Imagine taking over the communications for a major company in a complex industry you really don’t know much about just as that company is undergoing an acquisition with an even larger international player. Fifteen years ago, that was the first project Barbara Gould stepped into when she took over as manager of communications for Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems.
Hired by Bendix in November 2001 after 17 years in the consumer financial services field, Gould immediately found herself managing both internal and external communications for the company’s acquisition by the German component manufacturer Knorr Bremse.
“I can’t remember what I had for breakfast, but I certainly remember that,” she says. “I had to jump in with both feet.”
Not only was the acquisition a high-profile story attracting lots of press attention, but the terminology of trucking and Bendix’s brake component business was all completely new. “One of the first things I did was drive down to an SAE trade show with four engineers,” Gould recalls. “All I could do was soak up things like a sponge. My eyes were spinning.”
Even though she had a lot to learn about trucking, Gould didn’t just survive; she thrived in the new environment, soon being named director of communications for the Bendix CV business. “If you asked me when I was coming out of college if I envisioned a career in trucking, I’d have looked at you like you weren’t quite right,” she says. “But looking back, I can honestly say I’ve really enjoyed my time in the industry.”
First, there were the opportunities that started with that acquisition. “Even though I came [to Bendix] as a seasoned communications pro, this job has given me many opportunities to expand my skill set,” she says. “Working through the acquisition was a huge milestone for me, and I’m very proud of that.”
But Gould is just as proud of helping to launch the Bendix Spicer Foundation Brake joint venture, which combined Bendix and Dana commercial vehicle brake businesses in 2004, and then Brake-School.com, the online technical training resource in 2013. “They were both tremendous undertakings, and I’m very proud of them as well.”
While trucking remains a largely male-dominated industry, Gould’s advice to other women entering it is: “Don’t be dissuaded by that. Whether it’s engineering or sales or marketing, there are so many things you can do. Explore it wholeheartedly, get engaged in the various industry organizations, and take advantage of all the opportunities to get new perspectives.”
Trucking is also entering a particularly exciting time for women looking at potential careers, according to Gould.
“It’s always been dynamic when it comes to technology, but now we’re on the cusp of autonomous vehicles and other advanced safety systems,” she says. “And on the customer side, they face big decisions on what’s meaningful to them in this technology. The opportunities to make a contribution are great if you’re willing to get engaged and not remain on the sidelines.”