A panel of female business leaders shared insights and challenges during the “Driving Your Business: Women at the Wheel” event on Oct. 17 at the Westchester Country Club in Rye.
Kristina Benza, president and CEO of County Fabricators, urged attendees of the event to take time for themselves, no matter how much they have on their plate.
“It’s a lot easier said than done,” said Benza, whose Pleasantville company has completed more than $12 million of work on the new Mario M. Cuomo Bridge. “The world is not going to come crashing down on you if you leave at 4:30 one day to go get a manicure or pedicure.”
Benza, who used her life savings to buy out her father’s shares in the company to become its majority owner, said her upbringing as one of three daughters helped shape her outlook on her career.
“(My father’s) motto was kind of, ‘Well, my daughters can do everything my sons would have done,’” she recalled, adding that “there was never any sexism in my house.”
Still, Benza is not blind to the role her gender can sometimes play in her field. She recalled a recent trip to a trade show she attended with her uncle, Philip, who is her company’s chief marketing officer.
“I was starting to realize that nobody was talking to me,” she said of the various salespeople at the trade show. “And then my uncle would walk over to see what I was doing and they would flock to him.”
Stacey Tompkins, president of Putnam Valley-based Tompkins Excavating, told attendees that maintaining a strong company culture is also important for business leaders.
“My motto is that no prima donnas are allowed anymore in our company,” she said. “It’s very important when I’m interviewing every single person that comes through the door, we speak about our culture.”
Part of her company’s culture includes reading books and having weekly discussions. “I’m very honest with people right up front, if you’re not comfortable with this, then don’t work here.” Tompkins said.
At County Fabricators, Benza makes sure to keep a list of her employees’ birthdays and celebrate those yearly milestones.
“We get a cake and we gather everybody around and we do a whole birthday thing,” she said. “You don’t realize how important those little things are to people.”
Connecting with other women, both within and outside of their respective industries, is also key for each of the panelists.
“You can ask so many questions, and you can contribute,” Maryann Croce, owner of the Norwalk auto repair shop, Croce’s Transmission Specialists. “There are so many skills that you take for granted — we just tend to do that.”
During the event, which was presented by Citrin Cooperman & Co. LLP, panelists also imparted advice they wished they could share with their younger selves.
“To my younger self, I would say ‘Take a stand,’” said Croce.
Tompkins had similar words of wisdom for her younger self.
“I wish someone had told me that ‘No’ is okay,” she said.