Antoinette Babek has been in the retreading business with her husband for more than 20 years. They are equal partners-he is in charge of sales and marketing; she in bookkeeping and bank loan negotiations. But as so often experienced by husband-and-wife teams, the husband is usually regarded as the real boss.
``The biggest challenge was that people never perceived me as a partner of the business-just as `Bill's wife,' '' said Mrs. Babek of Babek Commercial Tire Service in Avenel, N.J.
But when customers direct account-related questions to her husband, Mrs. Babek said he will ``turn the people back to me.'' Her husband's support in this way has ``made the path a little easier on my side.''
Even when dealing with banks, her area of responsibility, Mrs. Babek has encountered bank officials who only wanted to deal with her husband. And when the couple would visit their former bank, the conversation was always directed to her husband.
That changed when her company switched banks and began working with a young male loan officer ``who has no problem dealing with me,'' she said. Most of the banking work is now handled by the company's comptroller, but the loan officer ``will call me for important questions.''
She has noticed that the younger generation of men are more accepting of women in business and in management. And more women are getting interested in the commercial tire business.
Of Babek Tire's 80-plus employees, 10 are women, including an assistant manager, store manager and general manager.
The general manager, Penny Chung, has been involved in Babek's retreading operation for nine years and is now in charge of staffing.
Mrs. Babek admits commercial truck tire centers-where workers and the work can get dirty-are very unappealing. She said she would never want to work in one, but Ms. Chung has had no problem staffing those locations with women.
``There are women who are very intelligent who like to be around that (environment),'' she added.
The company would like to continue hiring more women into the firm, and that has sparked discussion about offering flex-time benefits for employees who need it. Flex-time helps working mothers, in particular, who have certain issues to deal with, such as child care, and can't always make it into the office at 7 a.m., Mrs. Babek noted.