Few of us experience a simple, straightforward career path in life and Rosa Hearn is no exception. As an industry veteran with more than 25 years of experience, she never expected a job in fasteners to become her career or passion.
Currently, Hearn is the product manager for the Proferred Rivets line at Brighton-Best International (BBI), a global wholesale distributor company — and she’s become well-known as “Rosa the Riveter” in the industry because of her passion and extensive knowledge of rivets, in particular. But her career in fasteners began quite unexpectedly.
“I was a cashier at a fast-food restaurant chain when an agency representative said she liked how I handled the customers and left me her card. She added, ‘When you’re ready for a change, call me,’” explains Hearn. “That same week, I called and interviewed for a receptionist’s role at Bolt Products, an industrial fastener distributor.”
Hearn worked at Bolt Products for three years when a move forced her to find a new gig. She then spent 10 years at an electronics company that also sold fasteners before deciding she needed a change. “I went from distribution to retail,” she says. “It was completely different and wonderful for a bit. I was selling baby products to big-box retailers, such as Target, Walmart, and Ross, and I learned about fashion, product displays, and end caps.” End caps are displays at the end of an aisle in a store, which are designed to give products a competitive edge.
Hearn says she enjoyed it but, after about six months, realized she missed the fastener industry. “I just knew I needed to go back. I was a salesperson and whether it was in fashion or fasteners, wasn’t as important as knowing who I was. I loved sales and I knew the fastener industry, so I had to own that.”
She then worked for Alcoa, a large industrial corporation, where she truly earned her nickname. “They had a fastener division and that’s where I learned all about rivets,” says Hearn. “It’s also when I became known as Rosa the Riveter.” But then, the 2008 recession hit in the U.S. and Hearn, along with about 3,000 others, were laid off.
“Fortunately, at that time, I had built up a good reputation and had three different job offers by the time I got laid off. I left Alcoa on a Friday and by the following Wednesday, I was working at Brighton-Best,” shared Hearn. “BBI didn’t have a position for me at first but made one for me, and I became its first outside salesperson.” Since then, she’s become the western regional manager, the director of Mexico and Latin America, and now a product manager for the company’s Proferred lines.
Hearn says that rather than fitting a person into a set role, BBI learns about an employee’s best attributes and then finds the best role for them. “It’s been refreshing and rewarding,” she adds.
Hearn’s short stint in retail also came in handy when BBI acquired Ironclad Performance Wear, a high-performance safety glove line. “I learned so much about merchandising and branding during my time in retail and then, quite unexpectedly, I became a part of a global marketing team for the Ironclad line.” She said the safety line started because there was a missing component that the company wanted to provide customers. “So, we have the screwdriver that goes into the screw, but why don’t we also offer the glove that holds the screwdriver that goes into the screw? It makes sense to provide it all, with a strong focus on safety and reliability.”
The Ironclad line is one example of diversification that is critical, according to Hearn, yet often lacking in the fastener industry. “Many have been lured into this sector because of its promise for stability. Everyone will always need fasteners,” she explains. “But stability makes you stagnant. Even the most stable fastener companies have to think beyond the basic fastener scope to experience growth — and that’s important if the industry as a whole is going to evolve in the next decade.”
Hearn’s insight and work ethic over the last two-plus decades have not gone unnoticed. She was named the 2018 Woman of the Year in the Business Category by Senator Josh Newman and the California State Legislature. She also earned the 2016 Innovative Importer of the year, courtesy of Women in International Trade-LA and the California State Assembly board.
As a certified fastener specialist, Hearn also gives back to the community. She’s been a guest instructor at the Fastener Training Institute, where she earned her certification, and sometimes provides training at BBI. She’s also on the advisory committee for Rancho Santiago Center for International Trade Development for the Global Trade & Logistics, an economic and workforce development program in Orange County, through which she teaches and speaks with high school and college students about the fastener market.
“It’s important to me to connect with others and share my career experiences, so others are aware of what’s possible,” says Hearn. “I grew up with very strict immigrant parents who didn’t really know a job could be more than factory work, where you punched-in and out after a long day. In fact, the first time I told my parents I was going to a business dinner, they didn’t believe me. They thought I was secretly going out with a boyfriend!” she laughs.
Another reason Hearn wants to support others, and especially youths, is because she recalls what it’s like to be new and inexperienced at a job. “I worked with a woman when I first started in the fastener industry. I admired her and was hoping she’d mentor me because she was the star of that company. Unfortunately, however, I learned that she wanted to be the only star there. I promised myself that I’d never do that to anyone else.”
Hearn has kept that promise. In fact, she’s currently the chairman with the Fastener Industry Coalition, which provides support and resources to the fastener industry, and chairwoman of Women in the Fastener Industry (WIFI).
“I found WIFI on a LinkedIn page and thought I should be a part of it. It’s is a non-profit organization that provides mentoring, networking, and educational opportunities for women employed in the industrial fastener industry,” she says. WIFI is celebrating its 10-year anniversary this year. “It’s wonderful. Members have opportunities to attend free or discounted events and can apply to our scholarship programs. It’s helped me keep that promise of supporting others in the industry.”
Hearn says that despite the twists and turns, she’s grateful for her life path. “Once I decided what I was going to do, the fastener industry became a part of my life…meaning it’s now my career and not just a job. And I love what I do and the people I work with.”