Her laugh is a delightful blend of carefree giggle and mischief.
And it’s frequent, rising and falling after most phrases she utters.
“I come from a family where you joke more than anything,” Ann Gillespie says.
It’s a laugh with perspective. A knowing laugh, which makes sense considering this year marks Ann’s 50th with Continental. She’s seen it all. She knows it all. And nothing that’s happened in the last half-century has stifled her natural tendency to find humor in almost anything.
“I’m very casual about my work; it’s just my way of doing anything,” the executive administrative assistant says. “That’s probably been the key to my longevity. In the beginning, they’re like, ‘Did you just say that?’ But they get used to it and they love it, because it’s easy for them to be casual with me.”
Then the sinister snicker reappears.
“…it’s also hard for them to be mean to me.”
Ann was born and raised in Randolph, Ohio, a tiny town 30 minutes east of Akron that’s, “home of the Randolph Fair,” she adds, chuckling.
She grew up with six brothers who taught her a lot about working on cars and other general mechanics, an upbringing that explains why she still enjoys working with the engineers on Continental’s research and development team.
“Engineers and chemists are fun to work with,” she says. “They’re different. Not so much competition. More of a team.”
Ann joined General Tire in 1968 and typed tire specifications for experimental specs, a starting point for new employees. She later moved into a secretarial position. When her husband passed away at age 40, it was up to her to fully support her two daughters.
“Akron was rubber city,” she says. “You always had good benefits. I had a family and needed those. I’ve been a single mother for a long time, so having a secure job with benefits and pay that was good for the time, I never saw a reason to leave. If you were in a tire company, you had no reason to leave unless you got a better offer from another tire company.”
The Fort Mill family
Continental purchased General Tire in 1987 and, 12 years later, moved the company’s headquarters to Charlotte.
“When I had to make the move down here, it was huge for me,” Ann says. “I have a big family (in Ohio) and they were my support, so it was so difficult. I didn’t have anybody to watch my kids. It was something I never wanted to do. Some people want to go places, but especially after I had my kids I didn’t want to leave my family. I ended up staying here and having a new family of sorts. My work group has turned into my family.”
Quite literally, in fact.
Ann’s daughter, Sam, joined Continental 10 years ago and now works as a CRM Manager.
Then there’s Ann’s self-described “work husband,” Fred Steward, a 48-year Continental employee, himself. He and “Annie,” as those closest to her call her, quickly forged a bond that has lasted their entire careers.
“I first met Annie when I joined General Tire in 1970,” Fred says. “She will do anything for anybody, but when she needs anything she doesn’t ask. She had a kitchen fire one time at her house. We found out about it and took up enough money to handle the remodeling.”
Fred also remembers the time Ann’s boss was traveling while his wife was pregnant.
“His wife went into labor and the first person she called was Annie,” Fred says. “Annie was there for the birth and now she’s the godmother.”
No more whiteout!
The question everyone invariably asks Ann is, “What’s changed the most over 50 years?”
“I’ll tell you what, I embraced the first thing that even looked like a computer,” she says. “In the early 1970s, we got these little things with small screens and a keyboard – and you could backspace, you could change it right there on the screen with no whiteout. I was like, ‘Oh my God, this is great!’
“So, I’d say technology has been the thing that’s changed the most.”
The changes have remained as constant as Ann’s presence, so she just rolls with them – an approach that no doubt has helped her succeed for five decades.
“We just went over to Outlook for our email system; we had Lotus Notes for a long time,” she says. “Now you have to figure out how to do the same thing in a new system. You just get to the point where you have to embrace it, but looking back I just still cannot believe it. I don’t know how the heck I got anything done before computers.”
Words of wisdom
Even though people don’t tend to stay at companies for decades, anymore, Ann’s advice for how to survive in the workplace remains the same.
“Try not to take everything so seriously,” she says. “I know different people have different things they’re striving for, but people put it on themselves, normally. If you work in a department that’s very competitive and self-centered, that’s a lot of stress.
“That’s not good for you.”
But when times get tough, there’s always Ann. There to work late if it means helping somebody. There to slip in a joke to lighten the mood. There to laugh.
“Anytime I travel, after the preliminary introductions, the next words out of people’s mouths are, ‘How’s Annie?’ Fred says. “She’s just one of those people you gravitate to. Her reputation far exceeds Fort Mill, South Carolina.