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Like Hell We'll Sell!

"Sherry Rutech"

When the head of the family business suddenly dies and you find yourself with a multi-million dollar business to run, what do you do? Run it yourself-or take everybody's advice and sell it?

Sherry Rutech, a 21-year-old University of Calgary student at the time, faced a dilemma. Her mother and sister wanted to sell. Sherry had no business experience.

"But no way was I going to allow anybody to sell the business my Dad spent 16 years building up. To heck with that. Dad worked too hard to build up the company."

Trans-Mutual Truck Lines of Calgary had 35 employees and was doing $3 million in sales in 1983 when founder John Rutech died suddenly of a heart attack. As determined as she was, this was not going to be an easy job for the new lady boss. The employees did not cotton to the idea of a young, inexperienced woman taking over.

"I was terrified. Meeting with the staff the first time was one of the worst days of my life. But I got through that crisis and after that, although they still didn't like me, they tolerated me. It took time to earn their respect."

It wasn't just the employee's respect she had to earn. Cominco, the huge mining and smelting company, was Trans-Mutual's best customer. Tough customers too.

"I met 16 of them in their boardroom. I thought I'd die. They asked me so many tough questions. I knew that if I failed the truck line would fail too because without Cominco we couldn't survive."

Sherry must have impressed the Cominco bosses because they stayed with Trans-Mutual. In fact, Trans-Mutual maintained the $3 million a year in total sales established by her father, and Sherri cut $150,000 a year in operating costs. She made other changes, the most important of which was the installation of a computer.

"It's made a phenomenal difference."

But the real success for Sherry was the people she works with.

"You have to hold on to the people who support you, the people who believe in you. Without them, I would never have made it."

What would she do differently if she took over today knowing what she knows now?

"I would be more patient. Take more time making decisions, not making decisions just for the sake of making decisions." She also believes after seven years in the driver's seat of the company, that keeping customers happy is absolutely essential.

"It's been tough at times, but we've managed to do it."

The only female president of a trucking company in Alberta, Sherry at the ripe old age of 28 in 1991, does not know how to drive a truck. Although she told me she did try once and decided she was an administrator.

What does she think about women's chances in the trucking industry?

"It's more difficult to manage a home if you are a driver. It means missing the school concert. Sometimes you don't see your family for days or weeks at a time. It takes a pretty special woman to be able to do it for a living.

"There are lots of tough women out there right now driving the big rigs, but it takes more than strength to exist in that male world. There is still a lot of male resentment against women drivers."

Sherry feels that the times are changing, just as attitudes are changing in other areas of the trucking industry. Towards the environment, for example.

"There are more and more concerns being expressed about pollution and keeping the environment safe. The government guidelines are getting stricter and drivers are too becoming aware of cleaner fuels and about the hauling of hazardous materials. I think things are getting better."

Sherry Rutech went from a 21-year-old university student with no business savvy to President of a large trucking company. She learned the business as she went along. She admits she made mistakes but she figures she learned from them. If she had it to do over, would she?

"You bet!"

She's another Canadian Achiever.

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