By Pat Foran
Recognition of a job well done, an understanding that there's still plenty of work to do, and a belief that the best way to get it done is to learn from each other and work together. Those were among the thematic undercurrents on the menu at the 15th Annual League of Railway Industry Women
(LRIW) luncheon, held Sept. 24 at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers.
The event was held during the Railway Supply Institute Inc.’s
annual convention and technical conference of the Coordinated Mechanical Committees.
After LRIW President Susan Robertson welcomed the attendees and Chicago Freight Car Leasing Co. (CRDX) President Paul Deasy delivered the invocation, Fred Sasser took the mic at the lectern. The chairman and CEO of CRDX parent Sasser Family Holdings Inc. asked attendees to note the champagne flutes on their tables. He then acknowledged Connie Sumara, CRDX's vice president and director of customer support, and a past LRIW president. Sumara, who has been with CRDX since 1986, will retire from the company on Nov. 30.
"I just wanted to offer a toast of thanks to Connie for all that she's done, and all that she'll continue to do," said Sasser, noting that Sumara will continue to serve the industry as an Operation Lifesaver Inc. volunteer. She'll also remain active in the LRIW.
Next up was the keynote speaker: Amsted Rail Vice President of Industry Relations Patrick Ameen, who prefaced his presentation (titled "Railway Supply in a Cyclical Market") with a few words about gender equity in the rail industry. Ameen recounted a story or two about the industry, c. 1970s, when advancement opportunities for women who worked on the railroad weren't many.
"This is a journey, not a singular event — and we've got ways to go," he said. "But to paraphrase a commercial that some of you might remember, 'We've come a long way, ladies.'"
And a few pioneers who helped pave the way were in the audience, Ameen said. For example, LRIW President Robinson, who currently serves as managing director of Virginia Rail Solutions L.L.C., was the "first female voting member" of the Association of American Railroads' Arbitration and Rules Committee in the early 1990s, he said. In addition to noting Sumara's service to the industry, he mentioned longtime LRIW member and TTX Co. Supervisor of Equipment Data Victoria Anderson-Lytton, who joined TTX in 1971. Ameen also cited International Decal Management Corp. (IDMC) President Tracy DeLeon, who was on hand to receive the LRIW's 2012 "Outstanding Woman of the Year" award.
In accepting the award — which recognizes an individual's dedication, commitment and contribution to the rail industry, and is sponsored by Progressive Railroading
— DeLeon reflected on her 23-year rail career and some of the people who'd helped her along the way.
In 1989, DeLeon signed on as a contract coordinator with Northbrook Corp. In 1994, First Union acquired Northbrook; DeLeon served as director of maintenance projects for First Union. In 1997, she joined CIT as assistant vice president of fleet operations and held that position until 2003, when she joined Trans-Tech L.L.C. as vice president of sales.
While at Trans-Tech, DeLeon recognized a market need for a supplier of vinyl stenciling and other rail applications, particularly in the Midwest. DeLeon recalled phoning Sumara from her car to pitch the idea.
"'This is what I think I'm going to do,'" DeLeon said she told Sumara. "Connie said: 'When can you start?' How many can you send? And how soon?'"
In 2004, DeLeon got started, launching IDMC in Bentonville, Ark. From there, she "single-handedly developed a strong customer base, showing a profit in her first year of business," according to a form submitted to the LRIW nominating committee.
"Single-handedly" wasn't a word DeLeon chose to describe the steps she's taken or successes she's had. She cited the guidance she has received from colleagues such as Sumara and rail-car leasing exec Dennis Amick, who mentored her at Northbrook Rail. Of the "Outstanding Woman of the Year" award, DeLeon said: "It's very humbling."
Also honored during the luncheon was Kathy Keeney, rail publisher at UBM Global Trade. A past LRIW president, Keeney was named the 2012 "Member of the Year."
"LRIW is an organization I feel passionate about," said Keeney, echoing the sentiment of a number of luncheon attendees. "I've made some friends for life, and worked with great colleagues along the way. Here's to all of you."
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