A New Tradition: ‘If your destiny is to go into this business, you will find that inspiration’
EDITOR’S NOTE: The News and Press will be running several stories in a series on women who work in male-dominated industries. Sometimes called non-traditional workers, these women found jobs and careers that they love and didn’t let gender stereotypes keep them from pursuing their passions.
By Melissa Rollins, Editor, firstname.lastname@example.org
Julie Hucks knows that when people imagine the manager at the Mike Reichenbach auto body shop, she likely isn’t what they picture. With long blonde hair and a southern drawl straight out of Aynor, she knows that she stands out in the male-dominated field. For more than a decade though, she’s shown that she can hold her own in the office and in the shop.
“I was at Beach Ford for ten years and that is where I got into my field,” Hucks said. “I feel like I grew up there as a manager. You really have to love what you do; you have to be inspired by it. I love to serve and that really helps me because I love to help people. I go the extra mile to help people and it makes a difference. To find someone that is interested in a field that is abnormal for their sex, you really have to have a passion for it to be able to go into it and excel, to see a difference, to be different.”
Hucks said that she has always had an interest in the way things work and how they are built, something she credits to growing up on a tobacco farm and to being her daddy’s little tomboy.
“We lived on a farm and he would tear a tractor apart and we had to put it back together so I’ve always had some of that skill level, which has helped me with this job,” Hucks said. “It is also what attracted me to this job; I’m not just sitting at a computer desk. I’m walking outside and I’m going through everything with the technicians.”
Hucks said that learning about cars was not much different than that tractor, her dad showed her and then she was on her own.
“I remember when I was going through my divorce and I needed to change the spark plugs in my truck; I was about 26 or 27,” Hucks said. “My daddy told me what to get and he changed the first one for me. He showed me how to change the second one, watched me do it and then walked off and left me. It took me almost half a day to do something that should have taken me two hours but I was so proud of myself because I could do it.”
That sense of accomplishment is something that Hucks said she wants others to experience. Bringing in new people has helped her to have that same teaching relationship with her employees.
“Sometimes you’ve got kids that come in and they’re only here for a moment,” Hucks said. “Then there are the kids and they’ve been raised with nothing and they know nothing, they’ve never had anything, but then you show them that they can make money and be prosperous. They understand that they can take one thing and turn it into something else. They figure out they can change their own oil, their own brakes. That makes them feel really great.”
Hucks said that she feels being a woman has been as asset in her job as manager.
“Women tend to be more detail-oriented,” Hucks said. “We see things differently.”
Being the manager of the shop, Hucks said she serves as both mom and dad to her employee’s.
“I feel like I’m the mom to everyone here but then I also have the responsibilities of the dad,” Hucks said. “They are in my care. I have to make sure that they have work so that they can provide for their families. I have to keep up their confidence but I also have to keep them in check because they’ll push it. They’ll push you. I try to be nice to everyone and I try to remember that the first time I’m mean to somebody, God is going to make me learn to walk in their shoes and I don’t want to walk in their shoes. I try to be nice but they have to know that this is what I need, this is what I want and this is what I expect. As a woman I think I have to work harder because you have to gain your respect.”
Simply being in the workforce, Hucks said, meant she had to work against others’ expectations for her.
“My mom and everyone is stay-at-home moms so when I got a public job and I got my divorce, it was frowned upon,” Hucks said. “My ex-mother-in-law said that she would pay for me to stay home but I didn’t want that. I wanted my own individuality; I wanted a career. I needed it for myself. As women, we tend to blend into our families, our friends, our husbands and we don’t even know who we are. Then you take your kids away or your husband leaves you and you’re lost. That’s the same way at work: you have to work hard and you have to earn that respect. Even though I’m a woman, I have to be firm in my command.”
Hucks said that body shops have changed a lot over the years because vehicles have changed. She also said that someone working in the field could make a good living.
“There is good money in this field,” Hucks said. “There are not a lot of body guys; we pretty much have to grow our own. It used to be that you’d grow up in a Mom and Pop shop and it was an art. Now, it isn’t as much of an art. Metals react differently. With Ford, we have a lot of aluminum now. It changes the way we can repair a vehicle.”
Hucks said that she would encourage young girls to enter the field, either in the shop or the office, regardless of the fact that they might be outnumbered.
“I went into the business and I did not have a clue what I was doing,” Hucks said. “The first few weeks into my first job I thought I’d never learn the computer system and my best friend told me that I would get it. When I fell into it, I just ran. Take all the training that you can. I didn’t just take classes that would benefit me; I sat in classes with my bodyman. I learned alignment specs and tested higher than the guys who knew how to do the suspension on the car. I stood beside them; that’s how I gained their respect.”
Her best advice for anyone, young women or men, is to find something that you love to do.
“You have to find something that you love,” Hucks said. “For me, I don’t love cars but I have a love for people. People have needs. When they come here, they need me to help them. They need my knowledge of insurance, of the accident repair process and every bit of the information that I’ve gathered over the years. If you are interested, get somewhere you can be close to it, whatever aspect it is. It will either inspire you or it will kill that flame. If your destiny is to go into this business, you will find that inspiration.”