‘With knowledge comes confidence’

Growing up in the Thomaston area, Cindy Ross watched her grandfather and her father build wooden boats. Because it was considered bad luck for a woman to have any part in the building of a boat, however, she could only watch as her male family members steamed the wood, laid the keel, and took the boat on its maiden voyage.

Still, Ross, the owner of Tom Fence Co., in Warren, immersed herself in the art of working with wood by watching her father and grandfather ply their trade. Today, she’s a successful woman in what would still be considered a man’s field: the fencing business.

Ross, 53, had to be talked into buying the business 16 years ago by her husband, who was a subcontractor for Tom Fence at the time. Ross was a successful marketing executive with a Portland publishing company back then. She agreed to pursue the financing, thinking she wouldn’t get it. When she did get it, she figured she could simply hire people to run the business and do the books herself on the weekend.

Ross quickly realized what most small business owners do: that you have to be involved in all facets of the operation to be successful. To that end, she has done every job in her business, from making the physical measurements for a fence to working with the wood. She admits the job can be all-consuming, but says that’s what it takes to make a go of a hands-on business like fencing.

“I wasn’t able to be a soccer mom, so I have regrets that way,” she says. “But I think my sons are at the age (24 and 33) where they understand a little bit better that you get out of life what you put into it.”

Q

What do you think are the top characteristics of an innovator – a woman who breaks the mold?

A

Any woman who wants to succeed has to be self-motivated, goal-oriented long and short, be able to keep an open mind to change, and have a strong support system.

Q

Who are your role models?

A

My dad and grandfather have always been a huge influence in my career.

Q

Do you or have you had a mentor, and how significant has this person been in helping you achieve your goals?

A

Yes I have two mentors. First is my ex-coworker, who is very insightful and intelligent. Second is my accountant. Without these two people in my life I may have given up years ago.

Q

Have you been thwarted by sexism at any point?

A

Absolutely. There were lots of struggles. I couldn’t get vendors to take me seriously. But I researched ways around them, and started training my husband and son to do the physical estimates when we put together a bid. With knowledge comes confidence, which helps me to overcome those feelings.

Q

What can mothers do to encourage breaking-the-mold thinking in their daughters?

A

This is a tough question. I have four sons. Allow your children to be independent. Give them the confidence to try non-traditional activities, and that will help them to be well-rounded adults.

Cindy Ross

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