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Hilda Mera: “I could break with stereotypes and be a role model for my community”

Hilda Mera is the co-founder and CEO of S&A Auto Repair. As an Ecuadorian immigrant and woman in the auto industry, Hilda has learned to navigate the many challenges of entrepreneurship and being a woman in a male dominated industry.

She has been recognized by Marquis Who’s Who Top Executives for dedication, achievements, and leadership in management and business operations and in 2016 she was notably honored as VIP Woman of the Year by the National Association of Professional Women. Most recently in July 2021, Hilda was awarded as one of The Top 100 Leaders in Transportation and Automotive by the International Transportation and Automotive Summit.

Navigating obstacles as a woman in the auto industry 

Founded in April of 2013 by Hilda and her husband, Jose Masache, S&A Auto Repair is a family-owned business located in Newark, New Jersey providing honest and professional auto service in the areas of mechanical, electrical, and diagnosis. 

Their journey as entrepreneurs began after Jose grew tired of working as a mechanic for someone else. The couple began searching for a place where they could start their own garage. After an unsuccessful first try, a friend pointed them in the direction of a rental space that would soon become their business. 

The rental space needed work. It was “a mess” as Hilda described it. But they were determined to make it their own by fixing it up and giving the space a fresh new look. 

S&A Auto Repair, founded in 2013 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo via Instagram)

As they embarked on their journey, they soon learned the many obstacles and struggles of owning and running a business. Not only was everything was new, they lacked the knowledge on how to start and run a business and also lacked the capital. 

“It was hard because we had no money and a lack of knowledge. We took the risk of our lives going into business. We did not have a lease, (we were month by month for about 5 years). Today, I realize how dangerous it was and that we could have been asked to leave the auto shop at any time. However, we never, even thought of giving up,” said Hilda. 

Despite these great challenges starting out, for Hilda, the biggest challenge has been being a woman in the auto industry, an industry that has traditionally been dominated by men. However, this challenge has also become one of her greatest strengths driving her toward success. 

“I do not fix cars, but that does not mean I can not manage/run a business. It does not mean I can not learn to understand my car. Becoming an entrepreneur has been one of the best things that could happen to me. This way I feel I can leave a legacy for my kids, be a role model for women of my community, and break with stereotypes,” said Hilda. 

 

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Another strength Hilda draws upon in the face of challenges is her faith. As a woman of faith, Hilda is positive, honest, and determined. “I believe that everyone has a purpose. I have found mine, therefore, I ask God for wisdom so I can accomplish it. Every time I work on a project or  strategy to make my business grow, I put it in God’s hands.” 

Her faith and positivity make her confident, even when things don’t always turn out the way she wants, she still looks at every situation with a positive outlook. 

Now, Hilda feels grateful for everything they had to go through because it taught her so much about running a business. Like all challenges, overcoming them makes people stronger.

“I learned how important it is to have the social and working capital to succeed. I learned to overcome any obstacles that we have encountered during these eight years in business. I learned that with faith, discipline, consistency and honesty everything is possible.” 

You might be interested: Jennifer Garcia tells you how to leave a secure job to launch your dream business

Women empowerment through knowledge and education  

As a woman in the auto industry, Hilda is committed to using her business to empower the community, especially women, through educational auto workshops. 

For Hilda, trust and education are important. According to the American Automotive Association, 66% of American drivers do not trust auto mechanics. Customers are often overcharged, do not trust their cars are being fixed properly, or recommend unnecessary repairs. Women are also often taken advantage of due to a lack of knowledge about cars. 

Hilda shares a story about a past client’s experience and how it inspired her to create her own educational auto workshops for women. 

S&A Auto Repair Woman’s Seminar, March 2020. (Photo source)

The client came into the shop looking for a price for a transmission. Hilda offered to give an estimate but first wanted her husband to check and see if that was what the client really needed. 

“They both went and took a ride. When they came back, my husband put the car in the lift and showed her under the car. The noise that she was hearing and the reason she was told that needed to change the transmission was metal that was hanging under the car. She got really upset. That got me so upset and I talked to my husband about doing something to help women,” Hilda recounts. 

That day, she made the decision to empower herself in the industry so she could empower other women through educational workshops. 

“I like the fact that I am a woman working in an industry that is mainly dominated by men, therefore, it makes me feel stronger and capable of accomplishing anything in this life.” 

Knowledge is power, especially in industries where women are underrepresented. For women looking to start their own business or advance in their field, Hilda recommends gathering the necessary knowledge first, then go for it and take every opportunity given. 

“We are strong and smart enough to accomplish anything we want in this life. We are capable of overcoming any obstacle, because the only limit is oneself. Be honest and consistent all the time.”

Jessie Gabriel, 2021 WEES, All Places

2021 WEES Speaker Jessie Gabriel: How she became the go-to legal firm for women

Jessie Gabriel is the CEO and Founder of All Places, a business and legal strategy firm built by women, for women. Jessie founded All Places after feeling unhappy and underappreciated at her previous firm. Jessie’s story is an inspiration to all women who have big dreams and are ready to take charge of their careers that anything is possible when you put your plans into action.

THRIVE! Women Turning Adversity into Success

The 2021 Women Entrepreneur Empowerment Summit motto is THRIVE! with our panels and workshops focusing on key areas of growth to connect and empower women business owners and give them the tools and insights to propel forward and thrive post-COVID19. 

Our women’s panel,THRIVE! Women Turning Adversity into Success”, will feature guest speakers: Jessie Gabriel, Maria Piastre, and Marvina Robinson as they share insights learned on their journey to success while fighting the odds of being a woman and reinventing themselves during the pandemic. Below, Jessie shares her story with Latinas in Business of how she found success in the male-dominated business and legal industry and became the go-to firm for women. 

“Women belong in all places where decisions are being made”

Jessie Gabriel is the founder of All Places and a champion for women, advocating for gender equality in capital ownership and control. Raised by a single working mother in Southern California, Jessie’s success came with a deep appreciation of how gender norms and unequal access to capital contribute to a systemic lack of opportunities for women-identifying entrepreneurs and executives.

Jessie began her career in economics after receiving her B.A. in economics from Dartmouth College. She then earned her J.D. cum laude from the University of Michigan Law School, where she was elected to the Order of the Coif, won the Campbell Moot Court Competition, and served as Executive Editor of the Michigan Journal of Race and Law

Jessie Gabriel, All Places

Jessie Gabriel, CEO and Founder of All Places. (Photo courtesy Jessie Gabriel)

Throughout her career as a lawyer, Jessie worked at some of the country’s most prestigious firms and served clients from Fortune 10 companies to trailblazing pre-seed startups. However, like many women in male-dominated industries such as law, finance, and science, Jessie found that the further she rose within her organization the more marginalized she felt. 

“Even though I was an equity partner and ran my own practice team, I did not have any control over firm culture, who I worked with, or even my own compensation. And I did not agree with many of the decisions being made by the people who did have control over those things,” says Jessie. “But it was not until a number of my female clients and other women in the asset management community suggested I start my own firm that I seriously considered it. It was at a dinner in July of 2019 that the suggestion was made and I launched All Places in October of 2020.”

Jessie founded All Places with the dream of becoming the go-to firm for women. It was built specifically with women in mind, with its name coming from a famous quote by the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg:Women belong in all places where decisions are being made.” 

All Places, go-to legal firm for women

Jessie founded All Places as a business and legal firm by women, for women. (Photo courtesy Jessie Gabriel)

“Our mission is to support women founders (and women asset managers in particular) along their entrepreneurial journey, doing our part to help them achieve remarkable growth and market power,” says Jessie. “The most direct line to those positions is building and controlling wealth, and the most direct line to wealth creation is ownership.” 

Developing her vision 

Jessie vision for All Places began building slowly over time, before she ever really thought it would become a reality. 

“For a period of time at my last firm, I led the Women’s Committee. I remember sitting at an event that we were hosting and one of the panelists was asked what you should do if you are unhappy with your firm’s culture but have been unable to change it. She responded that, in that case, you should leave. At the time, it seemed like a drastic and impractical option,” says Jessie. “I had never considered myself an entrepreneur, and having been raised by a single mother where money was always an issue, financial security held a lot of sway over me.” 

However, as she advanced in her career she found herself continually reminded of how little her organization valued her. Her suggestions were quickly rejected. Her salary demands were dismissed. And she was met with more lip service in place of money and power. 

So, she began to plan. 

“I planned, planned, planned. I worked for years to develop key client relationships and save money, and then spent time really developing my vision for a new style of law firm where women would be the focus.”

Jessie’s ultimate dream was to eventually become the go-to firm for women, something that seemed impossible at the time. 

“Six months after launching All Places, a woman in our community was making an introduction for me. As she was describing me in the email, she wrote, ‘There is rarely a call I have with another female fund manager where Jessie’s name doesn’t come up.’ Even now as I write that, I am floored. What seemed impossible was possible–I was now at a firm that was that go-to firm . . . I just had to create it!   

“Being a woman has certainly shaped my path” 

Jessie’s experiences as a woman in a male-dominated field were a crucial component and motivating factor in the creation of All Places. 

Jessie Gabriel, All Places

“Many of our clients come to All Places because they connect with our message.” (Photo courtesy Jessie Gabriel)

“Being a woman has certainly shaped my path,” she says. “Many of our clients come to All Places because they connect with our message. They have often had bad experiences with traditional law firms, and have had bad experiences within their own career paths. We can commiserate on the lack of belonging we have experienced professionally, and in our intense desire to see ourselves and other women achieve breathtaking success. It is that shared experience and empathy that drives deeply effective partnerships.” 

This is a feeling that binds women entrepreneurs together and many women can probably relate to Jessie’s experiences, especially if you too are in a male-dominated industry. For women who find themselves wishing to start their own venture or make a change in their careers, Jessie says, “Start talking about. You know so many people who will want to help you, but they can’t do it unless you tell them what you want to do and what help you need to succeed. It’s terrifying at first, but you’ll get over it.” 

You might be interested: 2021 WEES Speaker Maria Piastre: A Latina leader excels in a male-dominated industry 

2021 WEES

If you’re looking for the inspiration and motivation to THRIVE! and make your career dreams come true, you won’t want to miss the 2021 Women’s Entrepreneur Empowerment Summit. 

Register now to hear more from Jessie Gabriel and other inspiring speakers, participate in deep-dive workshops that will give you the tools to grow your business, and also participate in our signature peer-to-peer networking sessions!

2021 WEES Speaker Maria Piastre: A Latina leader excels in a male-dominated industry 

In 2017, after only 12 years working in this male-dominated industry, Maria Piastre was appointed Metallix Refining Inc. President. Ambition had always been a driving force fueled by a passion for the industry, but never did she imagine to be made President.

The 2021 Women Entrepreneur Empowerment Summit motto is THRIVE! with our panels and workshops focusing on key areas of growth to connect and empower women business owners and give them the tools and insights to propel forward and thrive post-COVID19. 

Our women’s panel,THRIVE! Women Turning Adversity into Success”, will feature guest speakers: Maria Piastre, Marvina Robinson, and Jessie Gabriel as they share insights learned on their journey to success while fighting the odds of being a woman and reinventing themselves during the pandemic. Below, Maria shares her story with us of how she rose through the ranks and excelled in a male-dominated industry as a Latina, eventually becoming company CE

 

“The leap of faith never fails”

Maria Piastre was born and raised in Cali, Colombia. She came to the USA in 2000, the start of a new millennium, one that would unveil marriage, a young family, graduation, and professional achievements in business. 

woman in a male-dominated industry, Maria Piastre

Maria Piastre, President of Metallix Refining Inc.

As her career path was still uncharted, Maria’s tenacity for success and recognition would prove to be her armor against the many inequalities she would encounter. Later these inequalities would form the foundation for future campaigns.

Maria graduated from Kean University in 2004 with a degree in Economics thanks to the unconditional support of her family.  She then entered the world of business and commerce. Over the next two years, the motivated Latina immigrant excelled in business management, marketing strategy, aesthetic value, with an aptitude for communication at all levels. 

With the end of 2005 insight, Maria reflected on both her achievements and looked towards new challenges that would be more aligned with her goals and those of the organization she would represent. This new chapter of discovery would lead Maria to Metallix and a career in the male-dominated industry of precious metals where her future would soon unfold and be a platform for success.

“Facing new challenges can often be very daunting and come with their own set of risks but taken intelligently, they will open doors to countless possibilities where the rewards can be high,” Maria asserts. 

And she continues, “The leap of faith never fails because you learn something valuable about your decision and the events in your life, bringing growth and confidence.  Survival makes you strong and it is an understanding of failure that makes you realize this is not the end of the line, but just the beginning of a new chapter.” 

Achieving success as a woman in a male-dominated industry

In 2006 Metallix Refining Inc., a precious metals recycling company in New Jersey, announced they were recruiting for an inside sales position to cover Latin America. 

Maria, a native Spanish speaker, fluent in English with a background in sales and marketing, applied for the opening and received an interview offer from Eric Leiner, owner and then President.

For any profession, being prepared for whatever situation you face is crucial; it is a professional obligation to your colleagues and suppliers to answer their questions fully and present them with the best, most relevant, and actionable recommendation.

Maria applied the same professional approach to the Metallix interview. Reading precious metals and refining trade magazines, researching product supply to the industry from gold-plated connectors to solar industry production, all of which made for credibility and confidence during the interview process and responses.

woman in a male-dominated industry

Maria during her tour of Asia meeting with our Technical Director Claudio Ferrini and the General Manager of Metallix Refining Asia Mr. SB Sangbae Kim. (Photo courtesy Maria Piastre)

There is always a voice of doubt and moments of anxiousness when you want something which is almost in touching distance, and for Maria, this was no exception. 

However, instead of a second interview, she received a job offer. The strategy had worked, and Eric Leiner was thrilled when Maria accepted.

The best place to work is the place you can be at your best and this was true for Maria.  Maria started to learn the business and soon fell in love with her job and became fascinated by the industry. 

With increasing industry knowledge and eagerness to grow within the company, Maria assumed additional responsibility bringing in new business, developing good relationships with industry partners and leading the way for improvements within Metallix.

In 2007, following the birth of her second son, Maria took a short career break from Metallix.  In a competitive and male-dominated industry time away can often result in missing significant opportunities.  “The progressive mindset of Metallix and their appreciation for my professional achievements and value to the company, secured my time away from the industry – a luxury many working mothers do not enjoy. I will always be grateful for such important consideration to my family,” Maria explained.   

Upon her return, she continued to achieve recognition within Metallix, taking on significant responsibilities assigned by Lerner.  

“The only limits are those you set yourself”

In 2017, after only 12 years working in this male-dominated industry, Maria Piastre  was appointed company President.  Ambition had always been a driving force fueled by a passion for the industry, but never did she imagine to be made President. This was both a pleasant shock and honor. 

woman in a male-dominated industry

Maria interacts with every member of the Metallix Team, making an effort to engage with every employee on her many frequent visits to the Refinery. (Photo courtesy Maria Piastre)

The sense of humility that Maria brings to the position transcends not just gender but embraces a new generation of values, of learning and reward based on individual merit, with the only limits being those you set yourself.

“As an immigrant to the US, I know only too well the challenges we all will encounter, especially for minority groups. The road will not always be smooth, and regardless of your cultural background, you should believe in yourself, your self-worth, your ability to succeed and that your qualities will always shine through to achieve rewards,” Maria advises Latinas in Business readers. This ethos is ingrained in Maria’s leadership.

One of the most important responsibilities as President was to establish a vision, a long-term mission with short-term objectives.  These will ultimately determine the expectations for the company’s culture and core values that will lead Metallix at multiple levels ensuring alignment throughout. Equally, recruiting talent and nurturing Executive growth for succession planning is key to building sustainability and industry expertise.  

Now guardian of a prestigious and respected precious metals recycling company, with locations in New Jersey, Greenville, and Maxton, North Carolina, the pattern of reinvestment and growth is set to continue. 

In 2019 the company embarked on a significant expansion program establishing Metallix Refining Asia Ltd in South Korean and Metallix Refining Europe Ltd based in the UK. 

These two new facilities secured the recruitment of the industry’s most experienced and respected personnel, opening up new and untapped revenue sources to add to the diverse industries already served by Metallix.

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Evolving with the times

As a woman in a male-dominated industry, Maria has witnessed and experienced many changes over the last 12 years and has been influential to many changes herself. Through Maria’s values, Metallix is a multicultural employer with promotions based on ability, not gender, and an environment where there is no place for discrimination or bullying. 

As 2020 has seen the impact of COVID-19 on businesses globally, Metallix has been no exception. 

Maria at the Precious Metals Refining meeting the Metallix Trucks arriving back to the Refinery (Photo courtesy Maria Piastre)

“Business models once tried and tested no longer applied, and the way to survive and grow in this new economic market would be through technology, Maria said.”Metallix has always made a significant investment in equipment and applied sciences resulting in the Metallix Precious Metals Refinery becoming a world-class facility. We now needed to apply the same approach to sales and communication,” Maria explained. 

In addition to travel and face-to-face meetings no longer possible, video conferencing and social media platforms have been tools in which to maintain stability in the supply chain.  Metallix has an experienced team of buyers providing materials management guidance and support, managing social risks to protect our employees, suppliers, and the community. 

Under Maria’s leadership, Metallix Refining Inc. strives to provide exceptional customer service with world-class facilities that continue to achieve excellence for our customers.