“I was going to commit myself to this, and I wasn’t going to give up until it was done. Anybody can do it, it just comes down to how badly you want it, how important it is to you, and if you go out and get the resources you need to make it happen.”
It’s long been Donna LaFata’s opinion that the skilled trades needed more female representation, particularly in positions of leadership. And while she spent several years playing an integral role in assisting her husband, Anthony, as he grew and developed his Connecticut-based excavating company, it wasn’t until a few short years ago that she decided the time was right for her to take the reins as the head of her own organization.
“Women are not very well represented in the skilled trades,” said LaFata. “We need more of a presence, and so I decided to come in and be really big and intentional about it.”
Today, she is President and 51% owner of A&D Equipment, a Guilford, Connecticut-based construction equipment supplier. According to LaFata, the company is currently more successful than at any other point in its history. Its sales have doubled since 2020. A significant office expansion is underway. And, perhaps reflective of the strong organizational culture LaFata has worked so hard to establish over the last few years, the environment at A&D Equipment has an energy about it as additional staff comes aboard, and new organizational goals and aspirations come into focus.
It hasn’t been easy getting to this point, admitted LaFata. Doing so has required patience, persistence and, maybe most importantly, help from others who are equally as committed to elevating women to positions of prominence in the skilled trades.
“I really feel the more of us who step up and pave the way for others, the better,” she said. “Women are more than capable of doing the job, so let’s put ourselves out there. Because we should be in the forefront, and we should be represented, especially in industries dominated by men.”
So, how exactly does someone who was trained as a high school science teacher end up in a position of prominence and leadership in the construction equipment manufacturing industry? It all changed for LaFata, she said, when she married into a second-generation excavating company.
“We got married and my husband, Anthony, said ‘Do you want to keep being a science teacher, or do you want to try and take over my mother’s position, which is running the office (for the excavating company)?’” recalled LaFata. “And I thought, let’s give it a try and see what happens.”
So, in 2005 LaFata stepped into a position as the head of the office for Connecticut-based excavating company LaFata & Son. Eight years, four children and a second business – A&D Equipment – later, LaFata decided to take a step back and focus her energy on raising a family. A sales director and office manager were promptly brought in to help run both companies for some time, until growth and development achieved by both companies necessitated LaFata taking a more active role in day-to-day operations in 2019.
In 2020, LaFata took over as President of A&D Equipment, Inc. Working with a counselor at the state level, she began the complex and time-consuming process of certifying the company to become state and federal certified WOSB/WBE and becoming incorporated.
“There’s a lot of help out there, but you need to know how to find it and leverage it,” she said.
A strong desire to be successful in taking over A&D Equipment, coupled with a need to find and utilize resources to help her achieve short term and long-term goals associated with her new role, led LaFata to engage her professional peers through networking opportunities provided by groups such as the Women’s Business Development Council and the Women Business Enterprise Council. Other helpful resources LaFata turned to were the Association of Procurement Technical Assistance Centers (APTAC) and the Connecticut Procurement Technical Assistance Center (CT PAC).
“PTAC was absolutely instrumental in my success navigating this path and journey,” said LaFata. “I had a dedicated counselor to help me step by step and answer any and all questions for me along the way.”
In addition, she noted a few other valuable networking organizations like the Connecticut Small Business Development Center (CTSBDC), U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) and the Minority Construction Council (MCC) played crucial roles in helping her navigate her way through the process of becoming a business owner.
“It was all new territory for me,” she said. “While that’s exciting and fun, it was also difficult. But I did it – one step at a time.”
There’ve been no shortage lessons learned along the way. Chief among them, said LaFata, is just how important it is to build a team capable of working together, trusting one another and enjoying each other’s company.
“We’re still fairly small, and there are just five of us on the team right now,” she continued. “With that being the case, I want us to have fun together and grow at a pace where it’s comfortable for everybody and we can be successful together.”
LaFata is quite proud of herself and her team at A&D Equipment for all they’ve accomplished in such a brief time, and she noted that “paying it forward” to others who want to become women-owned business leaders is something she’s committed to doing in the months and years ahead. And, as for a piece of advice she wanted to share with others looking to achieve that goal themselves, LaFata summed up her thoughts in the following way:
“People should follow their heart in terms of what they want to do. If that’s in the trades, then they should do that. They should follow their heart, develop in that way and keeping pushing to be the best in whatever they do. And, for females, don’t ever be afraid to go for whatever you want to go for. If you want to run an excavator, do that. If you want to run a business, do that. Whatever it is, though, be good to the people you are working with, and your team. Always try and lift others up the best you can.”
For more industry news and updates, subscribe to the AEM Industry Advisor.