Ascendum Machinery general manager Kristin Parker didn't want to wear a suit every day.
The buttoned-up apparel wasn't the only thing she found restricting. Her parents wore suits every day to banking and finance jobs. After graduating summa cum laude from Western Carolina University with her MBA, she interviewed with Bank of America in Charlotte — a sea of suits.
Instead of dressing the part, Parker decided to look for a career that suited her better.
While interviewing with Bank of America, she came across the Carolina Tractor & Equipment Company, which was looking for an IT specialist for its engine division.
"I was ready to shed the suit and really work for a living. Being able to work and not play the part I've seen my parents play really struck me," said Parker. "I have always had an affinity for hard work, working outdoors and finding solutions. This was the business for me."
Parker began her career at Carolina Tractor & Equipment as a TEPS manager in 1994. She spent 16 years in various roles including parts manager, Six Sigma deployment champion and vice president of product support. She rose to the rank of vice president of asset management and rental, in which she was responsible for new, used and rental equipment assets. She also led the successful growth of a young business unit, CATRental Store, with revenues of more than $15 million, by implementing a strategic business plan.
"The thing that kept me intrigued is I didn't know anything about the business," she said. "I was a sponge. Learning intrigued me. Construction gets in you and that's what you do."
She tells people during job interviews that they may have no idea about the construction business, but if they get into it, they'll never get out.
"It grows on you, mostly because you meet so many different people."
In 2011, Parker became vice president of sales and marketing with Ascendum Machinery, a Volvo Construction Equipment dealer with more 15 locations across the southeast and North Dakota.
As vice president of sales and marketing, she was responsible for new and ancillary product lines distributed by Ascendum and 23 sales representatives over five states and coverage plans for all product lines.
She was appointed general manager for North Carolina and upstate South Carolina in September 2018.
Still, no suit is required. Parker lists interacting with customers as one of the most satisfying aspects of the job. Just recently she said she met with a customer in South Carolina who first sat in the cab of his father's dozer when he was five years old.
"He's in his 70s now," Parker said. "He worked his whole life to be in the business."
She also received a call from a customer who had inherited his company from his father, who himself had been in the business for years.
"You work with so many different people and they all have different styles of how they purchase and how they run their businesses," Parker said. "It's always intriguing. They are like snowflakes in that no two are alike.
"Listening to many customers over the years helps me be the best that I can be. If you listen, customers will tell you exactly what they want and it makes our efforts more focused and worthwhile. We always try to get some nugget of feedback from the customer and we always go back to Volvo with it. With Volvo, the quality is the best. They are very customer-centric and we are fortunate to have a strong manufacturer that stands behind any decision we make."
Parker's path to becoming a business development executive consisted of a wide range of roles and the ability provide direction and leadership to employees at various levels in an ever-changing business environment.
"I had a lot of good mentors," she said. "Different people saw something and have given me chances. They saw I put the hard work in and I love it so I didn't get held back a lot. I was presented with opportunities and took them and ran as hard as I could with them."
Parker admitted identifying a mentor in any field isn't easy, and finding someone with integrity was a key factor.
"I've learned as much from people who didn't have a good reputation and didn't handle situations well as I have from my actual mentors," she said. "Keep your eyes open. Finding a mentor is difficult because it's hard to trust someone with your career path."
Work-life balance is also a major challenge. Parker doesn't take regular vacations, and when she does, she doesn't feel that she can "turn it off" until the second day of the trip.
"I think the biggest thing is having a support network at home who realize you are a go-getter," she said. "I get the conversations that you are always on the phone or that they only see the top of my head looking at the computer. It is the biggest struggle."
When Parker speaks to groups, she encourages her listeners to work with a team that loves the business. For her, the biggest wins are contributed to seeing others succeed.
"Have thick skin and work hard," she said. "In the construction industry, there are no handouts for men or women. It is hard work and you have to love what you are doing. Our business is built on relationships, and your reputation and respect for others is paramount. Work with enthusiasm and integrity. Be excited every day to work beside a team of folks that love the business as much as you do."
(Editor's note: Construction Equipment Guide will be publishing occasional articles on women leaders in the construction industry throughout 2019)