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Published October 26, 2010, 09:06 AM

Women hold management roles at ag dealership

WINGER, Minn. — Kathy Iverson started as a secretary. Now she’s the store manager.

By: Jonathan Knutson, Agweek

WINGER, Minn. — Kathy Iverson started as a secretary. Now she’s the store manager.

She, Monica Bisek and Becky Stordahl have all worked their way into management positions at the Titan Machinery farm implement dealership in Winger, Minn.

Bisek is service manager, while Stordahl parts manager.

“Working with the customers is something we enjoy. It’s just something that has worked out well,” Iverson says of the management structure.

Women play a growing, increasingly diverse role throughout agriculture. Though firm numbers are hard to come by, anec-dotal evidence suggests their role at farm equipment dealerships is expanding, too, albeit at a modest rate.

It’s not uncommon for area dealerships to hire women to work in parts departments, says Richard Strom, executive vice president of the Minnesota-South Dakota Equipment Dealers Association in Owatonna, Minn.

He says he’s not aware of any other farm implement store in Minnesota or South Dakota that’s managed by a woman, much less one with female parts and service managers, too.

But diversity is a good thing, and ag implement dealerships will benefit as the role of women expands, he says.

Titan Machinery, based in Fargo, N.D., bought what had been Winger Implement in May 2009. All three women were working with Winger Implement and remained with the store after Titan Machinery acquired it.

Titan has no reservations about women serving in the three management positions at the Winger store, says Mike St. Onge, the company’s Red River Valley regional manager.

“Our goal is serving customers, and they do a very good job of that,” he says.

Iverson, Bisek and Stordahl say customers occasionally mention their gender, but stress that the comments are “playful” and “positive.”

Titan Machinery represents a mix of ag, construction and consumer products dealerships. It has 72 stores in Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Iowa, Nebraska and Wyoming.

Titan’s store in Winger, a town of about 200, sells and services ag equipment. It’s a New Holland dealer and also handles several major ag short lines.

The Winger store can work with other Titan stores to find the equipment that customers are looking for, Iverson says.

The trade area of the Winger store, which has 18 employees, is roughly 40 miles to the north, west and south and more than 100 miles to the east.

Parts are

her business

Stordahl, 50, grew up in the Winger area, the daughter of a farmer.

“I used to love helping my dad out in the field,” she says. “He passed away at a young age (with the family livestock subsequently sold), so I didn’t get to keep doing that.”

As a young adult, she spent four years in the U.S. Navy as a machinist stationed in Norfolk, Va.

“Coming back to Minnesota sounded pretty good after that,” she says.

Returning to the Winger area, she worked initially as a machinist in a neighboring community, but later accepted a parts position in Winger.

She’s spent 22 years with the Winger store, serving as parts manager for the past 18.

Through the years, she’s worked with three generations of customers.

“I’ve seen some that have retired and their sons have taken over, and even their grandsons,” she says.

Farm equipment becomes increasingly high-tech, she says.

“The new tractors are computerized. If your computer is down, the tractor won’t move,” she says.

“Everything changes. You need to keep up on everything. There’s always training,” she says.

What doesn’t change is Stordahl’s satisfaction with the job.

“I think I have farmer blood in me. I have a few acres of my own, and this is just fun. I feel comfortable in the position,” she says.

From secretary

to top job

Iverson, 39, didn’t start out with ties to agriculture. She was born in northeast Minneapolis.

But she married a Winger-area farmer, and ag has been a big part of her life ever since.

She joined the Winger store 16 years ago as a full-time secretary. She’s held many positions, working closely with Tony Espeseth, the former owner.

“I learned a lot from him and being in the different positions really helped,” she says.

Iverson was business manager when Titan acquired the dealership. She became store manager this spring.

Having a husband who farms — the family has wheat, corn, soybeans and beef cattle, all agricultural mainstays in the Winger area — bring extra satisfaction to her job,

“Hearing what they (customers) are struggling with, or not struggling with, is interesting to me,” she says.

“To see a good harvest is exciting,” she says.

Yields this fall generally are good in the Winger area. One sign of that: The local grain elevator has a big pile of soybeans on the ground near the Winger dealership.

Iverson doesn’t have time to help out much during harvest on her family farm.

“We have a young family. We have four children. I’m busy with that when I’m not here,” he says.

Growing responsibilities

Bisek, 25, grow up in Mahnomen, Minn., and has an agricultural background. Her father had a hobby farm and was and still is a farm educator for Minnesota’s Norman and Mahnomen counties.

She joined the dealership about six years ago. She initially had a part-time role with administrative duties involving shop work orders and warranty submissions and filings.

Other duties were added over time, and she eventually became a full-time employee.

After Titan bought the dealership in May 2009, the previous service manager resigned. Bisek applied for the position and was accepted.

“It’s one of those fluke things that just happened to work out,” she says.

“It’s been a new challenge and a new learning experience every day. But I feel comfortable in what I’m doing because I have such a great support staff,” she says.

“The technicians we have working for us, the parts department and the sales department — it seems like everybody in this store really tries to look out for one another and have their back,” she says.

Bisek says her confidence in her abilities in the position continues to grow, in part because of the many training opportunities provided by Titan.

Bisek, who lives near Winger, says she enjoys her job and life in Winger but would consider other career opportunities if they came along.

Stordahl and Iverson say they aren’t interested in other opportunities because of their strong personal ties to the Winger area.

Old perceptions gone

When Stordahl began in the parts business more than two decades ago, some customers came to the store and asked to deal with a male employee instead of her.

“Now, some people come in and ask specifically for me. So it’s turned a little bit,” she says.

Old perceptions about women’s role in agriculture no longer exist, Stordahl, Iverson and Bisek say.

“Don’t stereotype yourself. There’s no job that says it’s man or woman anymore. Things have changed so drastically now,” Bisek says.

“If you’re interested in it, go for it,” she says.

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