Being a good listener has helped René Beck advance her career in the  concrete industry.
Being a good listener has helped René Beck advance her career in the concrete industry.

She wasn't really restless. But when René Beck heard about the job opening at one of her client's offices down the road, she saw it as an opportunity for a much-needed change.

Looking back almost 13 years later, the head dispatcher at Smith Concrete's Marietta, Ohio, operations says she's happy she set up shop one block south of that drab bank branch. “Working in the concrete industry is a career path I wouldn't have expected to take,” says Beck. “It's been challenging.”

When Beck finished her studies in accounting, she thought the banking industry would have been full of opportunity. But while she liked her fellow workers, she didn't find it challenging. “The banking industry can be full of dead-end jobs,” she says.

Beck describes her career at Smith as anything but a dead end. She started in the accounts receivable department, but a new opportunity came her way after a year or so. There was an opening in the plant's dispatch office, and Beck replaced a well-respected male dispatcher who became a batch operator.

When Beck switched to the sales and operations side, she inherited a stand-alone plant that served only the Marietta area with about nine ready-mix trucks. Three years ago, Beck's career took another turn when the producer transformed her location into central dispatch. Now her office coordinates customer service and dispatches about 40 trucks that service Marietta and Belpre, Ohio, and Parkersburg, W.Va.

Ross Snyder, Smith Concrete's vice president of sales, credits Beck for much of central dispatch's success in productivity and customer service. Before the move to central dispatch, Snyder says that customers considered themselves customers of one plant or the other. “But through Beck's efforts, these same folks now refer to themselves as customers of Smith Concrete,” says Snyder.

Beck downplays her role. “I've always felt as if I was part of a team,” she says.

Her willingness to learn, coupled with her business background, has enabled Beck continue to seek new challenges. Following an acquisition in northern Ohio last summer, Beck helped bring the new operations into the fold.

Good advice

Looking back, Beck has advice to women considering such a career. While she credits her business background and education for preparing her for her role, she insists that much of her knowledge has come from being a good listener. It helps that her office is near the center of most of the company's operations.

Over the years, these formal and informal updates have given Beck the opportunity to learn about the industry and its products. “I'm fortunate to be in a spot to share conversations with operations and sales about upcoming jobs,” she explains. “I've been able to learn about the science of concrete mix designs and how to deal with the common problems from operations.”

Her involvement at several of the area's contractor meeting and social events gives an opportunity to match a face with a voice. “I rarely get a chance to meet our customers, so they're surprised when I know their names just after an introduction,” she says.

Beck's career in concrete is still evolving. She's interested in learning more about quality control. “I'd like to learn more about mix designs and how they relate to each project,” says Beck.

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