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Thursday, May 26, 2022

#14 Karen Boyle, Kathleen Durbin & Joan Hoppock

Having spent their careers in a male-dominated industry, the three sisters who run General Industrial Tool & Supply are no strangers to feeling like outsiders. Karen Boyle, the president of the Burbank distributor, said that when she and younger sister Joan Hoppock attended their first industry convention, they were the only women participants. “Everyone else was somebody’s spouse,” Boyle said. “We raised a few eyebrows back then.” “On a positive note, we certainly stood out,” Hoppock, vice president of sales, added. “People didn’t forget us.” More than 60 years after the company was founded by their father, Boyle, Hoppock and eldest sister Kathleen Durbin, its chief executive, continue its operations of serving machine shops and municipal customers. Oh, and their mother, who is 96 years old, still comes to the office three days a week. General Industrial was No. 14 on the Business Journal’s Women Owned Businesses list with an employee base of 45 workers and revenue in 2018 of $20 million. It operates from offices in a 1941 brick building that was at one time an egg processing plant and an adjacent warehouse in a building dating from the late 1930s on the Burbank-Los Angeles border. The company’s master print catalogue is made up of more than 1,700 pages and carries 10,000 different products from hammers, screwdrivers, personal protection equipment such as gloves and goggle, drill bits and precision measurement equipment. The cutting tools section of the catalogue is more than 200 pages, about equal for the section for hand and power tools. Thomas Gale, chief executive of Modern Distribution Management, a Lafayette, Colo. market research and media company for the wholesale distribution and industrial product markets, said that while he couldn’t say if there was more women-owned businesses in the industry, there has been an increase in management level positions held by women. “There definitely has been a shift in higher executive roles,” Gale said. Durbin in particular has been a pioneer of sorts, having started the Women Industrial Supply Executives network of the industry’s trade group, Industrial Supply Association, he continued. “Kathleen has done so much in the core industry association to move forward in women’s advocacy and it’s had a real impact,” he added. Durbin was the first – and to date the only – woman to serve as chair of the association’s board of directors. The current board has no women members. She has also served as a mentor to other women in the industry. “She is highly respected in that regard,” Boyle said. “Joanie and I make our contribution by running the business so she can take time off and attend meetings and conferences and things she needs to do.” Boyle gives credit to the longevity of General Industrial to the ability to reinvent the company during the ups and downs it has faced. For instance, as more industrial-type business moved or closed in Southern California, it was decided to go after customers who could not leave the area. “We made a concerted effort to go after the municipal business – the city, the schools, the utilities, the county,” Hoppock said. Today, municipal customers, including Los Angeles Department of Water & Power, make up about 40 percent of the company’s business. She and her sisters show a tenacity to put one foot forward every and remain focused, Boyle said. “It has never been a straight line for us,” she added. “We’ve always had to adapt to the challenges around us.”

Mark Madler
Mark Madler
Mark R. Madler covers aviation & aerospace, manufacturing, technology, automotive & transportation, media & entertainment and the Antelope Valley. He joined the company in February 2006. Madler previously worked as a reporter for the Burbank Leader. Before that, he was a reporter for the City News Bureau of Chicago and several daily newspapers in the suburban Chicago area. He has a bachelor’s of science degree in journalism from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

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