By: Alice Combs
Publisher: Cypress House
Publication Date: July 2019
Reviewed by: Barbara Bamberger Scott
In this minute-by-minute memoir of female grit and glory, Alice Combs combines emotive vignettes of family, failures, love interests, but above all, her fierce determination to make a living and be a leader in a man’s world.
As Combs was climbing out of a frayed career path to nowhere and a dead-end marriage that left her living on food stamps and struggling to care for two little girls, a wacky offer by a male friend – to help him with his tangled business endeavor selling baling wire – incited the author’s yen to prove herself. Having been told that she wasn’t really corporate material, she gradually set that analysis on its ear. With very little assistance and a lot of personal incentive, she learned the baling wire business from memorizing the basic terms like gage, annealed, and galvanized to watching, and listening to, the screeching machinery that compacts and binds up every conceivable kind of trash.
At one point she moaned inwardly, “I wish men would take women more seriously” when she was told that visiting certain plant floors wasn’t “safe for women.” A key turning point in this vibrant autobiography shows Combs demanding to see an arrogant customer who had failed to send her a payment on time. She pushed through every barrier to confront him in the midst of a meeting, threw her briefcase at him, and was pushed down the stairs. Emerging remarkably unhurt, she later learned that this incident had surprisingly earned the respect of the men who witnessed it, and her new nickname - “The Lady with Balls” - was initiated. In a few short years she had revitalized her friend’s business, seen him for the fraud that he truly was, and bought him out.
Combs has a great gift, not only for business, but also for writing about business. Her book is constructed episodically, with action, reaction and reflection permeating every page. Dealing with a domineering mother, a selfish husband, dishonest business partners and difficult clients, she battled through every day to keep herself and her little family afloat. She did extensive research to keep ahead of the game. She hired other aspiring entrepreneurial women. She scored a major coup when her company got a contract with Safeway – and later survived the crisis when that contract was lost. Now, happily married, she still owns a piece of her once-struggling enterprise, Vulcan Wire, which continues to thrive. Near the end of the book, Combs shares “Seven Basic Business Lessons,” concluding with her wish that the reader may “be a braver person than I was” – though such a “braver person” will be hard to imagine after reading her remarkable saga.
Quill says: Anyone hoping to make a success in the highly competitive realm of small business can learn from author Combs, and anyone who likes the motivational account of a woman’s rise to power in a man’s world will find the story of The Lady with Balls inspiring and educational.