Subscribe to our newsletters & stay updated
The Association of Industry Manufacturers’ Representatives (AIM/R) is a vibrant industry group with dedicated volunteer leaders focused on enhancing the role and stature of reps within the industry. Over the past several years, more women have risen to the occasion to volunteer and lead the organization that is their industry beacon; this year, four women are taking charge: Brenda Cashdollar, Katie Hubach, Michelle Lewnes-Dadas and Jennifer Rodriguez.
We wanted to hear more from these fearless leaders — why they joined the group and how they believe their leadership styles will impact the organization.
Brenda Cashdollar, CPMR, AIM/R senior vice president of education; vice president of Synergy Sales NW
Cashdollar entered the plumbing industry with a temporary job out of college and started at a manufacturers’ rep firm in inside sales.
“18 years later, Synergy Sales NW was created, and I was one of the founding members with my business partner Jay Hollabaugh,” she says. “I have been in my role (within the company) as vice president/principal since April 2014 and joined the AIM/R board of directors in the fall of 2019.”
Michelle Lewnes-Dadas, CPM, AIM/R 2023 Conference chair; vice president of Preferred Sales
Lewnes-Dadas has been with Preferred Sales officially for 20 years; unofficially, she’s been there her whole life.
“I am part of the second generation who grew up with countless weekends and summers spent at our office/warehouse. Many of my friends went to Mexico for spring break in college, but I decided to spend mine learning at AIM/R conferences instead. The first conference I attended was in Scottsdale, Ariz., in 1998. I have been involved in conferences from then on and was the first co-chair of the Leaders of Tomorrow organization along with Charlie Parham.”
Katie Hubach, CPA, AIM/R president-elect and treasurer; vice president of Signature Sales
Signature Sales may have been a part of Hubach’s family since she was in high school, she went a different way after college and didn’t officially start there until 2006.
“After graduating from college with a degree in accounting and working in public accounting for three years, I realized I would prefer to work in the family business environment instead of being chained to my desk. I have enjoyed contributing to our amazing industry ever since.
“Since Signature Sales is a small company, we wear a lot of hats. My role as one of the partners at Signature Sales includes key customer and manufacturer responsibilities, management of our engineer/specification team, human resources, accounting, social media, etc. I love the new challenges and opportunities that come up every day — there’s never a dull moment, that’s for sure.
“Following in my dad’s footsteps, I attended the AIM/R conference for more than 15 years and joined the board of directors in 2015. I was honored to join the AIM/R executive board in 2019. I am AIM/R’s president-elect and look forward to taking the reins this fall as the first female president of AIM/R.”
Jennifer Rodriguez, CPMR, AIM/R board of directors; executive vice president at Marsh & Moore
Rodriguez graduated from the University of North Florida with a communications degree and began working for Marsh & Moore in 2003.
“I had to start at the bottom and work through every role at Marsh & Moore before ownership would be considered. I liked the operations side of the business and found it was my true passion and strength. In 2020, I became part owner of the firm. I handle all the operations and my two business partners supervise the sales management.
“I have attended the AIM/R conventions for many years and always enjoyed conferences. I always admired and greatly appreciated how AIM/R provides so much support to the rep agencies. AIM/R has helped our agency through the years, and I knew that AIM/R was an organization I wanted to become involved in. So, I started participating as a volunteer to assist with the conferences and got to meet and befriend many of the board members through the years. In 2021, I decided to put my application in to serve on the AIM/R board and have proudly served for two years.”
Importance of Diverse Leadership
The Wholesaler: In what ways do you believe your gender has influenced your leadership style and decision-making processes? How do you leverage your unique perspective to drive positive change?
BC: My leadership style and decision-making processes have been heavily influenced by creating a career in an industry that historically viewed women as less capable or less relevant. This has required me to work harder to prove myself and earn respect. This constant battle has given me a unique leadership perspective and made me more empathetic toward others.
I prioritize open and honest communication. I believe in leading by example, building strong relationships and working alongside my team to achieve shared goals. I believe that leveraging my unique perspective allows me to bring fresh ideas to the table.
MLD: I believe that male and female leaders possess unique complementary talents and strengths. In our organization, we lean into this dichotomy within our leadership team. Many times, I tend to see situations from a different viewpoint than my male counterparts, and we encourage a culture of talking through those differences in a respectful manner.
By valuing and incorporating different perspectives and combining our diverse skill sets, we make more informed decisions and collectively move our business in line with our strategic goals. Ultimately, we achieve a more comprehensive approach to problem-solving, negotiation, conflict resolution and strategic planning due to having both males and females on our leadership team.
KH: As a female leader, I believe we have more empathy and can create a family environment even in the business world. I love to work with our team members and make them feel a part of our Signature family. A recent article in the Harvard Business Review discusses the power of having females in leadership (and how companies with females in key leadership roles are more successful). I feel it is especially important in the male-dominated plumbing world (https://bit.ly/3Dlymqx).
JR: Being a female leader in my agency and the industry often brings a different perspective and leadership style that helps to bring balance to our agency. Men have always led our executive management team until I joined the agency. I am steadfast and hold my employees to a high standard, but I am also fair. I like to ensure my employees are heard and their opinions are valued.
When I became a mother, this also helped to influence my leadership style and values. I can empathize with fellow mothers and fathers in our agency about the proper balance of work and family. Family is very important to me. Our agency has a strong work ethic, but I will always do my best to ensure my employees have time to spend and care for their family needs.
TW: Please tell us about your leadership role within AIM/R and the specific aspects or opportunities that attracted you and aligned with your professional goals.
BC: I was attracted to serving the AIM/R membership through involvement on the board of directors to give back to an industry I have grown to love. Our industry must attract and retain new talent, and I want to show women that we have a strong place in the plumbing industry. I currently serve on the Executive Committee with AIM/R as the senior vice president of education.
MLD: I currently hold the position of the 2023 Conference chair. Planning a conference and giving back to an industry that helped mold me as a professional through many mentorships, friendships and sharing ideas has always been a passion of mine. Our company has a foundation with AIM/R at its core, as I am the third person to serve on the board and Executive Committee.
We believe sharing best practices and learning from fellow business owners is critical to our success. I now get to plan a conference to foster an environment for others to gain the same experiences I value to grow their businesses and network as a result of attending. The relationships formed at AIM/R events are invaluable; many become lifelong friendships.
KH: I have held many leadership roles in AIM/R — membership, industry and public relations — and last year was honored to chair the 50th annual conference. I am currently the AIM/R president-elect and look forward to providing leadership as president in the fall. I love being a part of the AIM/R board and to give back to our great industry.
JR: Currently, I sit as an AIM/R board member, so I don’t have a “leadership role” per se, but I am very interested in pursuing a position on the Executive Committee of the AIM/R board if the opportunity is presented after I serve my three years.
I now serve on the Industry and PR Committee, where I have assisted my team in putting together a manufacturer and wholesaler advisory council, conducted interviews with rep agencies for news articles, and assisted in developing content for the AIM/R social media channels. I also serve on the conference committee; I help the conference chair, Michelle Lewnes-Dadas, in orchestrating and organizing the AIM/R conference for 2023.
TW: As an AIM/R board member, what key benefits and opportunities arise from having diverse leadership within an association traditionally controlled by men?
BC: Diverse leadership in a historically male-dominated association brings several key benefits and opportunities. First, it allows for a broader range of perspectives and ideas to be shared, which can lead to the development of more innovative solutions.
Second, it provides role models for women and other under-represented groups who may have previously felt excluded from leadership positions. When a person aspires for a role or position, seeing someone who has succeeded in that role provides motivation that their personal goals are within reach.
MLD: It is no secret that the male brain works differently from the female brain, but they complement each other well. Having both genders in leadership roles allows us to challenge each other’s assumptions, offer alternative viewpoints and identify areas that might have been otherwise overlooked. We also represent a wider range of members within the association, allowing us to understand and advocate for the needs and interests of different membership segments.
KH: When I first started attending AIM/R more than 15 years ago, it felt like you could count the female members on one hand. While we are still in the minority, our numbers have grown tremendously!
It is so important for our members to see females in leadership with AIM/R. I was thrilled to see Kathy Dwyer represent us as AIM/R’s first female board member. I am now honored to serve on our board alongside Michelle Lewnes-Dadas, Brenda Cashdollar and Jennifer Rodriguez and continue to pave the way for future female leaders on the AIM/R board.
JR: Having a diverse leadership team serving on the AIM/R board is key, as different perspectives are brought to the table and can be incorporated into the work we do for our membership. The AIM/R board is comprised of members who lead small to large agencies and everything in between.
For many years, the AIM/R board was only led by men, so seeing the board bringing on more women is amazing; women bring a nice balance to the ideas and perspectives of the board.
Initiatives and Memorable Moments
TW: What has been your most memorable moment as a volunteer leader and board member?
BC: My most memorable moment was working with the board of directors to quickly pivot to support our membership when COVID-19 hit. Much like everything else in the world, our annual conference was canceled, which is our highlight event of the year. I enjoyed working alongside Michelle Lewnes-Dadas, who stepped up as conference chair, to put together an impactful virtual event.
Being a part of the conference committee stretched us to think outside the box, be bold and go for it! I learned many valuable lessons on how to lead by example and present a sense of calm in the havoc of a storm.
MLD: One of the most unforgettable moments of my career was when I stepped onto the stage in Napa, Calif., for Mike Mullens’ conference. The room was filled with more than 500 people, making it one of the largest turnouts an AIM/R conference has ever seen. I was privileged to present on manufacturer/rep joint travel best practices.
As I gazed into the audience, I recognized numerous familiar faces — my peers, mentors and industry leaders. Although my nerves initially soared to new heights, they quickly became an exhilarating adrenaline rush. The atmosphere in the room was electric, and the energy was palpable. This experience stands out as one of the pinnacle moments in my professional journey as it was the largest crowd I had ever spoken to; their response was amazing.
KH: The most memorable moment was serving as conference chair of the AIM/R 50th annual conference last year in Colorado. Despite hours upon hours of volunteer work, many sleepless nights and more grey hairs than you can imagine, I was so proud of the work the conference committee and I did to make the 50th conference one for the books!
JR: My most memorable moment as an AIM/R board leader was our mid-year meeting in Chicago this past May. As a board, we had so much fun coming together, strategizing and developing a five-year plan to make the AIM/R organization better for our members. Some amazing ideas came from each board member, and I’m very excited to see how everything comes together in the next five years.
TW: What advice or guidance would you offer as a role model to young women who aspire to impact our industry?
BC: As a role model, I advise young women to be fearless and confident in their abilities. Always strive for excellence in everything you do, and never let anyone make you feel inferior or unworthy of success. Surround yourself with positive influences and mentors who can guide and support you through your journey.
MLD: Always believe in yourself and trust your instincts. Ensure your voice is heard as your intuition brings a unique perspective to many situations. Also, surround yourself with a strong network, which will be invaluable throughout your career.
KH: I encourage young women to look into our industry; it has some of the best people you will ever meet. Women are becoming such a force in our industry, and they can be a part of that wave if they work hard, know their stuff and never give up! The opportunities are truly limitless.
JR: The best advice I could give to young women joining this industry is to work hard, be prepared, never burn a bridge, stay humble and always keep true to your word. If I stick to these mantras, it brings me success every day.