July 16 2013 12:08 AM

Ivy Munion

IVY MUNION WAS AN EARLY TRAILBLAZER. Today, she is considered to be one of the top irrigation consultants/designers in the landscape business. How did she get this far in a male-dominated industry, you might ask? “I speak their language, rub elbows a little bit, and I always carry a pocket knife,” she quipped.

Growing up a tomboy and playing with the neighborhood boys of New Castle, Delaware, didn’t hurt either. She never hesitated to fight any bully who picked on her, her younger sister or older brother.

But it wasn’t her tough demeanor or physical skills that led her into the landscape business; it was her love for drafting, what she calls, “controlled art.” She got her first taste of it in seventh grade and continued taking drafting classes all through high school. Munion loved drafting so much that she took extra training through the Regional Occupational Program. “I crammed six years of drafting into four years.” Once completed, she became a certified drafter.

Unfortunately, Munion was unaware that she actually had to apply for college scholarships, and because of that, she missed the opportunity to go to college; a mistake she has since taught her own children not to make.

To gain employment, she sent resumes to every drafting firm in Northern California. She landed a drafting job with the Butler Service Group. “The work was hand drawn back then, with pencil on vellum,” Munion remembers. Within six months, at age 19, she was supervising eight drafters.

As the head of her department, she learned to set the output threshold high and pushed her team to increase productivity. Munion claims that this was her introduction to the fast track with crazy deadlines—something you need to know if you’re going to work in the landscape business.

“I knew I was tough to work with, but the work had to be precise. It’s what the company needed as far as output, in order to survive,” said Munion. “The funny thing is, if I were a man I would be considered aggressive and assertive, but because I’m a woman I was considered a bitch.” She always believed that being one was a positive attribute. In fact, even today if someone calls her that, she thanks them and tells them that she earned it.

When Butler lost most of its drafting contracts, they kept her on, but only part-time. She had to juggle several other part-time jobs to help make ends meet.

Munion then joined John Blevens & Associates, an irrigation consulting firm, as an entry level drafter. Within a month of joining the company, it relocated to Union City, California, and changed its name to the ISC Group, Inc. Munion jokes, “The only reason they hired me was because I owned a truck, and they needed it for the move.”

After working for the ISC Group for about a year, Munion realized that without a college degree, there was no room for advancement. Happily, she discovered many educational opportunities within the landscape community that were available to her. She pursued courses that pushed her up in the ranks, both in knowledge and skill. This is who Munion is, someone who continually pushes herself to learn something new every day.

In 1991, while pregnant with her first child, she went to school and became a certified landscape irrigation auditor. In 1993, she continued her education and became a certified irrigation designer, again while pregnant.

However, in 1994, due to a downturn in the economy, ISC was left with only three employees. Not wanting to lose her job, she combined her toughness, confidence, and gutsiness to make a bold move. At a conference, Munion approached John Blevens, her boss and owner of ISC, and asked, “I know this might sound crazy, but would you be willing to sell me 51 percent of the company and make it a female-owned business?”

It was a strategic move, because she knew that there were more incentives for female-owned businesses than male-owned businesses. Her goal was to keep the company alive. The risk paid off, and she took ownership of the company.

She credits her business knowledge, education and drive in making the sale possible, as well as her intense love for the industry. You have to have courage to make a move like this, and Munion has it in spades.

To keep ISC from folding, Munion immediately went door-to-door to generate new clients. She created a newsletter that provided information to fellow landscapers, landscape architects, irrigation contractors and municipalities.

She quickly learned the skill of negotiating. Her ability to be a tough negotiator helped her survive in the largely male-dominated landscape business. Because of her actions, the company went from having four clients to more than 200, and is thriving today.

There are many challenges female business owners must face. One of the hardest, Munion feels, is juggling home life and work life. In addition, there still are male contractors and architects who do not appreciate a woman telling them what to do. It takes a lot of determination for a woman to run a company. “Don’t be afraid to be yourself. Put yourself out there and show them what you’ve got,” advises Munion.

“You have to stand up for your design. Don’t back down just because they bully you for being a woman. Learn to stand your ground.”

The most important skill she feels she possesses is that of organization. “Without organization, determination won’t get you very far. You’re going to stand out because you’re a woman, so you’d better be good. And don’t be afraid to get down in the dirt.”

“My life has always been in a male-dominated industry,” said Munion. “I see the dividing line between men and women and I ignore it. And let’s face it, I have always been one of the guys . . . with boobs.”

Ivy Munion set the bar high. She is an example of a strong, successful woman who isn’t afraid to stand up for what she believes in, while keeping a sense of humor about it. She has blazed a clear trail for other women in this industry to follow.