April 5, 2015 | last updated April 5, 2015 5:15 pm
Women In Business 2015

Wallace's focus on people, profits drives Cooper-Atkins

PHOTO | Steve Laschever
PHOTO | Steve Laschever
Carol Wallace, chairman, president and CEO of Cooper-Atkins Corp., shown with a photo of herself and her father and mentor, Floyd Wallace, Jr.

Who is your mentor and why?

My Dad was my mentor. I had the opportunity to work with him for 13 years before he passed away in 2004. We always had a great relationship as I was growing up (fishing trips into the wilds of Canada, playing tennis), and when he asked me to come home from Michigan, where I was director of material for a pump manufacturing company, to help him run the family business Cooper Instrument Corp. as it was then known, I was delighted.

Dad guided me with the fundamental rule that one should always treat people as you wanted to be treated. As a result, I followed his lead, got to know all the people at Cooper by name, and got to know a bit about them by asking about their families and their lives outside of work. He showed me that respect in the workplace translates to a better quality of life all around – more willingness to share ideas and a higher sense of accomplishment. My Dad taught me to share my vision with everyone and then give them plenty of room to execute the vision, without micro-managing.

How do you mentor your staff?

I try to lead the way that my Dad did, sharing my vision often and by providing support where needed. We set the overall plan for the company in October creating strategies to get to the financial plan. Then we spend time talking about what tactical approaches we choose to implement the strategies. Once the budget/plan is in place, our staff meets monthly as a group to discuss the performance of the prior month, and then we meet individually to cover specific issues. By setting expectations and accountability for delivering on those expectations, each individual understands what is expected, when it's expected and therefore can be held accountable for delivering on the plan.

What advice could you offer to people thinking about being a mentor?

The most important thing to do is share what you have learned to allow people to skip the potholes you found. This will make their learning curves smoother and help them get further in their careers faster.

Carol Wallace has a clear guiding principle running her Middlefield-based company that makes temperature-monitoring instruments for food-service, health care and industrial users around the world.

"I think I try to treat people the way that I would want to be treated," says Wallace, CEO of Cooper-Atkins Corp. for the past 21 years.

That includes giving clear direction, sharing her vision for the company, giving employees room to execute that vision, helping them learn, treating them with respect and demonstrating she cares not only about their work but who they are as people.

"I grew up with my mom always talking about the Golden Rule and doing unto others as you would have them do unto you," Wallace says.

Her late-father, who bought the business in 1960 and ran it before her, followed the same rule, she says.

While business success is important, it's not all there is, says Wallace, 60, who is married to Michael Jewczyn, has two grown children, 32 and 34, and three grandchildren.

"It's not all about the money, that's for sure … but it's about the lives you touch along the way, too," she says.

Brenden Healy, tax director at Whittlesey & Hadley P.C., says "gracious" is one of the best words to describe Wallace.

That trait applies to how she treats vendors, customers, employees and the community, volunteering many hours to nonprofits and demonstrating generosity with money and time, says Healy, whose company does accounting work for Cooper-Atkins.

"She's hardworking, she's talented, she's intelligent, she's a great role model for women in business — for anyone in business, really," Healy says.

Cooper-Atkins is about a $40 million company, as measured in annual sales, Wallace says.

When the company has a good year, she spreads profits through employee bonuses. That sharing, plus the work environment and ability to grow with the company have contributed to employee loyalty and very little turnover.

The company has been rewarded, too, from the outside. It was one of 65 firms that received the president's "E" Award for Exports last year, which the U.S. Department of Commerce calls the highest recognition any U.S. entity can receive for significantly helping increase American exports. Wallace received the award in Washington, D.C., from U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker last May.

At the time, Wallace called exporting the foundation of her company's sales growth, citing a 36 percent increase in export sales in the prior four years.

The company employs about 105 people in Middlefield and about 45 others at small offices outside Cincinnati and in Gainesville, Fla., and in sales positions globally.

Cooper-Atkins food-service clients include fast-food giants, for which the company makes thermometers to measure the temperature of food as it's being refrigerated and prepared. In health care, company equipment monitors the temperature of vaccines and blood storage. On the industrial side, it makes temperature and humidity devices for HVAC contractors to ensure air-conditioning and refrigeration units work properly. Products range from basic technologies to wireless temperature-monitoring systems.

Wallace never envisioned running the family business; she thought her older brother would. But after her brother left the company to pursue something different in 1989, her father called her in 1991, asking if she would oversee manufacturing back home.

At the time, she worked in Michigan for a manufacturer of petrochemical pumps as director of materials overseeing purchasing, production control, inventory, warehousing and production scheduling. Before that, she worked in Boston and Southern California in positions including manufacturing operations and production control after graduating from Middlebury College in 1977 with a biology degree.

Her early work after college included struggles gaining the same respect as male colleagues. She says she survived the period with a good sense of humor, excellent work and treating people well.

When her father called with a job offer, she welcomed the chance to return home, be near family and work for her father.

The work was similar to what she had done elsewhere and she was able to learn a lot from her father in the 13 years they worked together before he died in 2004.

She feels it's important for women in business to share the experiences they've had — the trials, tribulations and triumphs — to hopefully help other leaders "maybe skip over a couple of potholes."

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