Women in Masonry
Building on a Strong Foundation
By Ron Treister
Throughout its nearly 90-year history, General Shale has been a leading provider of building materials solutions for North America. While the company has long been a key player in the production of brick, stone and concrete block, over the past few years it has navigated a rebranding, greatly expanded its portfolio of masonry products, and established a robust digital community.
These transformations took place under the watchful eye of Dawn Henning, General Shale’s director of marketing and retail sales. A native of east Tennessee, Henning is a marketing and communications professional with more than 20 years of experience.
While obtaining her undergraduate degree at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, Henning discovered that she wanted to pursue a marketing career.
“During church, I listened to a talk given by a fellow church member, and I thought, ‘Wow, this guy has an innate ability to speak publicly and has a gift to really grab the audience’s attention,’” Henning says. “I went up to him afterward and said, ‘I don’t know who you are or what you do, but I want to do what you do!’”
With guidance from her new mentor — who turned out to be the vice president of public relations for the local NBA team — Henning embarked on a career that has enabled her to work for a number of nationally recognized entities, including two Fortune 500 companies.
In 2011, she returned to her roots in Tennessee to work for General Shale, helping to carve out a leading market share for the company while forging a career path in a male-dominated industry.
While the number of women in the business is gradually increasing, Henning is often met with surprise when she shares her title.
“Across the board, the number of female executives in marketing is growing — slowly, but it’s growing,” Henning says. “In construction, however, the gender demographic is still fairly one-sided. I look at that and see an opportunity to share a distinctive new voice.”
Henning’s vision also brings a fresh look at building materials originally developed in antiquity.
“When you think about the construction business, typically you think bricks and mortar,” she says. “But this is also a business that’s heavily focused on colors, textures and patterns. The most successful builders realize that a career in this industry is as much about design as technical know-how. They know it’s about creating beauty and resonating with clients as they expand city centers and college campuses, or build offices, retail complexes, high-rise apartments, first homes or dream homes.”
For many years, General Shale has understood the value of marketing and invested in active promotional strategies. Henning’s focus on clear communication has led to a new approach in the way General Shale speaks about and measures quantities of materials required for building projects, a method she says has helped better equip the brick industry to demonstrate masonry’s superior capabilities over other forms of cladding.
“When you take on a new build project, the mental acrobatics required to price and order materials can be a real challenge,” Henning says. “In particular, there’s a broad misconception that brick is more expensive than other building options, such as fiber cement siding. That’s because, for many years, brick was priced and sold by the thousand, rather than by the square foot. We’ve challenged the industry to think differently in this regard, and have helped builders and homeowners research their options by creating custom apps and calculators. When you’re able to compare apples to apples, you realize that the more attractive building materials can also be the most affordable.”
Since joining General Shale, Henning has also worked to create an online community. “At the start of our social outreach,” she says, “we had 20 followers on our Facebook page. Five years later, we have more than 17,000 followers, and we’ve established a strong presence on Twitter, Instagram and more. Social media has allowed us to connect with people we never would have met before, and that’s very rewarding.”
Henning continues to develop ways to demonstrate the beauty and durability of masonry materials, for builders and beyond. Working in such a large and diverse industry, she says, fuels her creativity and keeps her engaged.
“I love the challenge of working for large companies, and General Shale is represented worldwide,” she says. “Learning how different countries and cultures interact with the market, how we access and employ our resources, is all really enjoyable. It pushes you to think about how to best implement initiatives, and when you experience success, it’s great to share that and catch up with colleagues from all over the world.”
Henning’s international list of colleagues is comprised of friendships gained over the past two decades, and her mentor from Utah is still at the top of that list.
“To this day, he’s one of my most admired friends,” she says, noting there are many more collaborations to come and much work to be done on the marketing front.
“This is a field that’s always changing and expanding,” she says. “To be competitive, you not only have to be aware of what’s going on, but also remain informed about what’s coming next and what it all means for the industry. That’s an exciting challenge.”
Originally published in Masonry magazine.
About the Author
Ron Treister is the President/Owner of Communicators International, Inc.