Woman on the Move
From office manager to driver to owner of her own trucking company
By Annemarie Mannion
A gig as an office manager in a trucking company helped Pat Sterling gain the know-how and confidence to purchase her own truck and take to roads in the Chicago area hauling dirt.
Sterling owns Diva Trucking, a one-truck operation in Orland Hills, Ill. She started the business in 2008 during one of the worst recessions in history.
“I don’t know if I was aware about how bad the economy was going to get,” Sterling says. “Even though it was a recession, I guess the stars aligned for me.”
Sterling earned her commercial driver’s license years previously after being laid off from a job as a legal secretary. She wrote a detailed business plan, which enabled her to get a $15,000 small business loan.
“I did a business plan, and those aren’t fun. It was very time-consuming,” she says. “But any lender wants to know how you’re going to make money and how you’re going to pay them back if it doesn’t work out.”
The gloomy economy had at least one plus — she got a good price on her truck. Sterling used $12,000 to purchase a 1998 Mack dump truck, which she found on Craigslist, and dedicated $3,000 for other startup expenses. She didn’t buy the vehicle until she had lined up work.
“I didn’t want to have a truck and then try to get work because that loan comes due pretty quick,” she says.
She turned to her former employer in the trucking industry, Able Oil in Chicago, for advice and for work.
“He (the owner) took me under his wing,” she says. “I think he thought I didn’t know what I was doing, and he basically mentored me.”
Her prior experience working on the administrative side also was valuable.
“The trucking industry is so different from any other industry,” she says. “It is so regulated. There are so many rules. You break one and you’re shut down.”
Sterling now works on a contract basis for Able Oil. She hauls dirt in the Chicago area and is registered and plated in Illinois and Indiana.
Sterling wants to expand and diversify her business and has taken steps to reach her goals. She recently was certified as a minority company, as a woman-owned business and as a disadvantaged business, which she believes positions her to pursue other types of jobs.
“Now I can go after work at a lot of companies that have to have a minority or woman-owned company working for them,” she says. “Often, when they don’t have a minority company, they look at a list of vendors, and I hope they will give me a try.”
She also plans to attend bid meetings for jobs to introduce herself to companies that may be hiring, such as for work for the Illinois Department of Transportation.
Sterling already sees the limitations of hauling dirt, which tends to be seasonal work. She wants to add other trucks to her business.
“I want to have a refrigerated van and a flat bed. I’d like to keep it small — three to five trucks, and I’d like to have all women drivers,” she says.
Sterling’s desire to support women is in keeping with her company’s name, Diva Trucking. She acknowledges she toyed with the idea of calling her company Peppermint Patty and painting her truck in a candy cane motif.
“I’m glad I didn’t do that. I don’t know if I would have been taken seriously,” she says. “Diva was my default name. But I thought, ‘At least they’ll know I’m female.’”