Oak Brook, Ill.,
10:17 AM

Veteran's Day 2016: Honoring Margaret Clark of Clark’s Ace Hardware

The interview outlined below is part of Ace Hardware's Veteran's Day series, celebrating members of the Ace family who have generously, and nobly served our nation.

Margaret Clark is the inventory control manager for Clark’s Ace Hardware in Ellicott City, Maryland.

Margaret, 31, is a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps. 

Which branch of the military did you serve and for how long?

Following in the footsteps of so many brave men in my family like my father, from an early age I knew I wanted to join the military. I proudly served in the U. S. Marine Corps from 2005-2009.

What was your role in the military?

My Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) was a Combat Correspondent and a secondary MOS of a Broadcast Journalist, meaning I was a journalist, photographer, media specialist and broadcaster for the Marine Corps.

Like most Marines, my first four months in the service were for boot camp and combat training. Women and men in boot camp train separately in the Marine Corps. It’s important to have this separation because both genders train more efficiently with limited distractions. At the time I was in the Marines, only 7% of the Marine Corps population was female. As women, we had to work really hard to get the respect we deserved. There are a lot of assertions made about women in the military, we had to show up every day and work hard to earn a positive reputation.

After eight months of job training, my first assignment was at the Marine Forces Command in Norfolk, Virginia. This facility oversees all of the east coast bases for the Marine Corps. Even though this was my first assignment, I had direct exposure to some extremely senior military officials – there wasn’t a day that I didn’t speak with a General. One of my most memorable experiences at this command was on my two-year mark in service to the day, I was pinned a Corporal by a Three-Star General.

I spent the balance of my enlistment at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, Calif. For anyone who’s not familiar with Twentynine Palms, it is home to one of the largest, most rigorous military training areas in the world; it is set in the hot Mojave Desert. Prior to deployment, the majority of units in the Marine Corps will undergo training here, or at a mixed training venue using the Mountain Warfare Training Center in Bridgeport, Calif. Live fire exercises, artillery, tank and close air support are regularly used here for training.

The training environment at Twentynine Palms is talked about as one of the best in the world.

A highly customized "Combat Town," resides at Twentynine Palms. The Urban Terrain training range houses over 1,500 buildings and is roughly the size of San Diego. Without notice, doors and streets within “Combat Town” would change configuration, no two days were the same; this removes complacency for Marines and other units who train there. It’s what makes a Marine a Marine. We worked with Iraqi and Afghan nationals who often served as interpreters overseas and role players, many of whom suffered amputations from their injuries, to create a more realistic war-time experience. The end goal is to train Marines so well that they are still able to focus on their mission despite explosions and life threatening injuries happening consistently throughout the training exercise. It becomes second nature on how to respond in these life and death situations.

How did you make the transition from active military to Ace?

One of the reasons I joined the military, was to get away from the family business. I had so much exposure to hardware at a young age, that at the time, it didn’t appeal to me. By 2009, as my four-year enlistment came to a close, I knew I was ready to pursue my education full-time and revisit my role in the store.

I attended Johns Hopkins University where I studied business administration with a concentration in management, and meanwhile, I worked part time in the store. I graduated and I am now working full-time in the store as the Inventory Control Manager. All of these experiences, from my time in the service, to my studies at school, have set me up for success in my career. Long-term, I have aspirations to take ownership in the store.

What lessons or attributes of the military do you find apply most to your business?

The main thing I pull away from my time in the Marine Corps is training. Whether it’s for a life or death situation, or something essential in the store, training is the key to success. I am completely aligned with the efforts Ace has put behind training; not only does it build skills and expertise, but it also builds loyalty. When people know you are investing in them, it pays dividends. That sense of loyalty also helps create a strong family atmosphere and comradery among the team. We’re extremely proud of that.

How has being a veteran helped you succeed as a small business owner?

Would you believe me if I told you it was easier to be a woman in the Marine Corps than it is to be a woman in the hardware business? I’m grateful that the Marine Corps taught me to have an extremely thick skin, because as a woman in hardware, it’s essential. I have to prove to my customers on a daily basis that even though I’m a woman, I have a strong business sense and have an incredible hardware knowledge from growing up in the industry most of my life. We have a long way to go in getting women to break through the glass ceiling in the hardware industry; however, it is definitely moving in the right direction.