Contrary to popular belief, woman-owned plastics processors do not all work to the tune of "It's a Small World."
While most female-run companies have relatively modest sales goals, some are attempting to assemble larger companies that can compete on a global stage.
Two recent examples are thermoformed packaging company Innovative Plastics Corp. of Orangeburg, N.Y., and manufacturing holding company Shan Industries LLC of Hamburg, N.J.
Others of note include Dearborn, Mich.-based automotive supplier Plastech Engineered Products Inc., owned by Vietnamese immigrant Julie Brown. The company has climbed from sales of less than $150 million three years ago to more than $400 million expected this year.
Numerous joint ventures, including one recently announced with Delphi Automotive Systems, could help that company grow more.
Owners of those large companies said nothing should stand in the way of success.
"It's great to be with a bunch of active, intelligent women today," said Judith Hershaft, president of Innovative Plastics. "We're dealing with the problems of manufacturing in what is pretty much a man's world. We're working mostly with men, and that's the fun part."
Hershaft took over Innovative 12 years ago when her husband died. After moving the company to Orangeburg, she decided to broaden its focus by opening new plants to make consumer packaging for such companies as Gillette Co. and Motorola Inc.
To serve the Southern market, the thermoformer opened Innovative Plastics South Corp. in Nashville, Tenn., five years ago. Then in 1997, the company started Wayne, N.J.-based Greenway Plastics Industrial Corp., an extruder of recycled film and polypropylene foam.
This year Innovative has set its course globally. It formed an alliance in Wellen, Belgium, with a European engineering company and opened ANL Plastics. That company will serve a customer base in Belgium, France and England with local engineering support, Hershaft said.
The company's climb had its bumps in the road, as it does for many woman-owned companies, Hershaft said.
"In the beginning, banks were a little leery about dealing with us," she said. "They required more proof than they generally would now. It was harder."
But there are certain advantages. Some customers use the company specifically because of its minority status, Hershaft said. And Innovative has gained certification in New York state as a woman-owned business. "It might add a little something," Hershaft said.
Now the company, which expects to record $35 million in sales this year, is seeking more of a national presence. Hershaft would like to open a plant in the Western United States, she said.
Sheri Orlowitz, owner of Shan Industries, has more recent ambitions.
In December, she purchased Broken Arrow, Okla.-based Thermodynamics, then known as Armin Thermodynamics, from Tyco International Ltd.
Orlowitz had bounced around from waiting tables to acting to law before moving into leveraged buyouts in 1993. But after investing in technology companies that made disc-drive magnetics and high-speed tape recorders, she sold her shares.
"I didn't want to just be a minority shareholder," Orlowitz said. "I wanted to direct the future of a company."
Orlowitz chose manufacturing because of contacts in the industry. Her first purchases were the rotational molder and Hamburg-based Accurate Forming, a maker of precision metal products.
The Oklahoma rotomolder is a major producer of plastic pallets for the automotive industry and other businesses, accounting for about 60 percent of its sales, Orlowitz said. The company also makes a variety of proprietary and custom molded parts.
Thermodynamics expects to record about $7 million in sales this year from its 30,000-square-foot plant, Orlowitz said. Tyco, a major multinational manufacturer, sold the business because it was not part of its core competency, she said.
Thermodynamics and Accurate Forming are just the beginning, Orlowitz said. She is planning more acquisitions in other processes to expand the manufacturing circle.
Her goal is to build Shan Industries into a $100 million company within five years, from its sales level of about $17 million in 2000.
The reasons are not merely to make money: Orlowitz would like to funnel some of that back to community projects. She helped develop the Miami-based Orlowitz-Lee Center, providing services for victims of child sexual abuse.
"There is a reason for my madness," Orlowitz said. "You're able to make a difference to others when you're famous and have a platform like an Oprah or a Rosie [O'Donnell]. The other way to help is to have money. That's one of the lessons of life."