Shattering the Manufacturing Glass Ceiling: How One Woman Rose from Receptionist To Plant Floor to C-Suite

“I’ll do it”!

That pretty much sums up the way AriAnne Sproat of Tempe, Ariz., operates. At age 37, she proudly wears the trailblazer label for women in business and, in particular, the manufacturing industry. As chief operating officer (COO) of ITC Manufacturing in Phoenix, one of the world’s leading supplier of steel products, she has spent the last 18 years as a role model, demonstrating to the company founders and all employees that there is no task she can’t handle – and handle successfully.

You could say that AriAnne’s career began by being in the right place at the right time. In fact, she explains, “I was working as a customer service representative at the cosmetics counter of a major department store in 1999 when the then chief financial officer of ITC came into shop. He mentioned that there was a receptionist position open at his company and that I should apply for it.”

And the rest, as they say, is history. Little did AriAnne know then that 16 years later she would become the chief operating officer (COO) of the one of the largest producers of wire mesh fencing and other steel products in the U.S. Today she oversees manufacturing operations at both the company’s Phoenix and Columbus, Ohio facilities.

“It was my first time working in an office,” she recalls those early days in her career. “There were only four people working in the office and two of them were the owners who were in their 30s. I could immediately see that it was a very young and dynamic company and I knew I wanted to be a part of it.

“I was answering the phones, but anything that needed to be done, I would chime in with “I’ll do it” and they (the owners) would let me do it. I took every opportunity as a learning experience and became exposed to every aspect of the business – customer service, parts procurement, shipping, sales and more. I was the jack of all trades,” she said.

With just a year into her job, it became clear to the management team at ITC that AriAnne was ready to take on more responsibility. Again, the timing was perfect. The company just secured Lowe’s home improvement stores as it largest customer to date. It needed somebody to create the shipping processes and manage the parts. “I’ll do it!”, shouted AriAnne, who moved into the shipping department and soon became the shipping and inventory manager.

By 2002, that scenario repeated itself as the rapidly growing company faced challenges in its production department. “Since I already was familiar with all the parts, parts ordering, production, shipping and other company functions, I became production coordinator,” she added. “The company was still young and didn’t have people in these positions, so it wasn’t a case of me replacing anybody. By moving from department to department, I was able to make each one my own by establishing the processes for successful operations.”

Despite the progress made in her new career, one of AriAnne’s goals in life was to complete her education. Before she was hired at ITC, she had been taking classes at a local community college. However, she decided to enroll at Western International University in Phoenix where she attended night classes and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business administration. “It took me awhile but I did it,” she exclaimed, adding that the knowledge gained solidified her confidence in what she was already accomplishing on the job.

As the years passed, she had gained the respect and admiration of the owners and every employee she worked with. By 2014, it became very clear to the owners that AriAnne was ready to move up to the “next level”. However, as it turned out, there was another major challenge in AriAnne’s life.

“That was the year I had my first and only child. It was a very difficult pregnancy and I was bedridden and in the hospital for six months. Fortunately, my son Carter, who is now two and a half, and I are fine. But I remember Faruk Gole (ITC president and CEO) telling me that my absence was the worst time of his career. Until then, I was his right hand, and when I wasn’t there he realized how much value I added to the company.

“I returned to my job in early 2015 and in April Faruk made it official – I was being promoted to COO. To this day, it is probably the most accomplished moment I have had in my life. The response from everybody was phenomenal. They all told me how proud they were of how I could move up the ranks and reach the COO position.

“It was a shining moment for me, and as a woman it was even sweeter because I work in a male-dominated industry. Now that I am older, the challenge is not as difficult as it was when I was in my early 20s and in charge of an entire manufacturing plant floor of mostly men. I always had to work 10 times harder to prove myself, but I have always been fine with that,” she said.

“Achieving the COO position, especially as a woman, is even more satisfying because it just proves that you can do anything you set your mind to, regardless of whether you are male or female.”

AriAnne is quick to acknowledge that the recognition she has received for her career accomplishments is due in large part to working for a company that is progressive.
“ITC was willing to give me the opportunities to succeed and I took advantage of every one of them through initiative, dedication and hard work. If I had waited for all the opportunities to be handed to me, I wouldn’t be where I am,” she said.

Recent studies conclude that the number of women in manufacturing leadership positions is increasing from the current 29 percent level (only five percent at the CEO level). The research has found that this increase is largely due to women’s ability to believe in themselves, their willingness to fulfill their vision for career success and their ability to surround themselves with people who want to help achieve their goals.

“Throughout my career, I have always tried to lead by example. I wouldn’t ask any of my employees to do anything I wouldn’t do myself. I may have the COO title, but everyone here knows me as the person who has been here forever and has performed most of the functions the jobs entail.

“I am proud of the fact that no one is afraid to ask me how to do something and I am willing to get my hands dirty in the process,” she added.

Asked what is one of the main things she has learned during her 18 years with ITC, AriAnne said:

“No matter what position you have, you are part of a team and you play an integral role. I grew up on the plant floor, so I respect every single employee whether they are in the production departments or in the office. I treat everyone the same.”

“AriAnne is – without a doubt – a shining star,” says Gole. “She is sharp, dedicated, hardworking and, most importantly, a very charismatic leader. Her no-nonsense attitude, resilience and desire to strive for excellence will always take her and her team to the next level.”