You may have heard the saying that behind every strong man is an even stronger woman. Well, that may hold true with the power couple behind the ongoing success of Ahearn Equipment. In 1977, Ahearn Equipment was established by Tim and Donna Ahearn in their back yard in rural North Brookfield, MA. The business began as a mobile repair service on a farm and has gone through a series of expansions. Ahearn Equipment has now passed to the second generation and is owned and run by Donna’s two sons who opened a second dealership in 2021 located in Hudson, NH. Although she is no longer at the helm, Donna made her mark on the business and laid a solid foundation for the future.
Q. Would you please share about your background and career path?
I was a Physical Education teacher for 9 years until shortly after my husband left his job to start repairing farm equipment. Compelled to be a supportive wife and partner, I began doing the bookkeeping. As our little farm business grew, I quickly recognized the need to broaden my financial accounting and business knowledge exponentially. I enlisted the help of consultants and accountants, and I’m so thankful for their guidance. I really enjoyed the work and knew it was critical knowledge for a chance at success.
My husband was always the face of the business, and I was behind the scenes - we made a great team and could always count on each other!
Q. What struggles or challenges have you faced as a woman in business?
I (we) faced the same struggles as other 1st generation small businesses. We were always financially strapped as we were reinvesting any profits into the business, and there were never enough hands to get all the work done. Also, during the initial years, we were starting our family and then raising kids. That was a lot to juggle.
Q. What advice would you give other women wanting to start a business?
Ask yourself if you’re ready for the business to be all encompassing, and are you willing to struggle with the balance between business and personal time?
Q. What advice would you give other women on building and running a successful business?
Search for and embrace guidance from others, both professionals and peers from organizations such as National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC). Be sure to learn about financial statements, especially cash flow and income statements and balance sheets. It’s so important to know where you stand and how to improve.
Q. Do or did you have a woman leader as a mentor or are there specific women who inspired you and why?
There was no one specific woman; however, when we attended industry meetings, there were frequently husband and wife teams who were building the same type of business we were. The other women faced the same challenges and hoped for rewards. In sharing our experiences, we were rejuvenated.
Q. Who or what has been your greatest influence in business? Why?
Terry Shepherd from ROCG assisted us in transitioning the business from us, the 1st generation, to our 2 sons, the 2nd generation over a period of time. We never anticipated how difficult this would be and now understand why so many businesses fail to get there. We are forever grateful for his wisdom and for the work the 4 of us family members had to do to get to where we are today.
Q. What mistakes have you made along the way and what did you learn from them?
There were too many mistakes to count, but perseverance and learning from our mistakes propelled us forward.
Q. What are some patterns you’ve noticed over the years about women at work, and things they could be doing better to advance their careers?
Women tend to think emotionally, and their decision-making will benefit if they try to minimize their “feelings” and focus on the facts.
Q. Why do you think companies would benefit from having more women at the top?
I think women are better at taking a 360◦ view of a topic. We can put ourselves in the other person’s shoes and base a decision on everyone’s needs.
Q. How do you take care of yourself and maintain a good mental health and a good work/life balance?
For years this was an impossible feat for me as it felt like the business was always in control. I finally learned to take time to exercise in the morning which improved my day and satisfied “me” time.
Also, it helped to have the kids involved in daily business activities such as picking up parts at suppliers, performing a road call on a piece of equipment, or interactions with customers.
Q. How should women support other women in their organizations?
There are so many business topics and struggles that are common to every organization. Women should support each other with suggestions, insight, and compassion.
Q. What is most critical for a woman to be successful in business?
Passion and determination and recognizing you can’t do it all on you own!
Donna Ahearn, Co-Founder & Former Owner, Ahearn Equipment
This photo of Donna amidst a flowing river is fitting since just as the river flows, the business success flows onto its second generation run by the Ahearn sons.
Donna is one of many women who have partnered with their husband and children to build and sustain a successful family-run business. The Ahearn's have made strategic partnership decisions that continue to propel their business forward. We will explore the business further in a later article, but today we celebrate Donna and her selfless dedication. What she and her husband started in their backyard has grown to almost 50 employees, and the business is thriving and growing. Ahearn Equipment is committed to its mission of delivering “family, quality and value, one customer at a time."
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