The most effective way to do it, is to do it. — Amelia Earhart
Since this month’s issue is centered around women in the HVACR industry, I chose to focus my article on a person whose success I had heard about for many years, but perhaps only met one or two times. Her name is Terri Surber, and she is the branch manager of the Columbus, Ohio, branch of Progress Supply Inc., a multi branch HVAC/ Refrigeration wholesale distributor headquartered in Cincinnati.
Terri did not grow up in the business, as is common in our industry, but like many of us, including yours truly, kind of backed into the business by taking advantage of an opportunity, which then progressively lead to many other opportunities. She started out thinking she wanted to be a special education teacher, but found early on that was not for her, so she accepted a job in 1980 as a computer operator at Williams & Company in Columbus, when they moved into computerizing their operations for the first time.
From there she moved into a clerical position in the refrigeration department, and then into sales. Her knowledge of the industry and refrigeration products then led to positions at Johnstone Thermal Supply and, eventually, Progress Supply, where she has always held the position of branch manager. For a period of time the total inside sales force of the branch was all women with one outside salesman that is still there today.
“That was a great time and all of us had so much fun.” said Surber, and, I might add, they were incredibly successful. One of her inside sales team was lost to motherhood, and the other to relocating with her husband. Today there are 10 people in the branch and two are women.
When asked her advice to encourage other women to investigate and pursue careers in the HVACR industry, Surber shared that if one has the right attitude, is open to every opportunity to learn and is committed to providing service, anyone can go far.
In hiring, she looks for individuals who have the right mindset and attitude. Any employee with those attributes can be taught the skills and the HVAC technology to be successful. The challenges would include the need to prove yourself and the need to have a “thick skin for the occasional customer who doesn’t take you seriously, or may not want to talk with a woman.
But, like it or not, that is part of the business since the majority of customers are male, whether business owners, mechanics or technicians. That is changing, but not very quickly.
When asked how Terri would characterize her career, she said, “I believe that I have been truly blessed — this industry is full of great people, challenges, opportunities and no day is the same. It is indeed fun!”
Additionally she has made incredible friends with her customers over the years. In getting to know them and their families she stated, “I have made a ton of baby blankets as their families have grown. The business is truly all about service and relationships.”
Based on the phone interview with Surber, I have to say that I could tell the minute we started to talk that she is outgoing, confident and genuine — all traits that I know have helped her continuing success in a business that has always been male dominated. (Hopefully some of the thoughts in this article may help to change that situation because in my opinion women are missing some great career possibilities by not investigating our industry.)
Having headed up an HVACR wholesale distributor for a number of years and then HARDI, I can attest to the fact that there are not enough women employed in sales, operations and administration, not only in distribution, but throughout the industry. I can attest that the women I know who are employed in such positions are outstanding professionals that are extremely motivated and successful, just as Surber is.