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Tracy Frank, Published June 04 2013

Her Voice: High-profile woman an ‘odd duck’ in manufacturing industry

Her Voice is a weekly article about women in or from our area and how they make an impact on the world around them. If you know someone SheSays should feature in HerVoice, email Tracy Frank at tfrank@forumcomm.com.

COOPERSTOWN, N.D. – Tamara Somerville travels to places like Italy, Australia, Chile and Peru, even Siberia and Inner Mongolia, all through a corporate position she holds at a company in Cooperstown.

Somerville is corporate vice president and president of global initiatives and strategic alliances for Posi Lock Puller, which markets and distributes pullers – a mechanical tool that removes gears and bearings safely and quickly – worldwide.

She is the primary contact for all international distributors and many of the company’s large domestic partners.

“I love my position,” she said. “Rural North Dakota is a nice place to live, but it sure is fun to get out of here.”

She’s held the position for 17 years and said even now it’s rare to find a woman in such a high-ranking position in a manufacturing company.

“I’m very much an odd duck,” Somerville said. “I stand out wherever I go.”

In a convention of 500 people, she’ll be one of only 25 women, she said. And many of her emails come addressed to Mr. Tamara Somerville, so she does feel like she’s breaking boundaries in her industry.

But the company itself is a bit unusual in that women make up the entire sales and customer service department and assembly line, Somerville said.

“Because we’re in a rural area, the people who are working here are wives of farmers. They come from farming families,” she said. “It’s just that way. There are very few men in this building.”

Sometimes being a woman in a male-dominated field can be an advantage, she said. Distributors who might not be interested in the product pay a bit more attention when they see her, Somerville said.

“People sell to people,” she said. “We’ve got an excellent product that’s better than anything else on the market, but it is all about relationships and building that partnership.”

But it can also be a challenge, especially in countries where men don’t like to do business with women, she said.

Sometimes the businessmen won’t look at her, or they’ll often test her by asking her trick questions, she said.

Somerville combats the stereotypes by showing them that she understands the product and asking them questions to engage them, she said.

“Once they understand that I know what I’m talking about and I’m there to help them and show them how they can increase their sales, then they relax and pay attention,” she said.

Somerville, who has a teenage daughter and son, travels up to 90 days out of the year. She said it was hard to leave when her children were younger, but she has great support from her family.

Somerville’s father, Dean Somerville, invented the puller and founded the company. Tamara grew up making boxes and working on the assembly line – the same thing her 14-year-old daughter is doing now for a summer job.

But family members aren’t guaranteed a position with the company and must either get a college degree or work somewhere else for a few years, she said.

Somerville worked as an auditor and a stock broker in Florida before she decided she wanted to move back home.

“I liked being able to see people make money,” she said. “Then everything fell apart in the market, and it wasn’t fun anymore.”

She moved back to North Dakota in 1992. Posi Lock relied on one of its distributors to export its products before Somerville joined the team. She audited the company and found ways to improve the company’s sales.

“I enjoy opening up new markets and taking on new projects,” she said. “If somebody says it can’t be done, I ask why not.”

And her efforts are paying off.

In 2002, Posi Lock Puller was the first North Dakota company to receive the Export Achievement Certificate from the U.S. Department of Commerce.

In 2012, the company saw a 25 percent increase in product shipped internationally.

And just this year, Somerville was selected as the U.S. Small Business Administration’s 2013 North Dakota Small Business Exporter of the Year.

“The export award was a major achievement for me,” she said. “I was recognized by somebody outside of the family.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Tracy Frank at (701) 241-5526