The face of modern manufacturing continues to change in America, whether it is with General Motors elevating Mary Barra to chairman and CEO or Alicia Boler Davis to executive vice president of global manufacturing, the distinguished tenure of Denise Morrison as president and CEO of Campbell Soup Company, the achievements of this year’s Manufacturing Institute 2017 STEP Ahead Award Honorees and Emerging Leaders or the rise of more women to lead legacy family manufacturers, such as Terry Segerberg, CEO at Mesa Industries, Inc. These signs of progress point to what is achievable today in modern manufacturing for everyone.
As part of our Member Focus “Power of Small” feature for this month, I had the chance to visit with Terry—to learn more about her journey and the great Cincinnati-based company she’s navigating to long-term success.
NAM: Your parents, Ray and Jean Sexton, started Mesa back in 1967, but what drove you to get into manufacturing?
Segerberg: Prior to my time at Mesa, I operated a business consultancy focused on budgeting, planning and cost reduction for small business. I also had the honor of serving as the mayor of the city of Hercules, Calif. So I felt like my previous experiences prepared me well to lead our family business and to contribute to an industry that is vital to America’s future.
I started serving on the board of directors in 1997. At first I was comfortable enough in that role. While I was aware of what had happened in general to Mesa over the years, I certainly didn’t know the details. My impatience and quest for more information began to push me more and more. Mesa had gained a stable foundation under my father’s leadership but was struggling to move with the changing marketplace. When Mesa was transitioning from first to second generation, I was an automatic contender for the role of CEO—family businesses don’t often look beyond their own genetic pool for leaders. Luckily for both Mesa and me, I had the right education, experience and genes to take on the role of CEO in 2001. And I’ve really enjoyed being a manufacturer—and strengthening my family’s legacy in the industry. It feels like the sky is always the limit.
NAM: What does it mean to you to be a woman leading a company in the manufacturing industry?
Segerberg: I really enjoy being in the manufacturing world. As a woman, when people ask me what I do, they are always surprised when I answer that I am a manufacturer, especially when I start to describe my four companies. There simply aren’t many women in my industries and at my level. Beyond that fun conversation starter, I absolutely enjoy every moment of being a manufacturer. The accountant in me loves job costing, the CEO in me loves the marketing and the American in me loves bragging that we are American-owned and proud of it! I am proud that we are able to provide jobs for American workers and remind our customers that we are American-built.
NAM: To give folks some background about the business, tell us what the company does.
Segerberg: We’re an American-based company, making products in the United States—and we’re a certified woman-owned business through the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council with headquarters in Cincinnati, Ohio, and additional offices in Houston, Texas and Monrovia, Calif.
NAM: And you’re a small manufacturer and a real anchor in your community?
Segerberg: We absolutely are. Beyond the jobs impact, Mesa supports organizations such as the American Heart Association, a local free store, St. Joseph Orphanage, an annual coat drive for local churches and the Cincinnati Drop Inn Center. The support for most of these organizations goes back over the past several years, but more recently, we’ve started supporting St. Joseph Orphanage, which includes hosting parties, employees spending time with the kids and donating school supplies. I sit on the board of the American Heart Association, and we sponsor its annual event in May each year. We have an annual can food drive for the free store, but our biggest commitment is provided to the Cincinnati Drop Inn Center. We started cooking food for the center a few years ago. Then we started hearing stories from a couple of our employees who lived at the center. They told us not only how much it meant to them to be able to give back, but also how much it meant to them to have had a place to go.
Our commitment level went up from there, and this is how we started the “Be the Believe” campaign. Through an employee-led focus group, we are more organized in our approach to community outreach. The idea behind this concept is for employees to bring forward ideas or community projects, whether it’s cleaning up an elderly person’s yard, painting a financially distressed person’s house, spending time at a local orphanage, etc. The key is that there is elbow grease along with funds to buy the supplies. We felt this approach was more personal and would help people who sometimes otherwise fall between the cracks.
NAM: Shifting a little more to your business, what is it that empowers Mesa to compete and win in the United States?
Segerberg: For small manufacturers to compete and win in the U.S. market, we need to continuously deliver excellent service that can trump price in the long run. In addition, small businesses must satisfy the needs of customers and be more accessible and available to speak directly with customers, which is not always the case when purchasing offshore. Mesa truly takes pride in the fact that we are available 24/7 to meet the ever-changing needs of our customers.
NAM: Looking back on these years at Mesa, what are your proudest accomplishments?
Segerberg: Our proudest accomplishments are staying true to our core value by keeping jobs in the United States, our community efforts, supporting local vendors and never losing touch with our employees who are part of family.
To learn more about the Power of Small, the NAM’s campaign to promote small and medium-sized manufacturers in the United States, visit www.nam.org/powerofsmall.