First-time visitors to Steinwall Inc., a custom injection molder and mold maker in Minneapolis, often are surprised when introduced to the company's president and owner, Maureen Steinwall. It's almost expected that as the men who own plastics processing businesses retire, their sons - if they have any - will take over. However, when daughters step in to fill their fathers' shoes in the company business, it's a different story.
Sometimes people look around Steinwall for a man.
``They always assume that there must be a man somewhere,'' Steinwall said. ``They ask, `Does your husband work with you?'*''
That's only one of many assumptions people still tend to make when confronted by a woman with a management role in plastics processing.
``Many assume that Daddygave me the company,'' Steinwall said. ``My dad is not wealthy enough to give me anything.''
It all started when Steinwall's father, Carl, called her for some tax advice about how best to sell the company he founded in1965. With a degree in business management, Steinwall had become a tax accountant.
In 1983, she took a leave of absence from her job at Honeywell Inc. to help her father work out a plan. Within the first six months, Steinwall knew she'd found the perfect environment. That's when she came up with the perfect plan for selling the business.
``*`You sell it to me,' I told him,'' she said.
After he got over the initial surprise of the idea, he began grooming his middle daughter for the day when she could take over. In 1985, he named Maureen president and in 1987 Steinwall purchased Carl's stock as well as that of a brother and sister in a leveraged buyout arrangement.
Her age was the primary reason for that type of financial arrangement, she said.
``I was 32 at the time and no bank would finance a woman to buy a manufacturing company.''
Steinwall said she fights sexism in the industry every day.
``Sex has nothing to do with a person's ability to run a business,'' she said. ``[Being a woman] in this industry is a different game, but once you figure it out you'll be successful.''
Catherine D. Boettner agreed. As general manager of a company her father founded in 1989, Cleveland Tubing Inc. in Cleveland, Tenn., Boettner found she had her fair share of hurdles to overcome. Her age was one.
She was 28 years old when she left a position at Dean Witter Reynolds to work for her father, Heinrich B. Dickhut, a man whose shoes she admitted are tough to fill. He hired her in 1994 to help him in his businesses, which consisted not only of Cleveland Tubing, an extruder of corrugated low density polyethylene tubing, but Cul-lom Machine Tool & Die, a manufacturer of corrugator equipment and other machinery.
In September 1994, she was made sales manager for both firms, and in January of this year she was promoted to general manager for Cleveland Tubing after the former manager left to return home to Minnesota.
Next, Boettner had to overcome the impression among some she deals with in the industry that she is only the general manager because she is ``Heinrich's daughter.''
Absolutely not true, Boettner declared.
``I was already perceived as a leader at the company. Men assume that because you are a woman you don't understand what goes on out on the production floor. In production meetings, I think the men are surprised at just how much I do know about technical things.''
Like their male counterparts in father/child businesses, daughters also seek to make their mark. Steinwall has expanded the company considerably in her 10 years as president and owner. At the time of the purchase, the company had about $1.3 million in sales and 20 employees. Today, Steinwall Inc. has 70 employees and more than $5 million in sales.
The firm moved into a newly purchased, 52,000-square-foot facility to accommodate increasing growth. At the open house held to celebrate, people kept commenting that they could tell the plant had a woman's touch because the place was so neat and clean, Steinwall said, laughing at what she believes is an undeserved stereotype.
Boettner said that in the year she has been general manager, the company has implemented training programs and started on the road toward ISO 9000 certification.
``We're implementing the team concept to make every employee a part of the decision-making process in the day-to-day activities,'' she said.
She's also made improvements in the company's quality assurance program. The results of her efforts, she said, show up in the bottom line, which as an economist she watches closely.
``Our sales have increased 18 percent this year over last,'' she said, ``and our net operating income shows a 50 [to] 60 percent gain in efficiencies.''
And what about her personal goals as a woman, the daughter of the founder and now as general manager?
``I want people to be accepting of me as my own person, on my own merits, not because I'm Heinrich's daughter.''