Lisa Wilson Thrives in Traditional Male Business
A common childhood scenario for Lisa Wilson was that while her sister was inside the house, she was outside driving tractors.
“I grew up playing in the dirt,” she said. “I was always the tomboy of the family.”
But that penchant for dirt and heavy equipment has paid off for her now as the president/owner of G.L. Williams & Daughter Trucking in Graniteville, S.C. The business is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.
Glenwood (G.L.) Williams started the business as a side job in 1967 with a small dump truck and bulldozer, clearing building lots. Eventually it grew into a full-time business and over the years more trucks and equipment were added.
Today the company has 16 employees and owns seven sand mines, an inert landfill and two compost sites. It hauls a variety of dirt, sand and gravel combinations for new homes, driveways and landscaping. As a woman-owned business, it also has a contract with the Department of Transportation to haul asphalt and clay for road projects.
The business continues to evolve. This is the first year that the business is selling compost. It has also opened one of its sand mines to sell to the public. But it still also clears building lots, does site prep, grading and excavation.
“We’re staying really busy,” Wilson said. “We added new trucks and equipment in the last several years.”
Wilson and her brother were involved in the business growing up, at first as general laborers.
“My brother and I were the first screening machines,” she said with a smile. “When Daddy would dig up a load of top soil we’d sit in the back of the truck and pull out the sticks and rocks. Now we have screening machines that do that.”
As she got older, Wilson drove the dump trucks and ran the equipment. But when it was time to go to college, she chose something much cleaner than hauling dirt. She became a medical lab tech and worked at Mullins Laboratory in Aiken.
“When I was younger I had a microscope and enjoyed looking at things through it, so I was interested in lab work,” she explained.
Eventually, though, while raising young children she desired a job that didn’t require her working on weekends and holidays. That’s when her mother, who ran the office for the company, urged her to return to the family business where she would only have to work three days a week. But before long her mother left the company and Wilson’s role became full-time.
At that point her brother was involved in the business, which was known as G.L. Williams & Son Trucking. The person who made logoed T-shirts for the company offered to make a special one for her that said G.L. Williams & Daughter.
“It was pretty much just a joke,” Wilson said. “But then when my brother left the company Dad said, ‘Let’s just change it to G.L. Williams & Daughter.’”
Wilson began to take on a bigger role in the company, and eventually when her father retired, she took over as owner. Her father, now 81, still shows up in the office every day to work on his rental properties.
“If I need him for something he’s always there,” Wilson said. “I hope when I’m his age I’ll have his stamina.”
A woman-owned company is still a rarity in the world of dump trucks and heavy equipment.
“Sometimes I’ll take certification classes and I’ll be the only woman in the class,” Wilson said. “Sometimes they think I don’t know what I’m talking about as a woman.”
However, her loyal customers are well aware of her pedigree and qualifications.
“A lot of times I’ll get a call from someone who says ‘So-and-so told me to call you because you’d have the answers,’” she said.
The business maintains a family atmosphere. Wilson’s husband, Len, does the estimating and is her biggest supporter.
“He is my sounding board and always has my back,” she said. “Having the right partner makes the biggest difference in running a business.”
Wilson still occasionally has an opportunity to play in the dirt.
“Still occasionally someone will come in to get a pickup load and if no one else is here, I’ll load them,” she said. “I often thought about going back and getting my CDL license again, but I stay too busy in the office.”
What are you passionate about in your business?
The trucking part – hauling our own materials. We can provide any type of material people want because we mix it ourselves. The composting is something I’m excited about because it’s green. We’re taking yard debris and making it into something that’ll make things grow. I also like when you can see that what you did makes a difference, like the road project on Atomic Road. When I go past there I think, we were part of this road expansion project.
What’s the best part of being a woman in this business?
Being unique. There aren’t a lot of women doing this. It makes us different. It helps us stick out in people’s minds.
What’s the hardest part of being a woman in this business?
People think a man should be doing this. It’s hard to get people to take me seriously until they get to know me and talk to me.
What are some challenges about a family business?
I get along with everybody but with other family members, sometimes you butt heads. At the end of the day, though, you realize you all want what’s best for the company and each other and we move forward. Family tells it like it is and everybody needs that. I’d rather get advice from somebody who tells me the truth than from somebody who tells me what they think I want to hear.
How has your father influenced you in business?
He never gives up and is always searching for opportunities and ways to improve. He’s always working. Those are big shoes to fill.
How do those big shoes motivate you?
I always want to make him proud of me. I want the business to continue on to leave as his namesake.
How do you unwind?
I enjoy going to the beach and hiking outdoors. And I like cutting grass.
How do you give back to the community?
We try to help out some churches that need things, like someone was putting in a volleyball court, we donated the materials. We help out the local sports teams. We try to do things that are local because we feel that if we’re helping people in the community, they’ll want to help us out too. I got some things I still want to do in the community that I haven’t got to yet.
What does the future hold for you and the company?
I would like to expand and take jobs a little further out. I’ve got grandsons and I’d like to keep it going long enough that they can be involved if they’re interested. I’ve still got some years left in me.