Tiara International LLC is committed to inspiring women leaders. Our Tiara Spotlight Series showcases women who embody The Tiara Model for True Leadership (SM) in their life's work.
President, McKechnie Vehicle Components (MVC)
Linda Torakis, President of McKechnie Vehicle Components (MVC) is making an impact in the automotive industry. Linda and her husband and business partner, Mike Torakis have taken MVC and have turned it into an incredible organization founded in their core values; success, family, growth, win-win. In this Tiara Spotlight, Linda talks with Elizabeth Ruske, Managing Partner at Tiara about her success and how she got to where she is today. Elizabeth comments, “Linda is the type of leader who walks her talk – every day – in dealing with big issues as well as small ones. She is always authentic and that is something she has learned to embrace and it’s something that her people count on. She has created her company in the way she envisioned it could be, and Linda shows up inside that vision, with a huge heart and compassion for her staff and a commitment to the company’s success on every level. It is her vision that has been a critical component to MVC’s success. Thank you, Linda for being an incredible business leader.”
Who are you? How do you define yourself?
I’m a business owner and we’ve been very fortunate to own MVC for the past nine years. They say it takes ten years to become an overnight success, so I’m really looking forward to the next 10, 20, 30, or 40 years, as we really start to hit our groove and do all the things that we know we can do.
I’m also a mother and have a daughter in college. I’m a wife to my business partner, Mike. I’m a daughter and I’m a sister, so like everybody else, I wear a lot of hats and spin a lot of plates. Life is great!
What are you known for? What would you say people count on you for?
I see my role as removing obstacles and staying out of the team’s way. Obviously as the owner, the buck stops with me, so there are times when I have to make the final decision. I don’t want to mislead and say I’m necessarily a consensus builder, because I think that leading by consensus can sometime be dangerous. I have an enormous amount of respect and trust for the team and barring any major disasters, my job is to stay out of their way to allow them to do the jobs that they are much more qualified to do. My job is to create an environment and a culture for us all to succeed, one without fear so we can have candid, productive discussions. We can argue and disagree amongst ourselves and get to the best solution, which may not be the most politically correct or even the way I would choose to do it, because I recognize that my solution may not be the best solution. It was an interesting awareness to realize, wow, I need to do a better job of creating an environment where people feel like they can say, “Hey you know, that’s not the right answer.”
What do you think are your strengths? What are some of the things that you bring to the table that have helped you, your team, and your company succeed?
I think for me the biggest game changer was to learn to just be myself in all situations. I hate to use the word, “authentic”, because I think it’s become an overused word. When I first started out 9 years ago, I didn’t know anything about the auto industry, which is pretty aggressive, but I was trying to figure out how I fit. Initially, I felt like I also had to be aggressive to fit in with the demeanor of the industry, but I realized quickly that did not work for me, and when I did try to be something I was not I ended up not feeling great about myself and the interactions. In this industry, nobody calls up and says “Hey, we have an issue can we talk about it?” Everybody just yells out of the gate. So, it took a while to grow into myself and allow me to be who I’m going to be. I actually think this is a secret weapon of sorts because people tend to underestimate me because I’m not quick to get angry and I do a lot of laughing. I’m a big fan of humor. I think you’ve got to be able to laugh and you’ve got to be able to see the funny side of things. So that’s definitely a strength.
How have you been able to be so successful in a male dominated industry and culture?
I keep thinking we have we’ve done it – we have arrived. In your head you know where you’re going and you know where you are. We’re light-years away from where we were nine years ago, but I feel like we’re just now at the very beginning of really seeing the effects of the culture take hold.
We have a couple of new people that have joined the leadership team and I realized they didn’t know the “why” – why do I get out of bed in the morning, or why do I believe in MVC’s success? My “why” is to bring manufacturing back to America. People need to know what their leaders and their company stand for and that starts with the “why we exist”. Being able to combine the why, the what, and the how in a way that each of us understands is key.
Listen as Linda discusses the importance of leveraging your team’s talents. To watch the full video on our YouTube Channel, click here.
You participated in the Tiara Leading With Impact program and were part of that program with other executive women. Why did you join and what did you hope to get out of the program?
I have an enormous respect for Tiara and what your organization does and the impact that you have on women in leadership positions. I worked with one of the Tiara Leaders, Betsy Sobiech, for several years who, as my leadership coach, has oftentimes been my lifeline. In my position, it’s hard. You need that sounding board and somebody to give you objective perspective on what is going on in your head. The Leading With Impact program was a phenomenal experience. I was able to get to the root of who I am as a leader and how I want to be seen and show up. And, the interactions with the Program Leaders paired with the relationships I was able to create with the other women in the program, was hugely impactful. I remember at the first meeting when I sat down thought, “What am I doing here with all these phenomenal women with huge jobs from large corporations making a difference every day?”
It’s the content and the awareness the Leading With Impact program brings to your leadership style, which helps you define how you want to evolve, function, and become the best version of yourself possible.
In this clip from our Spotlight conversation, Linda talks about the importance of creating our own path.
To watch the full video on our YouTube Channel, click here.
What are some of the things that you are really passionate about as a female leader?
I’m obviously passionate about growth for women, and growing our manufacturing business. I think women are unstoppable and one of my things I say all the time, “Remember, Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, only she did them backwards and in heels!”. My friends and I often talk about not taking credit away from our husbands, but men often have the luxury of being singularly focused on work, and as a woman, we’re not. That’s okay. I’m not saying, “Oh poor me!” The reality is that when I come into work I think, “Well, I wonder what we should have for dinner tonight?” along with a million other things. We as women are unstoppable, talented, multi-faceted, and compassionate. We just are.
I look forward to the day where I’m not judged as being a woman in a leadership position. My win for my career, will be when I get to the end of the road and they say she was a phenomenal leader. Not because I’m a woman, but because I’m a phenomenal leader. I just wish we could get to the point where gender didn’t matter. If you’re a bad-ass, you’re a bad-ass!
How do you recharge your batteries.?
I love what I do. I’m also very much into horses. That’s my outlet. I love going to the barn early, when it’s quiet and you hop on. Probably one of the best mentors I’ve ever had has been a horse, because you don’t bully a 1,200 pound animal. You show up 100% and you are responsible for the relationship; they have to respect you and you have respect them. My daughter got me into riding when she was six. There is something about the interaction and the peacefulness of riding horses. What I love is it’s the interaction with the horse. It’s so cathartic. Every time I get on, there’s also a sense of nervousness. Is this the day I fall off or will I be able to jump those jumps? If you go over a jump and it doesn’t go well, you get popped out of the saddle, but there are many more jumps coming and I know I’ve got to get it together – I’ve got to think. It teaches you how you make decisions under stress or to keep moving even when you’re afraid. You know you can’t stop riding, even if you’re in a dangerous situation and you’re hanging on by a thread. That’s when you’ve got to dig down deep and say, okay, I can do this! I have to get back in the saddle, stay on and get through this, or things are going to get ugly!
What I love about riding for anyone, but especially for girls, is it teaches them to be assertive without being aggressive. It teaches you to make decisions in high-pressure situations and never quit. When you fall off a horse, barring any broken bones, they put you right back up there and you have to do it again. I love that it scares me and pushes me forward.
What are you grateful for?
Wow, so many things, really. The obvious things – my daughter, my husband, my company, my team. I love MVC…this is so personal for me. We get offers to buy and people say “Oh my gosh you know that would be so much money you could do whatever you want!”, but I’m already doing what I want. I am really thankful for the people that I work with. I have days when I’m tired. Yesterday it was raining all day I said to my friends that’s a great day to watch Harry Potter, eat ice cream, and not get off the couch. But I never have days where I don’t want to go into the office and see the team.
I am thankful every day for working with the people at MVC, no matter which of our facilities I’m in. They are really incredible, from the leadership to the people on the plant floor. I have many, many, many, things to be grateful for and I’m happy. I don’t know which comes first!
What's next for you and MVC in the next 10, 15, or 20 years?
Growth. I want to see us growing within the United States and maybe even overseas. I want the staff and employees to feel ownership of MVC and to share in our success and for each of them to know we would not be here without them! I want to share our profits and success with each of our staff and simply say thank you for all you do and have them feel acknowledged and appreciated.
Oh, and I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing every day and never retire!
To watch the full Spotlight discussion with Linda Torakis on Tiara International’s YouTube channel, click here.