When perseverance pays off: Terry Sugar lacked education and experience, now she’s VP of Business Development and Finance
When Terry Sugar was a young mom of two with financial troubles, she told her father she’d take any job in the family business that he would give her. She had a tough road learning the ropes as bookkeeper, but thirty years later she’s earned her CMA and the title of VP of Business Development and Finance.
By Hailey Eisen
There’s a widely-circulated statistic that while men will apply for a job when they meet only 60% of the qualifications, women will only apply if they think they meet all of them. If this had been the case for Terry Sugar, she would never have started working at Farmbro Inc., and she certainly wouldn’t be in the role of Vice President Business Development and Finance today.
Founded by Terry’s father, Al Farmer, in 1983, Farmbro supported The Ford Motor Company with upfitting solutions and mechanical expertise in the commercial and truck fleet sales industry. Around the time the company launched, Terry recalls that she and her then husband were experiencing financial difficulties. She was a young mom of two with a high school education and little experience under her belt. “I remember calling up my dad and saying, ‘I need a job, I’ll do anything.’”
Terry was thrust into an accounting role, handed the general ledger, taught the basics of bookkeeping by her uncle, and left to figure out the rest. For the next two years, she learned the ropes at work while juggling her kids’ programs and activities and working around her husband’s unusual schedule as a skating coach.
Inspired by the need to support her family and her drive to learn everything she could about accounting, Terry was moved to seek out a formal education. In 1988, after giving birth to her third son, she enrolled in a CMA program via correspondence. “I didn’t have a university degree, but I found a way to get into a CMA program that I would complete over the next three years.”
Studying every morning and every evening while continuing in her role at Farmbro took a great deal of commitment. But she was dedicated to the advancement of the company and wanted to bring everything she could to her role. After all, nearly everyone who worked for Farmbro at the time was a member of her family.
“Working with family means you have a very strong bond — love, loyalty, and dedication to one another,” she explains. “But because family businesses can destroy families, you have to be very careful and respectful of one another too. It’s a fine balance”
“Working with family means you have a very strong bond — love, loyalty, and dedication to one another”
Terry’s commitment and dedication paid off in spades. Today, at 60, she stands at the helm of Farmbro alongside her brother. Her father, who’s 90, just retired a few years ago. The family owns three businesses in total and has nearly 100 employees. Throughout the years, her three brothers have all worked for the company, as have her mom, aunt, uncle, and her own three sons.
About a decade ago, Terry’s brother went from a VP role to that of President. While the option presented itself for them to divide up and each lead one of the companies her father owned, she made a decision to stick with her brother and continue working collaboratively. “Working together we have a great synergy, and I wanted to maintain that no matter what.”
Today Farmbro has an extensive product and service offering providing work vehicle solutions for individual needs and high volume uplifts for some of the largest fleets in Canada. As a woman in this industry, Terry has learned, above all else, that the best way to succeed is to not be afraid to ask questions. It’s the same philosophy that allowed her to take on, and succeed in, her accounting role with no prior experience. “I’ve been very lucky that I haven’t run into too much chauvinism,” she says. “My brother and my father were always very supportive, and the respect they showed led others to do the same.”
Through asking questions and exploring new areas of interest, Terry has come to realize that her true passion lies in communications and people management. “Sure, there were times when I would think, maybe I should venture out on my own and find an industry that’s more aligned with my interests,” she says. But ultimately, her commitment to family and the advancement of their business, even during hard times, always won out. “Today I’m drawn to the strategic planning around people, bringing our staff together to ensure everyone is happy and that they want to come to work and drive the company forward.” She’s worked with ADP to bring in speakers and organize information sessions for the Farmbro staff to shed light on these areas.
While Terry has learned to leave work at work on the weekends and enjoy life, whether it be hiking, traveling, or taking dance classes, she’s still as committed to learning and growth as she was when she started over three decades ago.
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