Interview with Kathy Gabel
Kathy’s career path resembles the “American Dream” quite perfectly as she worked her way up from a middle class family to a management position in Finance by working hard, being determined on her professional goals and staying onto the career path she choose. Her professional development has taught her lessons which (young) women nowadays pursuing a management career path will find very valuable.
Please kindly introduce yourself briefly.
My name is Kathy Gabel I started with Rheinmetall in 2005, so I have just recently celebrated my 15 year anniversary with the company. This is actually the longest I have stayed with any company and I still feel very comfortable with my employer, KS Kolbenschmidt US Inc. My current position is the Director of Finance for the US entities, thus including our Mexican companies and I am located in Marinette, Wisconsin, USA.
I started with Rheinmetall back in 2005 as the Manager of Finance. After being with the company for a few years the prior Director of Finance was preparing to retire, so I was started to be groomed to take over the position upon his retirement, which was a great perspective for my career.
Please briefly describe your career path.
For my career path I actually feel that I have a little bit of a unique career path in the fact that I started off with only a 2-year-degree in Accounting and worked in an hourly type of position at a clerical level. Then I continued to work my way up through the organizations that I worked for.
I started my career in banking but quickly realized that to move forward with my career I would need a 4-year-degree. So while working in banking I completed my 4-year-degree in Accounting at Upper Iowa University. Shortly afterwards I took a Staff Accountant opportunity and arose in the health care industry. After a couple of years working as I a Staff Accountant, I then changed positions to a Financial Analyst. While working as a Financial Analyst, I realized that in order to get into management I would need additional education beyond my current degrees. Therefore, I chose to get an MBA in Business Administration at Edgewood College. About the time that I finished my MBA, I got married and left the health care facility choosing to move to the state where my husband lived.
This change gave me the opportunity to start working in the manufacturing industry. Unfortunately, this company went bankrupt. Then, I got the opportunity to join KS Kolbenschmidt, a Rheinmetall company.
Looking at your career path it seems that it depicts ‘The American Dream’ come true.
I truly worked my way up from the bottom. In my case, my family stems from the middle class and I watched both my parents working hard to make ends meet. I was raised with the mindset that women worked, having seen a mother who goes to work every day. It was a normal transition to go from school to work. In this regard, my parents were an important role model for me as they inspired me on how I wanted to live my life.
I have always had a very strong need to be in control over my own life and I strived especially for financial independence. This is actually what drove me to get a college degree and to always try to get a better-paying position.
How do you perceive Rheinmetall's attitude towards women and their advancement?
With us, it’s your qualification, that counts.
My experience in working at Rheinmetall is that gender has never been an issue. The company focuses more on your individual performance and meeting set deadlines with accurate results. Perhaps in some ways it is due to the men I have worked for here incidentally, all my superiors at Rheinmetall have been men so far – I never felt that they have treated me differently because of my gender. For me it seems that Rheinmetall is a very gender-neutral company.
Moreover, the company advanced me from a manager to a director role. They did not look outside of the company to find an external candidate to fill the director position. I remember that my predecessor had once made the comment to me that he felt that women many times had a better work ethic.
My experience has been that Rheinmetall’s attitude towards women is very good. I have never felt held back at all in my career path!
Did you have to give up something for your career?
The fact that I do not have any children some would see as a sacrifice. Though having children for me has never been a priority. I have always been more of an animal person!
I have always been very career focused. But that has been my choice! It happened more by circumstance that I put a priority on career development and working instead of starting a family.
What advice can you give young, aspiring women (at Rheinmetall) regarding their career planning?
I really feel that as long as you have a good work ethic, you are reliable and you have the right education to provide the support you will need in your career, as well as a good understanding of the role you are about to enter, you can achieve whatever you set your mind to.
Whatever your career path might be, once you decide on it, be careful of straying too far away from that path because you did not see the right opportunity at the right time. I have seen many women take a different job just because their aspired job was not available to them. If you do that, it is hard to get back to your original career path, because employers in the US tend to focus mainly on the most recent job rather than your complete professional experience when evaluating a resume.
Every-day life in accounting
In accounting, I can say from my experience, that it is crucial to understand that Rheinmetall is output-focused. It matters most that the task or job gets done accurately and according to the set deadlines. That’s why a good work ethic, time management, flexibility and having a support network in case of working overtime is absolutely paramount.
A mentor who can show you what the acceptable company culture is, may also be helpful in the beginning. That is especially true for university graduates who are confronted with “the real world” for the first time.
What opportunities do you see in the future for women in your field of work?
It appears to me that the opportunities for women as well as men in my field are quite open, endless actually. Working in my field comes with sitting at a desk all day and concentrating on the task before you. Finance and accounting will always provide you with a good income and it is a very stable career move.
No matter where life takes you, where you move to, accountants are always needed in any type of company and in any part of the world.