Spirit Electronics president broke the gender barrier in business
“One” can certainly be a lonely number — especially if it’s the 1970s, and you’re Vickie Wessel, the only woman sales rep in a sea of men attending a manufacturer’s annual meeting.
“It would be a combination of their sales reps, plus all their marketing staff and all their engineers,” says Wessel, owner and president of Spirit Electronics. “There were a couple of years where I was the only woman in attendance. They didn’t want me to participate in the social events that occurred in the evenings when they took all the guys out to dinner.”
Things got worse from there.
“We actually had one line that terminated our representation because I came to a sales meeting,” she recalls. “They didn’t want a female there. You talk about breaking the barrier.”
It was a struggle to be respected, but she had some help along the way from the man who was her boss at the time.
“He would introduce me and tell them, ‘If you have any questions, give her a call.’ But they would always call him,” she says. “He taught me how to get the answers and said to me, ‘You call them back.’ There was a good- old-boys network, if you know what I mean. There were a lot of buyers that really didn’t want a woman calling on them. Initially it was difficult to find acceptance in that marketplace.”
Over time, she took responsibility for one branch of the company, eventually incorporating it on her own. She’s been the person in chargeThe amount of electricity present upon the capacitor’s plates. Also, the act of forcing of electrons onto the capacitor’s plates. See CoulombA coulomb is the unit of electric charge. It is named after Charles-Augustin de Coulomb.1 coulomb is the amount of electric charge transported by a current of 1 ampere in 1 second. It can also be defined in terms of capacitance and voltage, where one coulomb is defined as one farad of capacitance times one volt of electric potential difference.. ever since.
Wessel’s company distributes semiconductors, capacitors, resistors, connectors — anything that gets manufactured onto a circuit board that goes into some type of electronics. That includes communications equipment, missile guidance systems and satellites. Her customers are some of the biggest government contractors, including Raytheon, Lockheed, Boeing, General Dynamics and Northrop Grumman.
The company has won awards for maintaining close to 100 percent on- time delivery and quality.
“We have quarterly business reviews with our customers where they go through our performance,” she says. “There are 15 or 20 people from that customer in the meeting and every one of them says, ‘I love your staff. I love how responsive they are. You know what you’re doing.’”
Wessel attributes her success to hard work and a great staff.
“This is the legacy that I’m trying to leave with my own kids and my employees,” she says. “I just want you to do your best. That doesn’t mean you have to be perfect. It just means you take pride in what you do and how you do it, so you can look back and say I did the best I could.”