Nowhere is the progress of women in the tire business more visible than in the various dealer associations at the state, regional and national levels. No longer merely just present at such gatherings, women now are asserting themselves in leadership roles at every association level.
Marcia Guttilla, of Golden Mile Tire in Monroeville, Pa., for example, is the first woman ever to serve as president of the Western Pennsylvania Tire Dealers Association, a group for which her husband, Carl, also was president years earlier.
Carol Gyuriak of GVW Tire Inc. in South Bend, Ind., is president-elect of the Indiana Tire Dealers & Retreaders Association and expected to take over the helm of that group in 1997.
And Diane Byrne of Boulevard Tire Co. in Kansas City, Kan., is vice president of the Western Division of the Missouri Tire Dealers & Retreaders Association.
All three hold positions never before filled by female association members.
Likewise, the National Tire Dealers & Retreaders Association, which now has five women on its board of directors, also is expected to install its first female president in the fall of 1997.
Working her way up through the traditional ``chairs'' en route to the national association's highest elective office is Pamela A. Fitzgerald, president of Mike Gatto Inc. in Melbourne, Fla.
Ms. Fitzgerald presently is serving as the NTDRA's first vice president and a member of the board of directors. If all goes as expected, she will be installed as president-elect this fall at the NTDRA's Atlanta convention and as president the following year in Las Vegas.
Undoubtedly, the historical significance of her election will not go unnoticed, considering the NTDRA has existed more than three quarters of a century without ever having a woman president.
Yet the experience of becoming the national association's first female president should prove nothing new to Ms. Fitzgerald, a mother of three who heads the business founded by her father, Mike Gatto, in 1972.
Ms. Fitzgerald also was the first woman ever to hold the presidency of the Florida Independent Tire Dealers & Retreaders Association, serving two terms in office in 1991-92. During her tenure, she helped found the Brevard County Tire Dealers Association for dealers in her local market.
The NTDRA's current president, Paul Bobzin of La Canada Tire in La Canada, Calif., said he's ``really excited'' about the pending presidency of Ms. Fitzgerald, whom he describes as a ``bright star who will bring some positive things to our association and the independent tire dealer.''
Virtually all the female officeholders interviewed on the subject said they believe women bring something valuable and new both to association leadership and the tire business in general.
``What you're doing is getting a different viewpoint from a different gender,'' said Barbara Bauer of Bauer Tire Inc., Spencer, Ind., and a board member of the Indiana Tire Dealers & Retreaders Association:
``Where men want solutions, we women want to talk both sides,'' she said. ``We want to play the devil's advocate and do what is the fairest thing.''
To illustrate, Ms. Bauer cited a typical discussion between male and female board members regarding a proposed salary raise for the association's director: ``Where a man might say: `That's more than a 10-percent increase,' we women will say: `Yes, but look at all the new members he's brought in. Also, he's devoting full time to the job and gave up his own business in order to do so.'
``We point out a different side of such issues, and that opens up a lot of eyes.''
The increased input associations are getting from women members is valuable in today's changing business world, she said, because: ``We need to look at problems from all sides in order to come up with answers.''
Marcia Guttilla likewise thinks a women's perspective is important, since so many of today's consumers are female.
Men no longer are the sole buyers of tires for their wives and daughters, she pointed out. Today, many women are independent and make these purchases on their own. And often, they're more comfortable dealing with a woman.
As a group, most of those contacted felt women are more visible in association activities today because they also are more active in business and the market at large.
Although many of today's most successful dealerships were launched years ago as husband-wife operations, the women involved often worked anonymously in the back room keeping the company's books, said NTDRA board member Lorraine Anderson of Anderson Tire Service in Arvada, Colo.
``I think the men in those days never wanted anyone to know their wives worked in the business,'' said Ms. Anderson. And because of this, women weren't as visible in the tire business then, she said.
Interestingly, Mmes. Anderson, Guttilla and Gyuriak all entered the tire business and became dealer association members while working with their husbands, in some cases by launching such businesses in their respective homes.
Yet none of the three found themselves laboring anonymously in the shadow of their husbands.
Perhaps typical of most women officeholders interviewed, Ms. Guttilla became involved in association activities by accompanying her husband to local meetings.
``Our association, back when it was started, was largely a good-ol'-boys organization and women were kind of excluded,'' Ms. Guttilla recalled.
It was not until the 1970s that most women started to feel welcome at the meetings, she said. And even then it was usually at ladies night.
``But I never abided by those rules,'' laughed Ms. Guttilla. ``There were a few of us who went anyhow.''
``I remember walking into my first association meeting about 22 years ago, I was the only woman there,'' recalled Ms. Anderson, a past president of the Mountain States Tire Dealers Association.
``When we first started with the association, I was complimented for being with my husband at early morning meetings. I thought this was ridiculous because I'm in the business every day and association meetings are very important to me. You learn things and exchange ideas.''
Several of those interviewed felt dealer associations could assist members of both sexes by providing convention programs dealing with the issues facing not only dealers and their spouses, but those involved in family tire businesses as a whole.
Ms. Gyuriak said the annual combined convention of the Indiana and Illinois associations sometimes
has offered open forums during which female attendees were invited to discuss any family-oriented topic or situation they encountered in the course of doing business.
These discussions were always helpful she recalled. ``When you're a husband-and-wife team, the business doesn't stop at 5 p.m. It goes right home with you. And trying to balance all that and not let it take over your whole life isn't easy.'' Those discussions also ``made you aware you weren't the only one'' wrestling with such questions, she said.
There ought to be seminars in which dealers' wives could discuss what they and their husbands are going through, suggested Ms. Bauer, who thinks the contribution made by the dealer's spouse too often is overlooked or trivialized.
Ms. Bauer said she believes wives would be very interested in learning what is going on psychologically and emotionally. For example, why their husbands don't talk after returning home from a long day's work.
``It's still a very heavy load those wives are carrying,'' Ms. Bauer said. Yet typically when they attend association conventions they're treated as if they had nothing at all to do with the business' success and, in effect, are told to ``Go shop, honey.''