How One Woman Broke Into the Auto-Supply Industry

MIDLOTHIAN, Ill. ( TheStreet) -- Barbara Moran-Goodrich, CEO of Moran Family of Brands, grew up in the transmission business founded by her father. But that connection wasn't always helpful.

Moran Industries was launched more than three decades ago by her father, Dennis. The company is part of the $300 billion aftermarket-supply industry and comprises six brands: Alta Mere, Dr. Nick's Transmissions, SmartView Window Solutions, Mr. Transmission, Multistate Transmissions and Milex Complete Auto Care. There are 140 franchised units across the U.S.

Moran started working there as a teenager as she went to art school and soon found that she enjoyed her job despite the male-dominated industry, and quickly moved to positions of greater responsibility.

Even though her father increasingly relied on her skills (she helped him move the business into franchising by acquiring troubled companies to bring under the Moran umbrella), Moran always worked under a cloud: Her father made it clear that she would never be in an executive position at the company.

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When she was pregnant with her first child in the late 1980s, her father even went so far as to fire her so that she could stay home with the baby.

That did not deter Moran. She went to work in government for the first female state representative in Illinois, Jane Barnes. Later, as she was looking to start her own business, fate stepped in the way. After Moran herself went through cancer, her father ended up having a quadruple bypass and a stroke in 1998. Her father sent her on a mission to find someone to run the company for them since it was clear he would not be able to return to work in the same capacity.

They hired consultants to help choose someone and, after three days, the consulting group decided it was she who should run the company. Her father finally agreed.

Shortly after she moved into the president position, she went to work on new initiatives that would be more family-friendly. Two years ago, she bought out her parents' positions in the company. Moran renamed the company Moran Family of Brands and has started to put initiatives in place to draw more female and younger customers.

Stores will go through the training in order to better understand how women view car repairs and how to help educate women on cars. The company will be offering classes to teach customers basic car repair and maintenance, she says.

"We're very focused on family, women, children and educating them on their vehicles," Moran says.

Moran, who just remarried in March, has five teenagers.

October is National Women's in Small Business Month. As the small business community celebrates, a conversation with how Moran made her mark follows:

Did you always know you would work with your dad?

Moran: I had worked for him on and off when I was younger and just little projects. When I was in college, I started working for him as a summer job and I really found that I loved business. I was going to art school at the time. I started with him as his receptionist and I moved very quickly to bookkeeping and moved up to office manager. It was a transmission business. He made me learn all the different parts of a transmission. It was so boring and I said I'm not going to use this. He said you need to know what these parts mean. So I did. As I grew up in the transmission industry, I really enjoyed working in the environment. But at the time, women were not prevalent in the automotive aftermarket. It was very difficult, actually.

Your story is interesting because you are a CEO of a company that is in a traditionally male-dominated world. Where did the challenges lie and how did you resolve them? Were you less respected as a leader because you are a woman?

Moran: In the beginning, the relationship was one where usually the men did not want to hear what you had to say, and I had to have a thick skin and I had to learn to have tenacity and persistence. It was frustrating to have many moments making you feel as if you were inadequate or incapable. I had to learn how to not take it personally and I had to learn how to find ways around it.

I remember going out on the road to visit franchisees and I had brought an employee with me who was from the grass industry. I grew up in the transmission industry. We went to the meeting at the franchise and the franchisee would not speak to me or direct the conversation to me ... I thought it was funny because the other employee didn't know anything about transmissions. I ended up calling him and saying how would you feel if your daughter was running a business and people treated her that way. It dawned on him.

He still felt that I needed to prove that I knew what I was talking about and it took a while. Today he is a very good friend and one of my very good franchisees and he does not deny he did not give me the time of day.

What advice would you give to career-oriented women?

Moran: Many women in executive positions that are single and have children ... If you don't have family to help support you, you need to really build a network around you with friends and don't be afraid to ask for help. That was my biggest problem. I had such trouble asking for help after my divorce and that's why I say it was so important that I hired someone to help me because I had trouble asking friends and neighbors. I didn't want to bother them.

What's the best piece of advice you received for your role as executive in this industry?

Moran: When I went to work for the government for the state of Illinois under former state Rep. Jane Barnes . She was the first female state representative in Illinois. She had been in her position for 19 years. She became one of the guys, and they really respected her. She told me if you think and you focus on the glass ceiling or you focus on that they're not being responsive, if that's what your focus is, then that's always going to be your focus. You have to move past it.

When it really boils down to it, if you perceive a glass ceiling, if you perceive barriers, then they will be there.

How can we get more women to become successful entrepreneurs and CEOs of their own companies?

Moran:I believe in mentorship. I was mentored by Jane. She also included me in a group called Women in Government. It allowed me an opportunity to meet very well-grounded women in politics.

There needs to be a women's mentorship organization that is developed across the country where you have actual monthly meetings and you have a forum of women to talk to, are able to work with in problem solving and give you guidance. I am actually mentoring right now two women. More women need to be doing that.

Are you making your kids read the transmission book?

Moran: No, I did not, but I shared with my daughter books I told her she needed to read. She's very independent. She designed my wedding dress for my second wedding. It's one of those moments where you say 'Wow. This is an amazing accomplishment.' I'm so proud.

Her intention is to own her own business and she already talked with other designers. She's already calculating out how much it's going to cost her to start it.

-- Written by Laurie Kulikowski in New York.

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