When Kinnard first started welding at a different company, she had no experience. On her third day of working, she was told by a male coworker to ‘go home’ and that she ‘shouldn’t be in this workforce’ which only pushed her further to show that she could do it despite his comments.
“I had no experience. But, I worked five years into welding and worked my way to becoming a leadman and then a foreman,” she states.
“After my last pregnancy, I took a year off of work to collect my thoughts and to decide what I wanted to do in life. And that’s where I decided I just wanted to weld. I take pride in what I do.”
“It hasn’t been an easy road to get to where I am. You get a lot of pushback from the men that work beside you, but you just have to make sure you’re proving it to yourself and not them,” Kinnard says. “I’m proud of myself for following this dream and for never letting negative comments stand in my way.”
So what are the three biggest lessons Kinnard has learned during her time in the industry?
1. Safety should be your #1 priority. You want to go home to your family.
2. Be comfortable. When you’re welding, you have to be comfortable.
3. Be proud of what you’re putting down as your work. When you’re done welding, look it over. I always double check everything that I do.
The next person that looks at it is going to see you in your work. You’re the face behind your work. You want to be proud of what you do.
She also advises women interested in the industry to develop tough skin. “In this industry, that means setting boundaries. Set the line of comfortability. Talk to that person before it goes too far. Better to do it one on one,” Kinnard says. “Men in this industry don’t always have a filter so it’s a good and a positive thing to make them aware of the weight of their words. Mutual respect goes a long way.”
What makes Kinnard really excited about the future of this industry is the upcoming generation of women coming into this industry. “When I started there were two women out of 3,000 men that I worked with so it’s nice to see new faces coming through and younger faces – women that know that they can do this job,” Kinnard says. “I come into work every day and I’m proud of what I do.”
Michelle Safieh, Owner/Operator, Elite Auto Recycling
Michelle Safieh first started in the auto recycling business about 10 years ago as her husband had been in the industry since he was a baby in diapers. Most recently she and her husband purchased the current location of Elite Auto Recycling five years ago to continue his family legacy, but also for their children’s future.
“We have put into our little place a lot of hard work, sweat and tears to make Elite Auto Recycling what it is today,” Safieh says.
The industry is ever-changing which means the Safieh’s business is required to also change with the times.
“We are a small location with less than 10 employees but we work hard every day Monday to Saturday to grow our business,” Safieh says. “We have a lot of loyal local customers who have been coming to this location for more than 30 years.”
Today, as a member of ARA, Safieh has stepped up her company’s requirements to meet today’s standards and continues to do so.
“The advice I would give to other women is that anything is possible – as my dream to own and operate an auto recycling facility came true, so can theirs with hard work and dedication,” Safieh says. “There are no limitations and I think women deserve more recognition in the industry.”
Rebecca Skowyra, Sales and Marketing, Recore Trading Company
Rebecca Skowyra is slightly embarrassed to admit it, but when she first started at Recore Trading, she did not know a single thing about converters or even automotive recycling.
“I have learned so much now and it’s always a bit satisfying when I get to be the one to teach some of the yards about converter processing and the importance of selling direct,” Skowyra says.
Part of Skowyra’s job is building relationships with salvage facilities and getting them top dollar for their converters. What she has found interesting is how so many yards do not know to sell direct to the converter processor.
“I get to teach them about the process and tell them how much more money they will make. I never in a million years thought I would ever teach any man about anything automotive related!” Skowyra says.
During her time in the automotive recycling industry, Skowyra has learned to not assume people know what you are talking about.
“There have been plenty of occasions where I have been talking to yards about selling direct and being paid based on assay – and some of the facility personnel did not know what assay meant or that they could sell direct to the processor,” Skowyra says. “As I mentioned before, I knew nothing about anything automotive related when I first started. So I thought everyone would know what I was talking about when I called them.”
“I’ve also learned that there is a lot of competition in the industry. A lot of our suppliers say they have buyers calling them nonstop. So I learned that it’s important to keep track of the markets and to not keep our suppliers waiting.”
Before Skowyra started working for Recore Trading, she worked as a medical coder – a female-dominated industry. It has been interesting for her to see the differences between working with all women versus working with mostly men.
“It was a little intimidating going in and having to be taught everything from my peers. I didn’t want to come off as weak. But my coworkers at Recore were very patient with me,” Skowyra says. “They were lighthearted about any mistakes I made as I was learning, and they are always willing to help.”
Outside of the co-worker experience she was nervous about calling some of the men in the industry (again, she didn’t want to come off as weak). But she realized they did not care that she was a woman so that settled the nerves.
“At the end of the day, they just want to make money and they don’t care if it is a man or woman who get them it. It is exciting to teach the guys about new technology or revolutionary methods. More recently, I had to inform some of our new suppliers about our enclosed system, and how that will increase their profits even more! Some have never heard about it. So it is very fun and exciting to be the one teaching them!”
Mitzi Waterbury, President, Sandhill Auto Salvage
By Sue Schauls
Stepping into the family business by marriage is always a challenge as many women in the industry know firsthand. Sandhill Auto Salvage was born out of the desire to offer better parts and better prices to local parts customers in Iowa. Over two generations, Sandhill built an excellent reputation by focusing on those goals daily. Owners Mike and Mitzi Waterbury are a husband and wife team that bring hard working family values to work every day. They are hands-on working along with the rest of the Sandhill team to offer guidance and focus on what Mitzi says is “the most important parts of our company; our customers, our parts and our staff family.”
Surprisingly, the best use of Mitzi’s social work degree is providing legendary customer service to used auto parts customers. That experience also helped shape the automotive salvage business as Mitzi carried that philosophy to the human resource side of the business, providing a benefits package to employees. Taking care of the team that cares for the business is important. “Our entire team works together to ensure that no detail is overlooked when it comes to our customers and our parts,” Waterbury says.
The advice Mitzi offers others is that maintaining the professionalism as auto recyclers will set you apart from the competition and help to quell the stigma in the industry.
“Understanding that customers are reaching out to you to solve a problem with a vehicle or to complete a repair job is an opportunity to provide customer satisfaction, so Sandhill Auto Salvage does everything in their power to make the parts buying process quick and pleasant,” Waterbury says. “Offering quality parts with a warranty is too. Like any profession, as auto recyclers we must stand behind the sale with outstanding parts warranties and follow up customer service. It is not about selling a part, it’s about gaining a lifelong customer.”
Rhonda Fanning, Co-owner, 43 Auto Salvage
In 1977, Rhonda Fanning’s husband wrecked her 1968 Opal Cadet and the couple bought a complete car to repair it.
“My dad told us we should do this and save some money since he was a novice body man and mechanic (really a minister). One car leads to two, three, four, and so on, much like many other yards’ humble beginnings. After that we started a body shop, then small salvage facility, which grew into today’s larger yard. I left my design job to join my husband in 1979 and he told me, ‘You can’t do this type of work because women don’t do this.’ I told him I was pretty sure I could!”
Fanning’s most unique role in the industry was probably being the only female salvage buyer back when she faced hurdles from every angle.
“Auctioneers would ignore my bid, use me as the auctioneer entertainment fodder, and other buyers would ask me why I was there and if I knew what I was doing,” Fanning says.
“Sometimes I didn’t, but I never admitted it because I figured they learned the same way I was learning. I am most proud that I did not let the naysayers keep me out of an exciting business. I learned quickly that even though those in charge wanted to shut me out because I was a novel threat to the guys, that money would talk! Good business acumen with the right funding will win every time. The industry finally had to let me play when I could pony up the most money for their product. Money was the tool that finally leveled the playing field for me.”
Through her experience in the auto recycling industry Fanning has learned that, first and foremost, a woman must know what she is worth in any industry.
“One very snowy morning all five yard guys called in saying they couldn’t get to work because of heavy snow. I made it in my 2WD and was the only one in the office, as well. A tall imposing cowboy customer came in with his big boots and hat looking for truck parts. I gave him the price quote, but he wanted to see the truck first,” Fanning says.
“I explained that I couldn’t leave the office to show him otherwise no one would be in the office to answer the phone. He insisted, but I kept refusing. He finally said, ‘Little lady, I am going to go run some errands and when I come back maybe one of the men will be here that knows something, and we can make a deal.’ I politely walked from behind the counter to meet him head on.
“Sir, run your errands, then come back. You will have to deal with me now or then because if the guys do come in, I am going to fire them for not coming to work in the first place.’ His expression and stammering were priceless. He did buy the parts.”
Fanning points out that the biggest hurdles for women in a male-dominated industry is often themselves. “Think you can and then go for it! And regardless of your position in this industry, owner or employee, dedication and work ethics are the key as in any other industry,” Fanning says. “There are resources out there to teach you the trade, but you bring the work ethic and dedication to the table. Always think bigger than you think you can do. Ask tons of questions, learn from the best, and jump in. Don’t be afraid because you have little to lose!”
Fanning admits that she would love to have entered this industry at today’s level of acceptance. Where money was the leveler between the sexes when Fanning started in the industry, today it is the Internet.
“Women have all the same exposure to buying, selling, and all business interactions as men through the Internet,” she says. “The type of industry is not as important as how you present and sell yourself to that industry. I think today, with all the new technology in automobiles, a woman would benefit from training on what a recycler will be facing with the new hybrids and electric vehicles. If she excels quickly on the new electric car front she can be way ahead of the game, regardless of gender.”
Fortunately, Fanning’s advice for a woman today going into the salvage industry would not be any different than going into any other industry.
“Those of us that trailblazed the way years ago, along with national changes, made it easier for woman today. Just bring your best stuff and you can do it.”
Amanda James, Manager (by end of 2021), Empire Abbotsford Recycled Auto & Truck Parts
Amanda James has always wanted to work for her family’s company, however she never had any background in the automotive industry. Five years ago, when she got an opportunity to work in the facility, she immediately said “yes.”
“When I started, I knew very little about car parts.
I started in the back inventorying cars, processing vehicles and then pulling parts,” James says. “I knew in order to make my way up in the company I had to know all aspects of the yard. I had to work harder than all the guys, in order to gain the respect and prove that even without background experience, with hard work and determination, I can make my way up to the counter, and down the road I can one day run the place.”
James has recently been accepted into B.C. Automotive Recyclers (B-CAR) Executive Committee, to follow her father’s footsteps. In 2013, her father, Neil James, Empire Abbotsford’s President received the inaugural Green Leader Award from the City of Abbotsford and the Rotary Club for his work in creating the policies and procedures that were used by the B.C. Automotive Recyclers (B-CAR) as their basis in developing an Environmental Code of Practice that was completed in 1995.
“Being a woman and the youngest of a crew of grown men has been a challenge, learning each personality and how to work with each individual has been an obstacle,” James says.
“I have had to learn to not take anything personally. My advice is to take all advice you are given.
I have learned to desensitize myself to criticism and only filter through the positive advice in order to gain more knowledge. You need to have thick skin. Working in an environment where the men are tough on you, in my experience, is the best thing for your ego and career, in making you stronger.”
So what is James most excited about in the future? “I’m excited to start running the store, changing the way men see women in this industry. I have big shoes to fill following my father’s footsteps, and I will stop at nothing, until I have achieved that.”
Becky Berube, President, United Catalyst Corporation
Becky Berube co-founded United Catalyst Corporation nearly 30 years ago with her husband, Tim Berube. The company offers the industry global processing and refining services for their scrap catalytic converters, oxygen sensors, electronic control modules (ECUs), and hybrid batteries.
“In truth, as a young woman in my twenties, I was not drawn to recycling. I was an accountant for a mutual fund company in Boston. My path was a winding one, like many women, with seasons in and out of the industry. I always maintained a financial role in our company until I left to work for a global refiner,” Berube says.
In 2011, Berube began traveling North America to work with recyclers and everything changed. It was then that she truly began to understand the auto catalyst recycling supply chain and developed a passion for helping recyclers get the most from their catalytic converters with the scientific method of determining the precious metals content inside of them, a process called assay. Two years after serving in this role, she was hired back to United Catalyst to serve as its President, and brought assay-based selling directly to automotive recyclers with 100 or more converters to recycle.
Becky is not one to sit still. Along with president of UCC, Becky also adds to her leadership in the industry in the following roles: Immediate Past President of the International Precious Metals Institute; Member of the Automotive Recycling Association’s (ARA) Educational Programming Committee; and Member of the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industry’s (ISRI) Auto Recycling Committee.
There are many aspects of the company’s program and Berube’s role in the industry that are unique. First, at United Catalyst Corporation all converters are sold on recovery or assay, they do not purchase whole-units. They believe this is the best process and the only way to recycle converters.
“Second, our process is completely scientific, and our results are validated through a third-party end-refiner or laboratory. Third, I am very proud of our ethical and internal processing standards which make us balance all the weights in and out of our facility for each recycler lot, and do not allow for dust loss or assay skimming which takes away money from the recycler,” Berube says. Finally, United Catalyst’s program is easy and accessible to all recyclers regardless of their size with the same scientific process. You only need 100 converters to sell on assay.
“I think my role as one of the first female presidents of a recycling company and an international association has been unique, but thankfully, it is becoming less so. I stand side-by-side with so many great women in our industry, Robin Wiener, Sandy Blalock, Fran Reitman, Gloria Mann, Shan McMillon, Natalie Miller, Theresa Colbert, Amanda Zmolek, Kim Glasscock, Jessica Andrews, Caryn Smith, all the ARA Staff, the Ladies of the Automotive Recycling Association (LARA), and ARA State Association Directors,” Berube says. “Forgive me if you are reading this and I left your name off. These are the women that I travel and work with most of the year.”
Ten years ago, Berube was the only woman in her own organization. Today, she is proud to say that six out of 10 people in her office are women: Rietje Lulsdorf, account executive; Matelyn Harris, senior customer success rep.; Angela Samuel, staff accountant; Kaleigh Davidson, customer success rep.; Elaine Berube, lab assistant; and Summer Cooper, office administrator.
“I am very excited about the future of our industry for everyone. I believe the recovery of critical technology materials from automobiles is on the rise for the foreseeable future,” Berube says.
“I believe the future of auto recycling will be more complex but present greater opportunities. I believe young professionals have a great career ahead of them in this industry. Most of all, I have learned from Winston Churchill and Ken Blanchard that it is always too soon to quit, and that none of us is as smart as all of us.”
Janice Schroder, Vice President of Marketing, Car-Part.com
As a teenager, Janice Schroder was often visiting local “junk yards,” as they were called in the day, looking for car parts for her ‘64 Buick Wildcat. Her “gearhead” friends and Janice would make a weekend of fixing their cars.
“By buying those less expensive recycled parts, we’d have some money left over for beer, making the tasks at hand much more enjoyable,” Schroder says.
In 1996 Schroder became involved with the auto recycling industry on a different level. Management systems were proprietary, so recyclers on different systems couldn’t view each other’s inventory, making trading parts prohibitive.
“Our brand new company, Car-Part.com, came up with a solution. We loaded inventory from various management systems onto the web, and created a platform where recyclers could trade with each other independently of management system constraints,” Schroder says.
Attending trade shows, Schroder learned a lot about recyclers. Made up mostly of family-run businesses, they were “down to earth” people who she quickly developed a deep respect for.
“It was a pleasure to offer software that helped them become more productive and profitable,” Schroder says. “Female mentors were pretty much nonexistent. I found the skills I developed long ago hanging with my ‘gearhead’ friends, which helped me feel fairly comfortable within this male-dominated industry. You can always dig back into your past to deal with what’s thrown at you now, or in the future.”
When asked what advice Schroder would give other women in the industry, she says, “Don’t focus on being one of a small group of women. People are people, the industry simply resembles life. Make the best of your natural skills, listen and learn, consider others’ perspective, be respectful and empathetic, try to solve problems in lieu of complaining about them, and focus on doing your best. And if all else fails, sit back and enjoy a beer.”
Angelimar Abreu, Assistant Manager, LKQ Pick Your Part
LKQ Pick Your Part’s assistant manager Angelimar Abreu never imagined that she would be working in this industry and actually enjoying it like she does.
“I got to my current position by working hard, challenging myself every day, learning and absorbing everything anyone wants to teach me,” Abreu says. “I also take advantage of every opportunity I get.”
For Abreu, her career path has looked like a “surprisingly fun and big gift” full of many different kinds of obstacles that she’s been able to overcome in a lot of different areas of her life. “I don’t consider I’ve done anything unique… yet. But I am proud of everything I’ve accomplished so far personally and with my team,” Abreu says. “I’m always aiming for more!”
“Working hard and always enjoying what you do pays off,” Abreu says. “And remember, not everything is black and white, there’s always more colors and options.”
Abreu also says one of the largest obstacles women in the automotive recycling industry face is fear and paying attention to the bad comments or vibes, which isn’t going to take you anywhere. She says it is important for women to never pay attention when someone tells you that you won’t be able to do something just because you have never done it before or for any other reason.
“It feels so good to prove them wrong and also to yourself,” Abreu says. “I get excited every day. I think it’s also exciting knowing that there are so many women interested or open to learning different things in this industry and keep growing.”
Jen Wilson, Owner, Jencey Consulting
Jencey Consulting provides training and consulting on Pinnacle Professional and speak on business topics at industry conferences. “As the owner, I had no idea where I’d end up in this industry. I bought parts from a salvage yard in high school when I bent a wheel, but did it on the advice of my shop teacher, as I took auto shop for basic vehicle maintenance,” Jencey (Jen) Wilson says. “Evidently it was a precursor to future events.”
Wilson was initially hired by Actual Systems of America (ASA) to do installations and training for their Pinnacle Classic product. She always felt there was a need for a better way for users in the industry to have some focused time learning their systems and so she decided to pursue those avenues.
“I built a training and consulting business, established in 2006, to help new hires and established yards gain more from their yard management system. Along the way I’ve been able to help some software vendors train their new customers and I’ve also made plenty of good relationships in this industry where I get invited to speak at state conferences, ARA and URG,” Wilson says. “Basically, just as our industry has its own unique niche I made one as well.”
In fact, being able to use the knowledge she’s acquired to be considered a ‘fixer’ at the user/software intersection has allowed Wilson to be able to help individuals and yards make the most of their businesses by finding those efficiencies with their YMS system.
“The thing I’m most proud of is the growth and sustainability that has been created in many of my clients’ businesses where I got to play a small but integral role in their success,” she says.
She also always longed for a culture and industry that accepted her for who I am, quirks and all, and the automotive recycling industry was it.
“We are an ‘industry full of stubborn people and we are all right’ is one of the phases I say to clients and others, and frankly – we are,” Wilson says. “There are so many smart and talented people – from part pickers to the big boss – that it is fascinating how everyone’s business has grown with each facilities unique culture.”
Advice Wilson gives other women entering the industry: “Tough it out! There will always be the initial barriers to prove oneself – it happens everywhere a woman goes. Just know that if you make it through the initial growing pains – your gender no longer matters – you are a voice like any other person and you have a place like everyone in this eclectic group of characters,” Wilson says. “There is value in knowing that you can have a place and not be judged based on gender.”
“This will accelerate as younger generations take over businesses, those ‘bromance’ relationships dissipate and women have a stronger stance. They will no longer be relegated to the sidelines or a desk job,” Wilson says. “We run businesses. We tend to be rather process driven and analytical in nature where, despite the stereotype of the ‘emotional woman,’ auto recycling is already uniquely passionate and women can often be a calming force. It’s finding facilities that embrace what women bring to the table and finding a balance to those contributions. It is not a man’s world by default – it’s OUR WORLD and we all make it what it is – so stand up and stay strong.”
Dee Adkins, Sales, M&M Auto Parts
Dee Adkins has been a part of the M&M Auto Parts team for over 35 years, starting from when she was still in high school. “I didn’t yet have my driver’s license so I actually rode here on a school bus, which dropped me out front. I had to run in here without being caught, because apparently you weren’t supposed to be dropped off in the middle of Route 1,” Adkins says.
At the time, Adkins was the only person to apply for her entry level position so she got the job. “I applied wearing a dress but soon found out that I didn’t need that dress because it was all men, all day, every day,” Adkins says.
At the time, in the Washington, D.C. area, there were only four to five women in the industry.
“The guys gave me a hard time, a really hard time. But Mrs. Morrow, who was an owner, didn’t put up with a lot of stuff from the men or from customers who treat the women here in the wrong way. Eventually they became my buddies and my friends.”
When Adkins began at M&M Auto Parts she knew very little about the industry. She had learned about cars from her dad who would have Adkins change parts as needed on their automobiles. “I would help with brakes and he made sure I knew how to change a flat tire, drive a stick shift and get around on my own,” Adkins says.
“We recycle everything at M&M and although now recycling is now considered ‘cool,’ I’ve been a green collar worker since 1985. Working here has been quite exciting. I never intended for this to turn into a full-time job, but I’ve stayed here because of the people I work with. Everything I have is because of this place. I’ve been able to do everything I’ve wanted to do here. It’s never a boring day at M&M.”