In American Express's 2013 State of Women-Owned Businesses Report, Ohio's 259,600 companies helmed by women earn the state the ranking of ninth in the nation. Per the US Census Bureau, nearly 30,000 of those female-led firms are here in Cuyahoga County.
While women gravitate to all sectors of the business community, there is something particularly satisfying about a lady boss in a machine shop or other nontraditional field. After all, there's a little love for Rosie the Riveter in all of us. Fresh Water sat down with some lady leaders in places where you don't usually find them to get an insider's glimpse of this unique Cleveland girls' club.
Mover and Shaker
Say Berea Moving and it's likely to evoke an image of burly men in thick coveralls pushing two-wheeled dollies.
You'll probably spot that activity at the company, which is located in the Puritas Longmeade neighborhood. After all, Berea handles its share of conventional moving jobs. But they also handle unusual items such as Janis Joplin's Porsche, a 2,000-pound pizza oven, cell phone towers and the personal effects of the country's military personnel as they move from place to place. And all of this activity takes place under the watchful eye of President and CEO Lisa Holly, who sticks close to the action.
"My favorite of all time was a show called Mythic Creatures," Holly says of her past moving gigs. "It was dinosaurs and dragons and mermaids." Her company installed the exhibit, and all other temporary installations, for the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. "Household goods are only about 20 percent of my income," says Holly. "The other 80 percent is the weird and the freaky."
Holly and her brother Woody took over the company in 2006 when their mother passed away. Back then, the ledger books were less than stellar.
"My mother and father were great parents, but necessarily good business owners? No, they weren't," says Holly, adding that her mom ran the business, but never passed that knowledge down to her kids. "It was a big, fat pile of goop when we inherited it. It was just a mess."
In order to turn around Berea Moving while transforming herself from job estimator to business owner, Holly enlisted the help of professional business coaches at Maximum Value Partners. The result?
"They turned me into a rock star."
The statement is more literal than you might think. Holly expanded the company's client list to include the likes of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, the Cleveland Orchestra and NASA's Glenn Research Center. The stunning turn around earned her the honor of Top Woman Business Owner of Northeast Ohio in 2011. Today, Berea's annual gross receipts total $1.6 million. Holly cites her profound respect for her staff as key to the success.
"You need to believe in them and you need to appreciate them," she says. "I treat them like my family. I think that's why we're successful."
Pat Lambrix, president and owner of Soluna Air Charter, would wholeheartedly agree with Holly.
"You’ve got to stay true to your network of friends and mentors," Lambrix asserts. "Always stay in contact with them no matter what. There's no such thing as really selling. It's about building relationships. The product sells itself."
Lambrix should know. She had to break into the aviation industry -- of which only 14 percent of workers are women -- not once, but twice. She started at Burke Lakefront Airport working the front desk, eventually managing charter sales and brokering aircraft. That was not enough.
"Sales was in my blood," says Lambrix." I had that passion inside me and more to offer." But she hit that so-called glass ceiling in a real and tangible way. "If you're not a pilot, there is just no way you could ever progress to a sales director position. That was the rule." Since becoming a pilot wasn't an option, she decided to open her own air charter business.
Not so fast, declared her contractual obligations. Lambrix had to honor a one-year non-compete clause before she could take off solo. So she left the business she loved for a year, during which time she worked in retail. The entire time, she carefully nurtured her high-flying network while hawking shower gel and scented candles.
"I was positive that I was going to get back in there -- and I did."
She certainly did, founding Soluna in 2012. She even returned to her old stomping grounds; her office is right beneath the observation tower at Burke. "That’s a message for anyone out there: When you know you've reached the ceiling, it's time to go out and find greener pastures. They're out there."
Lambrix has been at it for a year and eight months. Soluna offers full-service air charter planning for an array of upscale clients. Unfortunately, an iron-clad confidentiality clause prohibits her from dishing on which celebrities the list includes. She did, however, hobnob with the glitterati during her tenure with Burke, including international entertainers, pro athletes and film stars.
"At one event in particular, I was actually elbow-to-elbow with Sean Connery."
Lambrix describes the field of business aviation as tight-knit, catering to an elite client set she likens to a "Fortune 100" list. Herein, she's found her niche.
"Sometimes, it is difficult being the only woman in the room," she concedes. "But I've gained enough confidence over the years. People know me. I've written a lot of articles. I can usually find a friend in the room."
Outside the Box
For Suzy Hecht Remer, the room is pretty big. She's the landlady for some 26 acres in the West Boulevard neighborhood. Her eclectic tenant list includes Ray's MTB mountain bike park, Buckeye Brewing and Cleveland Indoor Airsoft, which is sort of like paintball without the paint.
"I get to be a landlord to very diverse and interesting tenants," says Hecht Remer, adding that her more conventional renters include Able Grinding, Prime Instruments and A to Z Construction. It's all housed on the historic Industrial Rayon Corporation property, as is Midwest Box Company, of which Hecht Remer is the sole owner and president.
She left the posh world of retail on the city's East Side (La Place Center, Beachwood Mall) in 2000, when her father needed help running the corrugated cardboard box company. She essentially took over for him at the onset of the Great Recession, guiding the firm through tumultuous waters. After her father passed away, ownership of Midwest Box fell to Hecht Remer and her sister, whom she bought out earlier this year.
How does she manage all those tenants, employees and boxes?
"I was a single mom and I'll tell you this: Running a household is very similar to running a business," she explains. "You have to multitask. You have to be flexible. You have to go with your instinct." The philosophy is a good fit, because Hecht Remer thinks of her employees as family.
"They're all great people," she says of her staff. "They have been wonderful teachers to me. We all work together. We're all very lucky."
To other women coming up the ranks, Hecht Remer offers this nugget: "Follow your instincts. Follow your intuition. Learn as much as you possibly can. And not just women -- everybody. I tell this to my sons: If you want it, you'll do it. Whatever it is, just try to make it your passion."
She adds the same bit of advice offered by Holly and Lambrix, which is at once easy to hear and hard to follow.
"Don't give up."
Photos Bob Perkoski except where noted