Our VP of Strategic Partnerships, Lindsey Athanasiou, recently sat down with Allison Giddens for The Women of American Manufacturing podcast*. Allison is the President and Co-owner of Win-Tech, Inc., a successful machine shop located in Kennesaw, Georgia. In their conversation, Allison tells Lindsey how she got her start in the manufacturing industry, what prepared her for business ownership, how she uses psychology to make smart business decisions, and other lessons and learnings as a woman in manufacturing that can help you start to think like an owner.
* This blog post is adapted from Allison’s podcast episode on The Women of American Manufacturing. To hear her full story, you can stream the episode on-demand on Spotify.
Lindsey: Allison, I’ve had the pleasure of learning a little bit about Win-Tech over the last few weeks, and it’s a really impressive operation you have down there. So how long have you been in manufacturing and how did you come to be involved with the industry?
Allison: It will be 16 years this August! I kind of stumbled into it; I had actually entered into sales and marketing right out of college. One thing led to another and I ended up in manufacturing, and I haven’t left.
When I graduated college, I was very excited to have a job right out of school at a large corporation in Atlanta. I was really enjoying meeting new people and learning new things, but I quickly realized that the “big pond, small fish” thing wasn’t for me. I’d gone up for a promotion and I didn’t get it, and of course being naive in my early twenties, I thought I should have gotten that.
That day I went home super bummed, called my dad and said, “I don’t think this is for me.” He told me that I’d better find another job before I quit this one, so I called my neighbor, Dennis, who I knew was the owner of his own company who I thought could help. I candidly told him that I had no idea what he did but explained my predicament. Surprisingly, he let me come in for an interview.
Dennis hired me to file papers and get to know a little bit about running the front office at his manufacturing company, Win-Tech. And that’s how it all started.
Colleagues of Allison’s at Win-Tech, Inc.
Lindsey: And it’s been quite the journey since then, wouldn’t you say?
Allison: It sure has. And while I had a feeling deep down from the very early days that the owner, Dennis, was preparing my coworker John and me to take over the company someday, I still had no idea what to expect.
Lindsey: Maybe it was for the best that you went in without expectations! What were some lessons you learned working for Dennis that ultimately prepared you for business ownership?
Allison: I grew a lot under Dennis’ mentoring. When I was about six months in, he tasked me with leaning out the mill department. There I was, being sent home with a VHS tape about lean manufacturing being told to “go learn it.” Afterwards, I had to teach what I’d learned to an entire team of experienced journeyman machinists (one of whom had been there for over 20 years). They could have scoffed at me but instead, they encouraged me and treated me with respect. I really attribute a lot of my success in the manufacturing industry to that positive experience and the employees at Win-Tech always treating me as an equal – even before I felt like one.
I had another big sort of “learn by doing” experience one time, about 2-3 years into my time at Win-Tech, when Dennis went out of town. While he was away, there were some personnel issues that took place, and I was put in a position where I had to make a decision as to – for lack of better words – rat somebody out or play along. When Dennis got back, I went into his office, shut the door, and told him what happened.
A little piece of me was frustrated that Dennis had put me in the position to have to make that call. But I remember him looking at me straight in the eyes and saying, “When you’re a business owner, these are things that you’re just going to have to tackle.” I thought but I’m not a business owner, I’m an admin assistant! Looking back on it, I think he knew what he was doing for much longer than I did.
Lindsey: Wow! As a business owner, people often say that you have to really enjoy solving problems all the time. Do you agree with that statement?
Allison: That’s definitely true. There are things I thought I’d felt before that are just unavoidable now. Things that keep me up at night – like finding machinists to fill workforce pipeline development – I find myself when I’m driving home thinking, Okay, if I can find machinists, then that means I can push for additional customers in business development, which means we could make some more money, which means we’d be able to replace that machine, which means I’ll spend that much less on maintenance, which means… and you start peeling back every little layer of the onion that is, at first, seemingly one risk. But I find a lot of fun in it.
Lindsey: Are there any tips you have for making smart decisions when running a company?
Allison: My undergraduate degree is in psychology, which I think has helped me a lot in terms of trying to think of how Dennis came to his decisions. My business partner John and I both understand the importance of being empathetic and delegating where needed (John has been with Win-Tech for more than 30 years and knows the manufacturing side like nobody else).
This requires a lot of trust. When John and I realized that Dennis would be selling the business to us, it was a matter of making sure our relationships were strong right off the bat. While we’re not family by blood, it often feels like we are, and I think that’s such an important part of successfully working together to run a business. We trust one another implicitly in the responsibilities that each of us carry.
Win-Tech, Inc. team members.
Lindsey: So true. There’s something in that similar vein that I’d love to get your take on: many women in manufacturing that I’ve spoken to are in the stage you were in maybe two or three years ago – they know that their current owner has plans to retire soon, but they haven’t been directly approached with an opportunity to purchase the business. Do you have any advice for someone on how to start that conversation?
Allison: I would say that if you feel you’d be blindsiding the owner by asking, start thinking like an owner. I know that kind of seems abstract but pretend like you’re the owner for a week; secretly write stuff down, shoot an email to yourself about how you would approach things and what type of ramifications that would be on everything from cash flow to long term business impacts. No matter what piece of the business you’re involved in, whether it’s on the shop floor, the front office, or otherwise, think about risk: how you’re mitigating, managing, accepting, or transferring it.
If you can do that and come to every conversation with the owner in a way that allows them to come to the realization on their own, it’ll have a big impact.
As far as a direct conversation goes, only you know your boss – if you have a good enough relationship with them and you honestly are interested in pursuing a conversation about purchasing a business, I’d say there’s no harm in asking for that one-on-one and sitting down with them to talk about it. You may be the answer to a question they didn’t know existed.
Want to hear Allison’s entire story and more advice she has for manufacturing business owners? Stream her podcast episode now.
Allison Giddens is Co-President at Win-Tech, a veteran-owned, small business manufacturer specializing in aerospace precision machined parts. Allison has a passion for improving processes, learning new things, and connecting resources to people and people to resources. She’s currently focused on helping manufacturing businesses implement best practices in cybersecurity, developing the workforce, and getting back involved with nonprofits in the post-COVID world, such as the The Dave Krache Foundation, for which she is the Founder & Executive Director.