Pamela A. ``Pam'' Fitzgerald-in line to become the first female president of the National Tire Dealers & Retreaders Association two years from now-is just ``one of the guys'' where her fellow dealers are concerned. She's ``not comfortable'' with such politically correct terms as ``chairperson'' or ``chair.'' Nor is it necessary, Ms. Fitzgerald said, to address her as ``Madam Chairwoman'' if she should happen to be conducting a committee meeting.
``Chairman is just fine,'' wrote Ms. Fitzgerald, replying to the ``Survey of Women Tire Dealers'' sent out by TIRE BUSINESS in preparation for this section.
She's currently serving as the NTDRA's first vice president, en route to the presidency. If all goes as expected, she'll be named president-elect at the association's Atlanta convention in September and president the following year in Las Vegas.
``When you talk to Pam, you don't think about whether she's male or female, she's just a tire dealer,'' said current NTDRA President Paul Bobzin, of La Canada Tire in La Canada, Calif.
``She's bright and very thorough and knowledgeable about the business.*.*.*.*She brings a lot to our group.''
President of Mike Gatto Inc., the Melbourne, Fla.-based dealership founded by her father and business partner, Ms. Fitzgerald said she's always felt welcome at dealer association functions, even when the only woman present.
``I speak their language,'' said Ms. Fitzgerald, who won't be stereotyped while balancing the demands of being a wife and mother, as well as company president.
After being appointed several years ago to the NTDRA's board of directors, she said, ``the first job they gave me was to plan the spouse events at the convention. I had to laugh, since I was the only woman in the group. So I said: `I'll be happy to do that, but I'm not a spouse at this event-my husband is the spouse. Ask him what he'd like to do.' ''
At that time, these events were generally referred to as the ladies' program. ``I got the name changed to spouse program,'' said Ms. Fitzgerald, who 23 years ago went to work for her father, Mike Gatto, on a ``temporary basis''-and never left.
``He asked me to come and help him for two weeks, so he wouldn't have to hire in haste,'' she recalled. ``Then he wouldn't let me leave.''
Today, it's Ms. Fitzgerald who's running the dealership and trying to interest her own children in the tire business-which she believes is underappreciated and undersold as a career opportunity.
In fact, look for the NTDRA's first woman president to place a high priority on improving the industry's image in this regard after she takes office in 1997.
Her oldest son, 27-year-old Mike-the only one of her three children presently working for the family business-manages the company's Merritt Island, Fla., store. He started out working part time delivering tires while in high school and college and has been with the company full time since 1992, following a two-year stint as a stock-broker.
Ms. Fitzgerald said she didn't encourage any of her children to get into the business ``because I wanted them to see what else was out there.''
For one thing, she explained, ``I encouraged them to find something that maybe would give them more free time. However, Mike called me and said: `Mother, I'm working a hundred hours a week. I'd just as soon be in the family business.'
``Mike's been a real asset for us,'' she added. ``He works hard and is very bright.''
Her second son, Scott, is 25 and married. He has an undergraduate degree in agriculture and runs a tomato-packing plant in Boca Raton, Fla.
Her daughter, Allison, age 22, has an undergraduate degree in psychology and is working toward her master's.
Allison probably will go into industrial organizational psychology, Ms. Fitzgerald said, but ``she's been fighting against the fact that she is a businesswoman ever since she was a little girl.
``I guess she doesn't want to be like her mother,'' said Ms. Fitzgerald, who makes no secret of the fact that she'd welcome all three of her children into the business.
``I think our industry is lacking not only good women, but good people,'' Ms. Fitzgerald said. ``As an industry, I think we've done a bad job of letting kids know there's money to be made here and a lot of interesting work.''
And that's something she'd like her NTDRA administration to focus on when she takes office, because ``attracting good people is one of the most difficult jobs we have.''