May 7, 2019

The Apple Doesn’t Fall Far from the Tree

Lisa O’Dell with her father Jim, the former vice president of technology for Ingersoll Rand, after accepting the STEP Award in Washington, D.C. “My dad is still a good sounding board for me when I have questions about manufacturing or managing people,” she said. “He’s always been supportive and a mentor for me.”

Ingersoll Rand's Lisa O’Dell receives STEP Ahead Award for Women in Manufacturing

As a recent college graduate, Lisa O’Dell didn’t see herself working in manufacturing, even though she’d already completed an internship at Ingersoll Rand’s former Power Tools headquarters in Liberty Corner, N.J. At the time, her father Jim was vice president of technology and oversaw all of Ingersoll Rand’s operations.

“I enjoyed my internship, but I wanted to work in what I considered to be more progressive industries,” Lisa said.

But she didn’t land a role in one of those industries, so Lisa accepted a Power Tools sales support role figuring she’d move on after two years.

Well, it’s almost 28 years later and Lisa is general manager of our Madison Heights, Michigan, facility, overseeing the operations and business development of custom and engineered-to-order products. She recently accepted the STEP Ahead Award from the Manufacturing Institute.

So, what happened? Why did she stay in manufacturing? Find out in this exclusive interview.

Q: Why did you stay in manufacturing?

Lisa: While supporting sales through marketing efforts, I realized that manufacturing offers so much opportunity. I got to see all different kinds of customers in the manufacturing world, and found it fascinating to see how things are made. There is constant change and every day is something new – I never get bored. I love the challenges of problem-solving and coming up with solutions. I discovered that manufacturing fits my personality much more than I had originally expected.

Q: What kept you coming back to sales? Why do you love it?

Lisa: I love the problem-solving piece. I’m also very competitive, and early in my career I worked with people who thought I couldn’t do it. So that made me dig in harder to prove them wrong. I also enjoyed seeing our customers’ different plants and helping them solve production challenges with the products we make. I do tend to get bored easily, and when you work in sales, every day is a new day.

Q: What is your take on women in manufacturing? What strengths do women bring to the table?

Lisa: This is a generalization, of course, but I believe women bring empathy to the workplace and are more likely to listen to more sides of a story before making a decision. I try not to jump to conclusions without taking other perspectives into consideration.

Q: Have you encountered any challenges in a typically male-dominated industry?

I’ve always had fun working in manufacturing – I didn’t have any expectations about being treated differently because I’m female. It never dawned on me that I couldn’t do something because of my gender.

But I have noticed that, sometimes during meetings with customers, the men would talk to my male colleagues as if they weren’t willing to accept that I was the one who had the answers. It’s an interesting dynamic. If they don’t think I have the credibility I know I do, I have to prove it to them in different ways.

Q: How do you prove your credibility?

Lisa: By always following through on what I say, and never committing to something I can’t do – and then explaining why. My credibility is very important to me.

About the STEP Ahead Awards

The STEP Ahead Awards are part of the Manufacturing Institute’s STEP women’s initiative to support women in science, engineering, production and technology careers and inspire more to join them. In a competitive field of more than 1,000 nominees, 130 women were recognized for outstanding achievements in their companies, communities and industry.

Women today account for less than a third of manufacturers (29 percent) despite representing almost half of all workers (47 percent). Women represent one of the largest pools of untapped talent for manufacturers. The STEP initiative taps STEP Award honorees and emerging leaders to inspire girls in the next generation to dream of what they can do through manufacturing, closing manufacturing’s gender gap and skills gap at the same time.

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