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I Didn't Get Here by Myself

Barbara Manzi, Founder, Manzi Metals, Manzi Metals

Times have changed for women and minorities in business, and it's about time. When I first started out, I left the company I worked for because I was harassed so much it took my breath away. Today, I own my own company. My dream is to omit the word "small" and "minority" from my credentials--to grow this business big enough to provide jobs and opportunities for anyone who has a passion for the aerospace industry. That kind of achievement is now within the reach of entrepreneurs from any background who are willing to do their homework and learn from others.

My business, founded in 1995, is heavy into metals! Manzi Metals is a distributor for alloys, like aluminum, titanium, stainless steel, nickel, copper and brass, in all shapes and sizes sheet, plate, bar, tube and extruded products. We do a lot of business with aerospace, commercial and Department of Defense machine shops, and that has contributed to our growth. Revenue just hit a new mark of over $2 million in 2000, up from $1.3 and $1.7 million in the previous two years.

The Importance of Leveraging Opportunities

As a Black woman entrepreneur, I knew coming into the aerospace industry that there was a niche for us, because when I visited aerospace corporations and Department of Defense facilities, I saw very few minorities and almost no women attending meetings or trade events. My company qualifies for whatever opportunities exist for small, disadvantaged, woman-owned and Black-owned and operated companies. Plus, I have years of experience in the industry, dealing with the prime corporations and the Department of Defense. All we ask is an opportunity to bid on contracts, along with any other, larger distribution companies throughout the United States.

Last year I received an Avon Women of Enterprise award. Since then, major companies like Lockheed-Martin, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, Boeing and Dayron have been calling and asking for one-on-one presentations. We are doing business with these companies and have approval certification from all of them. Because we're a small company, we pay a lot of attention to quality and service. That and competitive pricing have been key to our success.

The Power of Positive Dealing

Like most entrepreneurs, I didn't get here by myself. My husband and my son work with me in the company, and a good friend is my account manager. My parents, of Cape Verdean descent, were hardworking people who never missed a day of work. There were 12 children in our family, but we were never on welfare we always had plenty to eat and nice clothes to wear. I never felt that we were any different from other children. But if I had listened to my high-school teachers, who told me I'd never do anything except get married, I would have gone astray. Fortunately, I came from a family of positive thinkers.

In fact, it seems to be a little easier, when you're a big family, because you're always sharing, and everything is passed down. We had to learn to be compassionate with one another. Of course there are conflicts, but you know how to mend them and not to hold grudges. My father taught me to listen, to read people carefully and to make sound judgments. People with whom I deal now, in the industry, can see that honesty and ethics matter to the company.

My goal is to become the Oprah of raw materials I have a passion for people and a passion for the industry, and I love a challenge. When somebody has an attitude about, say, women or minorities, we sit down and I explain the reasons why they'd want to do business with me and my company and they change their minds. That's the challenge right there when you know that "no" is not "no," that "no" can be turned around into something wonderful--a "win-win" situation for both companies.

The Power of On-the-Job Training

Minority companies that are trying to make it, like mine, would do well to provide a place to learn, training people who would otherwise be on the streets. In the firm where I was working in New York, I was the only minority person who had the opportunity to walk in and get on-the-job training. For many years I never knew anybody else from a minority group who had that opportunity. Some people walk into an aerospace company, find out that they have to know all kinds of calculations to deal with materials, and run the other way. For me, it was a chance to develop myself and to have a job that I would learn to absolutely love, as well as earn a living.

Entrepreneurs also need to have mentors and learn everything we can from them even exceed them, in some cases. That's what it's all about. When I got into the aerospace industry as a trainee, I asked my boss to seat me between the best salespeople so I could listen and learn and mimic their skills. I took copies of work home and went over how they arrived at their bottom line, to really learn the mathematics. Because the product line was diversified, we went to classes to learn about aluminum, steel and titanium. That's what made the difference.

The Challenger disaster also made a big impact on me. I was at Westinghouse the day it happened. When I found out that the Challenger spacecraft had blown up, I thought, oh my God, the company I worked for had sold material to NASA, and our material might have been on the Challenger. That made me think that if I was going to be in this business, I had better be very serious about it, because American lives were at stake.

This industry is very detailed, with a lot of Federal, military and aerospace specs and mathematics involved. You have to get it right the first time there's no room for mistakes! Not understanding what I was doing could cause a problem, and I didn't want to have that in my heart. I wanted to be one of the best sales reps in the industry, and I wanted it to be known that I could be relied on.

The Power of Effective Networking

All companies, not just minority manufacturing companies, can benefit from the support of minority-owned small businesses for their raw-material needs. It feels good for us, as a Black-owned company, to supply them with quality materials and watch them grow and produce top products. To become part of the team and get to know people from other companies, I go to whatever industry events I can throughout the year. You have to network, you have to let people see you and find out who you are.

The Small Business Administration has trade shows for minority entrepreneurs. They bring in the best of the prime corporations, and you have about 10 to 15 minutes to talk to the administrators sometimes buyers, sometimes engineers about what you have. The National Minority Purchasing Council had a wonderful show last year in New Orleans with Boeing representatives from Seattle and California where else are you going to meet people from all over the United States? That has been such an inspiration, to be able to talk one-on-one to many industry people under the same roof.

When you do a presentation, you're also learning more about yourself and what your capabilities are. You have to put your best foot forward and know your product line. If someone asks a question about a particular matter, you have to ask yourself, "Can I really talk about that?" If the answer is no, believe me, you'll learn fast.

The Power of Recognition

Because quality control is so important, we've just received a grant, through the State of Florida, which will allow us to become ISO 9000 and ISO 9002 certified. And, other distribution companies are recognizing that Manzi Metals has earned the right to be here. Gulfstream Aerospace has sponsored my company and invited me to become a member of the Aerospace Industry Association the only woman ever inducted into that organization whose company is also minority-owned and operated. I just love this industry I eat, sleep and drink it and I hope to take my company to the next level. With passion, perseverance and people who care, other entrepreneurs can achieve similar goals.

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