By Angela Cacace for M.O.B.™ Editorials
“I never know what time or place we have to be to meet the people that are supposed to be in our lives. So, I try to be involved in as much as I can with the time that I have”, says Jennifer Gallegos-Perez, a mechanic and Regional Sales Manager for Jekko, USA. This guiding principle has fueled Jennifer’s journeys through life. Her path to success was not forged for her but was paved with tenacity and a thirst for knowledge to understand the inner workings of everything that piques her interest.
GRIT AND TRAGEDY
As a young girl, Jennifer always insisted that she could do whatever she wanted. So, following closely in her father’s footsteps, who was a mechanic, Jennifer grew an affinity for racing and fixing cars. By the age of sixteen, she had embraced the grit and glory of knowing her way around an engine. However, at an age when most teens would be worried about what party to attend, Jennifer was struck with the tragic loss of her father. Without his parental guidance, Jennifer moved out on her own and did what she could to finish her last couple of years of High School. “I remember feeling so overwhelmed and so consumed with defeat, that nothing was going to get better”, Jennifer recalls. With nothing more than survival mode activated on her cruise control, she began working in night clubs to pay her way through college and support her family. Completely immersed in a lifestyle that left her unequivocally unenthused, she admits that “I didn’t want to be a shot girl my whole life. I wanted something better for my life.”
THE RIGHT PERSON AT THE RIGHT TIME
One evening, during a shift at work, Jennifer met a man at the nightclub she was working at. When he found out that she was a mechanic, he asked her if she would be interested in a job opening at a construction company nearby. With good reason, she was skeptical but in the fearless spirit that guides her, Jennifer thought to herself, “It could be a letdown, but that’s life or it could be an opportunity so I can’t not take the risk.” When she showed up to the interview, she was offered the job as a mechanic right away.
The following Monday, Jennifer began her position as a yard-person assigned the responsibility of keeping up with the maintenance and repairs of their construction equipment. She was the only girl they had ever hired as a mechanic and the youngest person working there at the time. She became certified to drive forklifts and aerial equipment and was eager to expand her skills and knowledge. However, she recalls one of her first experiences walking up to a senior mechanic. “He looked at me and said, ‘I’m not a teacher. Don’t ask me anything’”. Although an unfortunate first encounter, that didn’t stop Jennifer from trying to learn more on the job, and since that first interaction, has never had a problem with other men lending their expertise.
“The shop foreman really took me under his wing”, Jennifer reminisces, “He was an amazing shop foreman and I learned so much from him.” His guidance and willingness to teach allowed her to fully embrace her love for re-building hydraulic systems and cylinders as she grew into the woman she is today. “We became a team, anything he was learning new, he would teach me”, she recalls. Years later, Jennifer was able to pay it forward when she was promoted to Service Manager and was able to hire her mentor after he had been laid off previously during the recession in 2009. As Jennifer has worked her way up the ranks, paying it forward has been a huge part of her growth within the industry.
FINDING WAYS TO GROW
Although grateful for the comradery, guidance, and mentorship of her male counterparts, Jennifer had always wanted to find women to learn from. “I’ve had amazing role models but they were always men. It’s not a bad thing” Jennifer insists, “but there came a point in my career where it’s like ‘Where are all the badass women who have been doing this way longer than me?’ That’s who I want to learn from so that I can get to the next level. I’m grateful for the guys who have taught me but there are just things they will not be able to teach me because they will not be able to understand being in my position.” It was this desire for community that inevitably led her to NAWIC, The National Association of Women in Construction. She recalls attending one of their first luncheons, “I showed up dirty from being in the shop and remember seeing these powerful women running their companies and thinking ‘I hit the jackpot. I’m going to finally be able to have conversations with these women.’” In her experience many of the women who were higher up at her company were untouchable and so, NAWIC’s networking events allowed her to expand her horizons of what could truly be attainable in her career. Always making time to better herself, Jennifer had returned to school for her executive MBA. With this impressive addition to her resume, Jennifer took a look at her career path in search for what would be next:
STEPPING OUT OF HER COMFORT ZONE
Jennifer decided the next professional step would be to go into sales. This would round out her expertise and allow her to truly fulfill every position within the construction industry that interested her. And so, largely thanks to the confidence that NAWIC provided her, she made a huge decision to leave her company of fifteen years to pursue a job with an Italian Crane Company. “I often tell people that I always prepare for a hurricane to come but it never stops me from living and so I jump sometimes not knowing where I’m going to land, but something is going to happen”, she laughs. Jennifer’s bold leap of faith turned out to be the right decision and she was quickly offered a new position as their Southeast Regional Sales Representative. And although COVID pandemic has created its own set of challenges, she has still experienced many highlights from her experiences. One of which included an international conference call with the owner of her new company. During the call, the owner asked Jennifer’s boss a question to which he replied, “Why don’t we let Jennifer take this because of her experience in the industry.” With great enthusiasm, she led the discussion. “I was cheering myself on in my head”, she giggles about the experience. “Who would have thought that fifteen years later this is where I’d be?”
PAYING IT FORWARD
In addition to always being in the fast-lane when it came to her career goals, Jennifer is a devoted mother to her teenage daughter. “My daughter pushes me to be the best version of myself”, says Jennifer. She is committed to being a better role model than the people she had around her. This commitment to creating a better future for young girls has led her to many organizations that help her fulfill her mission of inspiring young women. Within a year of joining NAWIC, Jennifer was elected to be on the board where she serves as their social media and emerging professionals chair.
In these positions, she assists young women and connects them to resources and scholarships made available through NAWIC’s initiatives such as their Eileen Bolton Scholarship Award. Additionally, Jennifer is a member of The order of the eastern stars which is an organization that focuses on benevolence and giving back to the community as well as The women of tomorrow where she travels to local high schools to speak to teenage girls about opportunities in the construction industry. “I love seeing their faces light up when I walk in dirty from work with my uniform on”, she laughs. Knowing the impact that she can have on these girls, she reflects, “how blessed am I that I am in the position to pay it forward?” Having a great understanding of what it takes to overcome adversity, she lives her life with great intention. “I know that my daughter is watching my every move and I want her to know that I am out there fighting for girls like her and fighting for other girls that grew up like me.”