Gabriela (Gaby) Martinez-Salas, is president of Santa Fe Springs, CA-based Conquest Industries Inc.
Gabriela (Gaby) Martinez-Salas, is president of Santa Fe Springs, CA-based Conquest Industries Inc.

While still a male dominated field, the number of women in woodworking is increasing. As these pioneers continue to grow and succeed, it will open doors and highlight the industry as an option for numerous other women.

One such pioneer is Gabriela (Gaby) Martinez-Salas, President of Santa Fe Springs, CA-based Conquest Industries Inc., which manufactures and supplies tools, equipment and machinery for the woodworking and metalworking industries. A family business started by her father, Gustavo Martinez, in 1977, Martinez-Salas has been involved with the company since she was a child.

“I didn’t search for it. It found me, I suppose. I like to say that I started [working for Conquest] when I was born,” she laughs, “but I have worked there since I was 10 years old. During the summer I would go in and just stuff envelopes with invoices and mail them out. I would make my own little desk. Any excuse for me to go to the office and work with my dad, I would find it.”

While attending college she officially started working for the company as a receptionist, and Martinez-Salas has pretty much worked in every department from the front office to the shop floor, from bookkeeping to being the shop manager.
“I enjoyed business, and I liked going to the office and being around people. I enjoyed the opportunity of being put into every different aspect of the company,” she says. “All of it I just enjoyed. I thrived in it. I liked having challenges and learning new things.”

Accepting the Challenge

One of those challenges was managing the production shop at age 25 while she was also pregnant (Martinez-Salas has two kids and her husband, Matthew Salas, is an Iraq and Afghanistan war vet who served five tours of duty as a marine helicopter pilot). When asked if she had concerns about how she was perceived, Martinez-Salas says that several angles impacted her, not only being a young woman but also the owner’s daughter.

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“But I never felt as if I had an extra special place in the business. I knew that my father had no problem firing me if it needed to be done. I honestly went in with the idea that I didn’t know what the heck I was doing, and I was going to rely on the guys that I was going to be leading,” she adds. “But how I looked at it was that I was working with them. They weren’t working for me or vice versa. It was a team effort, and I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to come up with this facade that I knew what I was doing because I didn’t.”

That complete honesty was extremely important in helping her gain the trust and respect of every worker, male and female. Martinez-Salas also credits her success to being confident as well as firm and aggressive when needed.
Much of what she’s learned came from her father who she describes as “very much my role model. He was very firm but then he could be very kind. He had a good balance. I aimed to be more like him.”

Gabriela (Gaby) Martinez-Salas and her father Gustavo Martinez.

It was her father who gave her advice that she says has influenced her life on a daily basis. The wisdom he shared was a mindset that helped her immigrant father achieve success. “My dad had an American dream and he lived it,” Martinez-Salas says. “And the thing that always sticks in my head is that my dad would always say, ‘You make things happen, you don’t let them happen’…and ‘You can’t fall asleep in life. If you fall asleep in life it is going to go right past you,’” she continues. “My dad would tell that to me and now I tell it to my children, and I’m sure my children will probably tell it to their kids.”

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