She's The Boss

She’s The Boss

Ten years ago, when BLACK ENTERPRISE unveiled its annual list of the nation’s top, black industrial/service companies, the number of women-led businesses could be counted on one hand. Fast-forward to 2003 and the numbers look a bit different. Not only are there more women-owned companies on the list (eight) than in previous year, but they are also steadily climbing toward the top spot on the private equity and advertising agencies lists. Of the women-owned companies on this year’s industrial/service list, three are in the top 10, and industry analysts say women-run companies are now the fastest-growing segment in entrepreneurship. Meet a few of these powerful women CEOs.

The screen saver on Jeanette Abraham’s computer reads: Because I can. Maybe that explains the success of the 50-year-old CEO’s company, Detroit Heading L.L.C., which supplies fasteners, such as bolts and screws, to the automotive industry (No. 86 on the BE INDUSTRIAL/ SERVICE 100 list). “Who’s going to tell me I can’t?” she asks.

Abraham (pictured at left) brought her can-do attitude to Detroit Heading, which is partly owned by Textron Fastening Systems, in 2000 when she purchased a 51% ownership stake in the company. She quickly put her stamp on the company. “It was very difficult because the previous owner had passed away,” she says. “They were familiar with him. He was one of them. He was laid-back and wanted to get along with everyone. For me to come in not necessarily trying fit in, well, people tried me.”

One of the first things she discovered when she took over was that the company had little structure. “The atmosphere was pretty laid-back and there wasn’t much accountability for people. Policies and processes were not in place so people didn’t know what was expected of them,” she explains. So Abraham revamped her staff. “One of the first things I put in place was an effective, strong executive management team. I hired a vice president of human resources, both new positions, as well as an outside sales team. With this newly structured management team, we created policies and procedures allowing for defined performance expectations from our next level of managers,” she says. The changes worked and the company has been experiencing steady growth since she took the helm.

In 2000, the year Abraham took over, the company brought in $30 million in revenue. In 2002, Detroit Heading brought in more than $35 million in revenue, and Abraham says the company is on track to reach the $38 million mark by the end of 2003. Textron spokesman Tim Weir says Abraham and Detroit Heading are a major part of Textron’s success.

But while business was booming, not all of Abraham’s employees were happy with her changes. “People were accustomed to doing things a certain way,” she says. Even now, nearly three years later, she still occasionally encounters resistance from employees. But on the flip side, she says, “Employees have a better understanding of what is expected of them.”

But Abraham doesn’t always wear a hard hat. She sends a