For Heather Lee Meixel, working in the family injection molding business was never really an option for many years.
But that's exactly where she is these days as owner and president of Bamar Plastics Inc. of South Bend, Ind. And she actually spent 25 years in the manufacturing sector in preparation for a job she says she loves and never really considered until her father, Barry Lee, passed away a few years ago.
"Never once. Not one time," she said when asked if she ever thought about working at Bamar earlier in her career. Sure, she was there during college summers because she needed a job. But the long-term prospects were just not available. "Mostly because we weren't asked. And he had four capable children of basically passing the business down to. But he had no interest in that. He was kind of a lone wolf," Lee Meixel said.
When it came down to settling her father's estate, Lee Meixel ended up with the business and her siblings retained ownership of the building. She found herself as the boss. And she was ready.
"I'm very glad that I've had the opportunity to work for some really good people. I've had a couple of mentors in my life that have been preparing me for this position without even knowing. When one of those doors opened, I walked through it," she said.
Even with all the experience in manufacturing, Lee Meixel points to one particular job she had in her 20s as one that helped her step in and take over leadership: restaurant management.
"That was probably one of the biggest preparations for this position right now, just being able to handle a lot of different things at one time, being able to handle people and understanding the business is really the people," she said.
Most of the 27 employees have been at Bamar for at least 20 years, some much longer. So when Lee Meixel stepped in, they supported her and helped with the ownership transition. "They have Bamar near and dear to their hearts," she said.
While Lee Meixel did not have the opportunity to work with her father as an adult, she's opening that door for her two daughters. The teenagers, 17 and 19, are both working part time on the floor, learning the business from the ground up. "It does mean a lot to me. I want them to be ready," she said.
Lee Meixel said she knows she's a rare breed, a woman business leader. Especially a leader in manufacturing.
"Being a woman in a man's industry is nothing that I'm unfamiliar with. Just being in manufacturing over the past 25 years I was very much unique," she said. "Sometimes when I'm in a room of people, it ends up being 500 men and me. So I've got to have a voice. In order to be heard, I've got to speak a little louder sometimes."
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