PORT HURON, MICH. — Gerry Van Wageningen spent 15 years building a small injection molding plastics company with a reputation for delivering parts to the auto industry with no defects. Now he has sold Black River Plastics to a new president and chief executive officer who he believes can help deliver new business to the 60-employee operation.
Faye Caballero Mytnyk, he said, is a "go-getter" who can move the Port Huron business forward.
"All of our same people are here," Van Wageningen said. "It's an opportunity for her to start out with a solid base. The key is to get more business."
And Caballero Mytnyk, born and raised in the Philippines, also can help it get more notice from automakers and Tier 1 suppliers anxious to find strong minority-owned operations.
"Being a woman minority business will open the door for us because there are not a lot of us out there," Caballero Mytnyk said in a Feb. 29 interview. "But you have to be able to prove yourself.
"They'll say, `Come on in, do your presentation, let me see what you can do.' Maybe they'll award us a job to test us out, but if we do a crappy job, they're not going to come back to us and award us more work. That's not going to happen."
Caballero Mytnyk bought the 15-year-old firm for an undisclosed amount in January. Van Wageningen will remain with the company during transition.
Black River had $5.6 million in sales in 1999 and Caballero Mytnyk anticipates at least $7.5 million in sales this year.
The 32,0000-square-foot factory has 10 injection presses ranging from 110-1,000 tons. It turns out items such as door handles, bumpers, PVC overshoot molded gear shift knobs and the injection molded plastic housing for Detroit-based General Motors Corp.'s "OnStar" satellite assistance connections.
With GM increasing its OnStar presence, planning to put the system in more than 1 million vehicles this year — up from about 100,000 in 1999 — Black River stands to see a big increase in its business with the world's biggest automaker, Caballero Mytnyk said.
"Everything you read about says the [automakers] are going to reduce their supplier base," Caballero Mytnyk said. "The amazing part is that Black River is a dot on the map, but yet we have a niche. We are a company that can supply to GM and the major Tier 1s.
"We're very proud of that."
Caballero Mytnyk spent nearly 20 years with Ford Motor Co., beginning as an occupational health specialist, before buying Black River.
She was looking for new opportunities last year as Van Wageningen considered stepping out of a business where it is proving harder to get an edge on contracts.
Even with Black River's strong business history, Van Wageningen said it was getting tougher to compete.
The company missed out on some business to other operations that could promise the same high standards and also had certification as a minority-owned operation.
"We were losing business to minority suppliers," he said.
Even with certification, Black River still will face tough competition, Van Wageningen said.
"To keep the business, you still have to be there for the customer," he said.
Caballero Mytnyk said she can build on Van Wageningen's success.
"I give him the credit," she said. "I'm just continuing to fine tune what he's done."
The company is operating at 60 percent of capacity now. Caballero Mytnyk said she wants to promote alliances with other manufacturers to position Black River for continued growth, rather than push the company to grow too quickly on its own.
"I would rather stay small and make a little profit," she said. "The profitability is getting smaller and smaller."
The company owns another 5 acres for future growth with first option on an adjoining 2.5-acre parcel in Port Huron's industrial park.
"We can expand to 150,000 square feet quickly as long as we get the work," she said.