How to Excel as the First Woman in Your Role, According to a Leader Who’s Been There

Sponsored by Terex

Melissa Holobach

Photo courtesy of Melissa Holobach


When Melissa Holobach took on her current role in the Terex Corporation’s Oklahoma City facility, she did so knowing that she was breaking a glass ceiling of sorts: she would be the company’s first female General Manager in the United States. What’s more, she would be managing one of the company’s largest plants, a manufacturing facility that builds equipment for all three of the $5 billion public company’s global business segments.

Though Terex itself is known for its commitment to its female team members — the women who work there say they feel “highly respected for their thoughts, insights, and creativity” — women continue to be under-represented throughout the manufacturing industry. It would be understandable, therefore, if some might feel a bit nervous about making a leadership jump within a male-dominated field. But Holobach says it’s been an entirely different experience at Terex.

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“There is a strong presence of people reaching out and helping you integrate into the company,” Holobach explained. “You do not have to go looking for help; rather, people are readily available to assist with questions and networking…  It was the best launch into a new company I have ever experienced.”

Recently, Holobach shared with Fairygodboss what exactly has made Terex such a great company to transition into, as well as a few choice pieces of career advice. Check them out below!

How long have you been in your current role, and what were you doing previously? 
I joined Terex about 5 months ago, moving to OKC. Previously, I worked for a Tier 1 Aerospace company. I had similar responsibilities, just in a different industry.
You’re the first woman General Manager at your company in the U.S. Describe what that’s been like.
It has actually been irrelevant. I was surprised to hear that I was the first U.S. woman general manager. In my experience, the working environment has been nothing but professional.

What’s the biggest challenge you faced in being the first female General Manager at your company? 

I did not, and would not, expect that the challenges would be different than what any leader would experience coming into a new company, new location. An immediate challenge I faced was determining the vision/objective, assessing how to best deliver, and lining up the team to drive velocity of execution. For any leader, a big challenge is understanding how to develop your team to succeed.

How has your company been particularly supportive and helped you overcome this challenge? 

The company lives its value of servant leadership. Because of that, there is a strong presence of people reaching out and helping you integrate into the company. You do not have to go looking for help; rather, people are readily available to assist with questions and networking.

To ensure that I quickly became acquainted with the global company, I toured 6 locations in 10 days.  Prior to starting at my location, I was able to meet key leaders around the globe and see firsthand best practices at other sites. When I started at my location, I had an understanding of the culture, and I had a strong appreciation for the company policies, procedures and culture.  This went a long way in setting up the direction and aligning the team. It was the best launch into a new company I have ever experienced.

How is the sense of support you’ve felt reflective of your company’s overall culture/policies? 

Servant Leadership is ingrained throughout the company, starting at the very top. One of the ways it is seen in action is that no one is too important not to offer to help. People took time from their very busy jobs to reach out and offer information and introductions.  

What initially drew you to Terex? And what’s one of the most amazing things about your workplace that you didn’t learn until working there? 

Terex Way values are not just words. I saw them in action even throughout the interview process.  While many of the values would be expected, like integrity, Terex has a unique value – courage. They value people having the courage to do the right thing, to pursue new ideas, and speak up.  

One of the most amazing things about OKC is seeing courage in action. What it translates to is engaged people: pausing jobs for safety concerns for teammates, raising their hands regarding better quality ideas, speaking up regarding better ways to do things. Working with a team of servant leaders that have courage energizes you day after day.

What are three things you make sure to do each workday before you disconnect?

  1. I make sure there is nothing needing immediate attention in my email box

  2. I check my calendar for the next day – ensure I am ready for each meeting.

  3. I check through my daily standard work – did I complete the tasks for today and what is the focus for tomorrow.

What’s the most memorable piece of career advice you’ve received?

I have been blessed to receive career advice from many great leaders. One piece of advice that has stood the test of time is: “Ask better questions.” As leaders, one tool we have to teach, to drive accountability, to inspire, and to ensure engagement is the questions we ask. Questions ensure you get feedback from the team. Questions ensure that your team is thinking past the surface. You do not have to ask 20 questions – one or two well thought out questions is all you need.

What’s your #1 piece of advice for women who are navigating uncharted territories at work?
Be yourself and be intentional. Use what you know. Learn what you need to learn. But remember: you were put in the job because you were the right fit to the need. Be yourself and be intentional.
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