President, Chicopee Industrial Contractors
She Leads by Example and Shows Women How to Use Their Voice
Carol Campbell says she’s been heavily involved in the community for as long as she’s been a business owner — nearly 30 years now.
And she’s long believed it’s the responsibility of anyone in business to lend their time, energy, and talents to efforts and agencies focused on improving quality of life in a given region or specific community. She has backed up this belief with involvement in groups ranging from Rotary International to WestMass Development Corp. to Associated Industries of Massachusetts.
But Campbell, owner and president of Chicopee Industrial Contractors (CIC), a firm that specializes in rigging, millwrighting, machine and plant relocation, and structural steel installation, acknowledged that the nature of her giving back has changed somewhat over the past several years — and specifically since her first grandchild, Julia, was born.
“I held that child up and said, ‘you can be anything you want — a ballerina or the CEO of a rigging company,’” she recalled. “And when the words came out of my mouth, at that exact moment, I thought that I needed to be doing things a little differently — I need to be concentrating on what women and girls can do, today, tomorrow, and in the future.”
So, while Campbell is still active with WestMass, AIM, and other business organizations, over the past several years she has become more involved with groups whose missions involve the growth and development of women and girls — agencies ranging from the Women’s Fund to Dress for Success to Girls Inc.
“I held that child up and said, ‘you can be anything you want — a ballerina or the CEO of a rigging company.’ And when the words came out of my mouth, at that exact moment, I thought that I needed to be doing things a little differently — I need to be concentrating on what women and girls can do, today, tomorrow, and in the future.”
Meanwhile, she has also become a role model and mentor for many women, although she’s far more comfortable with the latter role than the former, as we’ll see. And at her own business — one that was and, in many ways, still is dominated by men — she has made it her mission to change that equation.
In fact, with the recent promotion of Deborah Dart, one of those Campbell has mentored, officially and unofficially, to operations manager, she now has a management team made up entirely of women.
“That was a goal I had, and it’s a goal I’ve achieved,” she said with discernable pride. “This company was all men at the start — we probably had women as file clerks — and now, the entire leadership team is women.”
Speaking of Dart, she nominated Campbell to be a Woman of Impact, and we’ll let her words drive home why she is now a member of the class of 2020.
“Carol’s success at CIC has paved the road and broken down barriers for other women in the industry,” she wrote. “She is now not the only woman in the board room or at the table. Her success at CIC has not come easy, but it has allowed her to pay it forward. Carol is known for sharing her thoughts and opinions, and she has used her voice to help her company, her community, and her friends.”
Indeed she has, and this notion of using one’s voice is something that Campbell stresses often when mentoring others, a sentiment passed down by her mother, and now passed on by her.
It’s just one of reasons why she lives up the name of this BusinessWest recognition program — she continues to have an impact — a deep impact — here in Western Mass.
Showing Her Metal
By now, most people know the story of how Campbell came to enter that male-dominated world of rigging and machine relocation. She was working as director of Marketing and Development for the UMass Fine Arts Center in the early ’90s, but looking for an entrepreneurial challenge.
Three area rigging plants had been shut down in the wake of the recession of the early ’90s, and Campbell started CIC as a way to rescue many of those workers, including her now-ex-husband.
Over the past 27 years, she has steered the company through a number of economic ups and downs — the Great Recession hit this company later than most, but very hard — including this latest downturn brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
For example, when things got slow earlier this year, as manufacturing and other sectors were put in a wait-and-see mode by the pandemic, Campbell used a Paycheck Protection Act loan to keep her people employed, and used the time for training and professional development.
“We didn’t have enough projects to keep everyone working, so we decided to do training,” she recalled. “We did in-house and online training — on our hard skills, our soft skills, and technical skills — and we did that through March, April, and May.”
Those training sessions speak to Campbell’s approach to business and management, one that is employee-focused and perhaps best explained with more commentary from Deb Dart:
“Carol’s core values would not allow her to lead without respect and equality for all, and using the principles of W. Edward Demming and Stephen Covey, she worked to create a paradigm shift in the industry, or at least at CIC, to create a work environment that is more linear, but, most important, a workplace without fear.”
Still, her leadership, entrepreneurial daring, and management philosophies are only some of the reasons why Campbell is being honored as a Woman of Impact. As noted earlier, she has, throughout her career, been very active within the community and, more specifically, with groups and agencies ranging from the Chicopee Chamber of Commerce and that’s city’s Rotary Club; from AIM and WestMass to Health New England, which she continues to serve as a board member.
More recently, she has devoted much of her time and energy to groups involved with women and children, and also to some women she is mentoring, with the accent on the present tense. It’s a role she has grown into and is now comfortable with because of what she can share.
“I like the fact that’s it’s an exchange — it’s not teaching,” she told BusinessWest. “It’s working to help individuals determine what their goals are, and then helping them find a path to accomplishing those goals. I’m not an executive coach, by any means, but if they’re on a path that’s similar to mine, which is to be a leader within an organization, I’ve dealt with something similar to what they’re going through.
“For me, it’s an opportunity to show them they’re not alone in this and that it’s not smooth sailing,” she went on. “We’ve all had ups and downs in business, and I’ve seen a number of them myself. The goal is to learn from each other.”
And while successes in business are important, one thing she’s learned — and also tells those she mentors — is that people can learn more from their mistakes, and usually do.
“Some of my worst management experiences have been my biggest assets for learning about who I want to be and how I want to lead,” she explained, adding that this is one of the insights she shares with mentees she’s matched with the WIT (Women Innovators and Trailblazers) program and other initiatives.
As for that phrase ‘role model,’ she is, as noted, less comfortable with it.
“I don’t think I would call myself a role model — when a reference is made, even about my leadership, I’m pretty humble about it, because I’ve always just done what I feel is right,” she explained. “I’ve always thought that, if I could help anyone in any way, I would do it — I always want to give someone a hand up.”
Doing the Heavy Work
There’s a pillow on a bookshelf in Campbell’s office with an embroidered message that says simply: “Behind Every Successful Women is … Herself.”
She is living proof of that, obviously, and that’s one of the reasons she’s a Woman of Impact. The other, perhaps even bigger reason is the hard work she’s put into convincing others of that. Her management team is a perfect example of this, but she believes it’s just one.
She intends to keep using her voice to create many more of them.
George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]