‘I don’t even think about being a woman in the business anymore.’
Even as a kid, Sherry Phillips was no stranger to heavy equipment. She grew up on a farm and was driving a tractor by age 12. As an adult, she blazed a trail to become the first female branch manager at United Rentals.
Phillips handles staffing, employee scheduling, payroll, equipment purchases, used equipment sales, and anything else you can think of at her branch in Asheville, North Carolina. She especially loves helping customers.
“I’m heavily involved in the customer aspect as a manger, maybe even more so than some other managers,” said Phillips. Whatever customers need, she’ll deliver. “I just do whatever it takes. If somebody needs something delivered I deliver it. If we need to make a sales call, I go with the salespeople.” Her efforts have paid off: Her branch is among the most successful in the region.
Whether she’s out on sales calls or in the store, customers are often surprised to see a woman. Some mistake her for an administrative employee. But Phillips handles these situations with grace.
“Many times customers come into the branch and they assume I’m an admin, and they will ask for one of the guys. I usually just turn it around and say, ‘I think I can help you, what do you need?’” Phillips doesn’t think bias against women is the issue. “It’s basically a lack of knowledge that women are able to do the job as well.”
She once envisioned becoming a lawyer, but her life took a different turn. She was hired into the industry as a credit collector at an equipment rental company and was soon asked to handle equipment rentals for a national account. She was a bit intimidated but felt she could do it. Then she made sure she could.
“On breaks I would take literature with me and memorize it to get the specs right and the nomenclature right. I’d been around equipment probably more so than a lot of the men that I worked with, but as far as being able to speak about it and know the specs, I felt like I needed to do that. I really dived in to get my equipment knowledge down pat.”
That knowledge, as well as the willingness to do whatever it takes to get the job done, has carried her far.
“I’ve always said that if a customer will give me a shot, they will never go anywhere else. I’m a very detailed person. My customers are very loyal. Once I sell them something, they come back.”
In 2018 she pulled out all the stops to help a contractor build a site used to host equestrian trials for the Olympics. “They had only six months to erect a competition arena, two hotels and several other buildings. We up-fleeted $13 million to get the job completed and to help make the games happen.”
Years ago, before she joined United Rentals, Phillips worked for another equipment rentals company. She was at the point of training branch managers but wasn’t one herself. “A regional president of the other equipment rental company said to me, ‘You know I would make you a manager but we’re not allowed to have women managers.’”
“That’s what makes me love United Rentals so much,” Phillips added. “United Rentals fosters such a positive culture for women.” Phillips is currently the head of Women United, an employee resource group that supports female employees and helps them advance in their careers. “It’s a chance for women to shine and get further in the business. The more recognition you get for women, the more women are seen and accepted, and it all goes hand in hand.”