Linda Campbell has some good advice, for work and for life: Be yourself.
Campbell, director of sales at Entek Manufacturing, the compounding extruder manufacturer in Lebanon, Ore., started at the company in 1988 as a receptionist. While moving up, she learned the hard way the value of not playing a “role” you think is expected for the higher jobs.
Now Campbell gives the same advice: Never try to be somebody you're not, and your honesty will shine through. “But when you're starting off sometimes you feel that you need to slightly modify yourself, you feel the need to change yourself,” she said.
Campbell, 51, has traveled a winding path to her job heading machinery sales.
After high school, she didn't go to college. At first, she had a customer relations position at Continental Airlines. “I thought it was my lifelong dream, but I wasn't happy,” she said.
The Oregon native soon quit the airline. While figuring out what to do next, she got a job as a receptionist at Entek International. In 1988, Entek was still a young company making battery separators. In the mid-1990s, the firm spun off Entek Manufacturing to make extruders.
It may sound corny, she said, but she fell head over heels for manufacturing.
“I didn't really understand manufacturing growing up, but I instantly fell in love with it — understanding about taking raw materials and making a product and selling it and seeing that product on the line. I was hooked, and I knew I was going to be in manufacturing for my career.”
She worked in the shop and moved to accounting manager, overseeing shipping and receiving, and purchasing. She got a two-year degree in accounting in 1991.
Entek assigned her to the post of systems manager, where she oversaw the company's first computer tracking program for job costing. Campbell had to understand the entire process, including labor, utilities and extruder installation costs. She worked with customers, so it was a natural move to become regional sales manager.
Early-on, she worked the reception area for Entek's trade show booths. She watched male colleagues go into high-level sales meetings — and she got excited and nervous for them, and helped celebrate sales that resulted.
Fast forward to NPE, shortly after she was named regional sales manager: Now she was in the conference room. “It was a surreal moment to realize I had made it to that level,” Campbell said. “After the morning meeting, I went into the restroom to catch my breath.” She calls it a defining moment in her career, after lots of hard work. “I'll never forget how that moment felt.”
For the first several years in sales, Campbell said, she took a very passive approach, “understating” her knowledge. She thought that would make her connect with people better.
Eventually, Campbell learned that she was selling herself short.
“I've learned that people — men — are accepting of whoever has the knowledge to tell them. You don't have to lead with your gender. You still need to be a woman and women are different from men and that's a beautiful thing. But you don't have to assume that you're battling just because of your gender,” she said.
As director of sales, Campbell enjoys one other thing about the compounding extruder area: that capital equipment requires long-term business relationships.
“Once you form those relationships they are there for your whole career,” she said.