Having served as the interim shop foreman, purchasing agent, and corporate financial officer, Barbara Paull has emerged as the leader of her company, General Truck Body. The story of General Truck Body began with the onset of the Russian Revolution, when Barbara’s grandfather escaped to America with the aid of businessmen from Kansas City, Missouri. In thanks, he plied his blacksmith trade by shoeing their horses. After seeing his work, a group of what today we might call investment bankers, came to him to weld together a carriage. Word spread and from there it wasn’t long before he went in business for himself. With the advent of the motorized vehicle, General Truck Body was born. Starting with fewer than 30 people and working from chalk drawings on a shop floor, the company now boasts over 200 employees with its own engineering department.
"I started answering the phones and working summer vacations", Barbara stated. "My father was not in the business. He was the youngest of a very large assemblage of brothers and sisters. He did not come into the business until the late 1950s and in 1961 they decided to branch out. He started the GTB branch here in Houston and we’ve been in Texas since." Barbara bought GTB in 1984 and now serves as CEO. She is constantly on the lookout for what’s next while maintaining the relationships between clientele and family as they evolve.
Learning to Lead as a Woman in a "Man's World"
As a woman working in a predominately male industry, Barbara has had to deal with her own set of challenges on her road to success. She got caught up in the feminist movement during the 1970s and felt she had something to prove, not just to the industry but to her family as well. During this time, she learned that being a successful woman in business meant running her business despite her ego. Arm-bending a customer into buying specifically from her wasn’t the right approach. "Customers and vendors need to be comfortable and confident with your company. If someone is working with you who is more accepted, get the hell out of their way. Let people play to their strengths. It doesn’t matter who closes a deal. As long as it falls within ethical and economical guidelines, let it happen."
Her success as a businesswoman also came from her ability to adapt and learn new things. "Your vendors can be your best teachers. They helped me learn the business. I wouldn’t have learned half of what I do without the participation and education on their part." Her vendors introduced her to new products, improvements to other products, and even helped ensure she followed code. "We have federal, state, even city guidelines and maintenance compliance to meet. My vendors helped to keep GTB up to date." Did it take anything special on her part to get salespeople to help her? Barbara says she doesn’t have an answer to that. It was a different time. Undoubtedly, her work ethic helped them to see past what was at the time the novelty of a woman in the workplace. They were very forthcoming with the information she needed.
Weathering Tough Times
With a lifetime of experience in the manufacturing industry, Barbara’s advice to women, or anyone, looking to get into the field is, "Tenacity. Patience. Learn as much as you can. If you like what you’re doing and want to grow with it then stick with it. Lean in despite the down turns." Barbara tells the story of how, in the 1980s, General Truck Body added a large new building at the original location. After completion GTB only had work for 6 months and then the orders just stopped. "We didn't pay ourselves rent for a few months to make ends meet. We fought to keep our employees by offering short shifts. You keep your best people and pay them even though there’s not much to do. Keep them busy. There's always something to do in a manufacturing plant."
Success Requires Constant Improvement
"A degree in engineering would have helped." Barbara says. In fact, she recommends it. A degree is very beneficial. "Even my degree in Sociology and Marketing may have helped,” she jokes. In addition, it’s valuable to see what and how the equipment the Company has designed actually performs in field operations. "Get out from behind the desk. Nothing helps a company succeed like experience. The advantage at General Truck Body comes from our employees’ first-hand experience. Teams at the rigs, at the well sites…they know what works. We sent a team to Alaska and the knowledge they brought back far surpassed what we had on our design models." That, along with fact-finding visits to numerous field operations, has helped the GTB team redesign some elements to make their products more amenable to working in harsh conditions. When your company ships to the likes of Russia, China, and even Africa, simple things like knowing what the roads on site can accommodate, helps General Truck Body to reassure their customers that their product is going to fit the project it’s needed for.
From its humble beginnings making carriages to the mobile command centers it provides today, Barbara Paull has helped build her family’s company into a major player in the gas and energy industry. Despite the opposition and ignorance she met as a woman in a male-dominated industry, she’s earned success while keeping ties as a family-oriented company. Her own son has been involved for the past 19 years, ensuring a legacy of hard work and reliability for her customers and the products that serve them.