August 4/11, 2014; Volume 28/Number 4
By Jenna Lippin
With a history in helping lead unions and associations, Kim Oderkirk seemed to naturally progress into her position as executive vice president of the Flooring Contractors Association, commonly known as FCICA. Since officially joining the group in 1999, she has made a name for herself as the only woman among the organization’s top figures.
After graduating with a B.A. in Communication Arts and Science—with a major in advertising—from Michigan State University, Oderkirk started working at an advertising company but was soon approached by her father, who worked at a construction company at the time, about an open position. “The purchasing agent at [the company] needed an assistant,” she recalled. “That’s how I got into construction.”
With diverse experience in construction, working with companies representing electrical, mechanical, roofing and masonry—some union and some non-union—she also represented some of those contractors with the American Subcontractors Association (ASA) and learned about trade associations. While working her part-time job with a masonry company, she became the executive director of her local chapter of the ASA.
“That’s how I got into association management,” Oderkirk said. “Both the company and associations wanted me to work full time, so I left the mason, started my own company, Association Services, and ASA became a client.”
After years of working with ASA, Oderkirk was hired by a local wall and ceiling group—the Detroit chapter of the Association of the Wall and Ceiling Industry (AWCI)—that had union contracts with the carpenters’ union. “With my union contractor background representing management, I actually sat in on union negotiations and, at the time, in the early 1990s, I was the only female at the table,” she said. “They would get all upset and start swearing and then look at me and realize there was a woman in the room and that would frustrate them more. It was a learning curve for me.” From there, Oderkirk became heavily involved with the national AWCI group, which is what ultimately brought her to FCICA.
“At this time the local flooring association wanted a vote on the carpenters’ funds, so they asked me to run their association. Instead, I got the local groups to merge, becoming wall, ceiling and flooring. Because I was so involved with AWCI, I looked for a similar group for flooring knowledge and that’s how I found FCICA.
“The local group sent me to [the FCICA] meeting in Orlando in the spring of 1999. FCICA was looking for someone to run the group, and I happened to sit at a table with the incoming executive board, including David Meberg, who was the incoming chairman. They found out I was a company, not an employee, and asked me to bid their executive position.”
While Oderkirk was interested, she let FCICA know she would take the position on her terms—which meant not moving her family to Dalton. “I told them I had an office in my house, with a conference room and additional offices. So they came out and met with me, and I signed on July 1, 1999. My husband and I went to Dalton for the weekend and everything was moved to Michigan in a U-Haul.”
Oderkirk’s moves that led her to FCICA do seem like a well-modeled plan, but it was simply a natural progression based on her development and skills, she said. “It was all word of mouth just by track record. I was with the wall, ceiling and flooring group locally for 10 years. FCICA had so much potential that I was willing to expand my company’s scope.
“I wasn’t looking for it; I didn’t go to school for it,” she continued. “At MSU, I chose the business side of advertising, not the creative side. With that, and learning about different construction companies over the years, as well as knowing all the facets of the field, going into management for construction was a perfect fit for me.”
The management of various aspects of FCICA, along with multitasking and overseeing group operations, is a role that works well for a lot of women, Oderkirk noted. Her ability to handle so much at once has helped FCICA become the organization it is today.
“I think overly organized people are really good in this kind of situation,” she said. “There are a lot of people who can do this, but not everyone is as detail-oriented. That’s why FCICA is getting so successful now.”
It comes as no surprise that some women find it daunting to be one of the few females in a male-dominated industry. But, according to Oderkirk, that divide can be a good thing. “Sometimes a lot of women together can be difficult. I like dealing with men. If you are good at what you do, you will earn the respect you’re looking for.”
Despite the belief that being a woman has only helped Oderkirk’s career flourish, it has presented some challenges along the way. One is the assumption that a man is in charge, whether a woman is present or not. “I did Surfaces for FCICA for 11 years. My husband, Jim, is also part of the staff—he works for me. Often at trade shows, people will talk to him first. He laughs and says, ‘You need to talk to her. She’s the boss.’ Because [the field] is so male-dominated, it’s natural that if [a woman] is with a man, others will look to him first.
“I think that challenge is still there. Even on site visits they look to Jim first if they don’t know who we are and then he’ll tell them they need to talk to me, that I’m the decision maker. I still think the [assumption of men always being in charge] is out there.”
In her time away from FCICA, Oderkirk plays her mom role, with heavy involvement in her children’s school and extracurricular activities. She feels there must be balance between career and family. “I make sure everything gets done, but FCICA knows I am very involved with my kids. I always know what’s going on, and my kids know they can rely on me. I enjoy life because I found the right balance.”