Lynette Drake is a registered nurse. She graduated from the nursing program at Madonna University in Livonia, Mich., and worked for 4 1/2 years at Children's Hospital in Detroit. She's working in Bad Axe, Mich., now, but not as a nurse.
She is president and chair of the board of the Gemini Group Inc., an international Tier 1 auto supplier that ships more than 600 million parts a year around the globe with 14 production facilities in three states and Mexico, a regional sales office in Auburn Hills and customers that include General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co., Toyota Motor Corp., Magna International Inc. and ZF Friedrichshafen AG.
Gemini is based in Bad Axe and is the largest employer in Huron County, employing about 1,150 at its five factories in Bad Axe and three in nearby Ubly, doing metal stamping, injection molding and blow molding under a variety of names. In Bad Axe, they are Briney Tooling Systems, GPMI North, GPMI South, Thumb Plastics Inc. and Thumb Tool & Engineering; in Ubly they are Valley Enterprises, Regency Plastics and Gemini Plastics Inc.
The company also has four small shops in Muscle Shoals, Ala.; a large plastics factory in Mexico; and one in Texas. In all, the company employs about 1,600 and has about 1.3 million square feet of factory floor space.
Gemini is a family business, one that Drake grew up in. It traces its roots to 1972, when her father, Bill Roberts, was working as an engineer for Hamill Manufacturing in Bad Axe. That year, Hamill Manufacturing was sold to Firestone, which was then sold to TRW, who decided to move Hamill out of state. Roberts and another Hamill employee, Frank Peplinski, then founded Gemini Plastics in nearby Ubly, which did seat-belt sewing and plastic molding.
Over the next 20 years, Gemini acquired several local companies — CKS Precision Machining & Briney Tooling Systems, Axly Production Machining and Thumb Plastics Inc. — and created two companies, Regency Plastics and an interior trim manufacturing operation named Valley Enterprises.
Each company operated individually until 1996, when they were all rolled into a parent company, Gemini Group Inc. In 1998, the last local company was acquired, Bad Axe-based Thumb Tool & Engineering, an aluminum extrusion die company.
Joining Roberts and Peplinski as partners in the group were the owners of acquired companies, Jack Rochefort and Clark Shuart, and the owner of a local CPA firm, Dave Hyzer.
The company declines to release revenue. The website Zoominfo estimates revenue at $390 million. When asked if that number were accurate, CEO Kevin Nelson declined comment.
The group is still owned by the five families who owned the companies that were rolled up into Gemini Group. A majority of the second- and third-generation family members who own the company are women, making it officially a woman-owned company.
In junior high school and high school, Drake would do piecework for her father in the basement of the family home in Ubly, making a penny a part for fastening components together. "I was pushing pins into small parts." On weekends, she, her siblings and the children of the other founders would go to the factories and sweep floors or stack boxes. "It was a lot of fun."
In 1990, wanting to return to be closer to family, Drake took a nursing job in the Thumb with the local health department, then in 1999 launched and ran a companywide wellness program for the Gemini Group. The company founders were investors in and on the boards of community banks in the Thumb, and she began setting up and managing their wellness programs, too.
Drake was appointed to the Gemini board in 2006, when her father, who was CEO of the Gemini Group, became ill. He died in 2007, and Drake was named chair of the board in 2010 and president in 2011.
"They didn't teach me a lot of banking and manufacturing at Madonna, so I'm glad to have a great team behind me," she said. "Numbers aren't my strength; people are. That nursing background helps me out a lot."
Nelson, who has 28 years of executive experience in a range of industries, joined Gemini in 2009. T.L. Bushey, the CFO, has been with Gemini since 2006.
Drake chairs the board of directors of Bad Axe-based Northstar Financial Group Inc., a bank holding company with more than $600 million in assets, and is on the boards of Mainstreet Community Bank of DeLand, Fla., and Hudsonville-based West Michigan Community Bank. She is also a board member of the Huron County Community Foundation and vice chair of the Huron County Economic Development Committee.
The Mainstreet Community Bank was founded by the Gemini Group's original partners after they bought vacation homes in the area and realized the need for a local community bank.
In 2011, Gemini opened a plant in Saltillo, Mexico, Gemini Plastics de Mexico. It already had a plant in El Paso, Texas, Sierra Plastics, the company's largest factory at 281,000 square feet.
In 2013, the Gemini Group bought three small companies in Muscle Shoals, Ala., including a die-cast tool shop and two aluminum-extrusion tooling shops, making it, according to the company, the second-largest producer of aluminum extrusion dies and tooling in North America. Nelson said those acquisitions came after the owner of the companies called the Gemini Group. "He said, 'We know your reputation, we like you, we'd like to sell to you,'" said Nelson.
The Gemini Group has just opened a fourth business in Muscle Shoals, a startup doing interior trim called Gemini Group Interior Trim.
Asked if the company is exploring any acquisitions, Nelson said: "We're always looking and kicking the tires, absolutely. Is there anything imminent? No."
Not all of Gemini's customers are OEMs or other tier ones.
Brad Couture is president and CEO of Superior Extrusions Inc., a maker of aluminum products, including ladders, boat lifts and trailers, in Forsyth Township, south of Marquette. He has been buying dies from Thumb Tool & Engineering for what he says is "way more than 25 years. I met Thumb's owner, Jack Rochefort, and after 15 minutes I knew he was as honest and genuine as any person I'd ever met. When they made him, they broke the mold.
"When he told you he'd do something, he did it. When I have a problem, I reach out to Thumb Tool, and it becomes their problem. They fly up here or drive up here to help me with any problem I am having." When asked if, as a profitable large privately held auto supplier Gemini gets offers from private-equity firms in the auto space, Drake joked: "We get offers all the time. Hourly. All day, every day."
And with never a thought toward cashing out.
"Our employees are our friends and neighbors. We go to church and sporting events together. I wouldn't be anywhere else or do anything else."
Nelson said the company tries to show young people in Huron County they don't have to leave the Thumb after high school to find good jobs. He said the company runs training programs in local high schools and each summer hires 35-40 interns, high school kids or kids home for the summer from college.
"We want to get them interested in manufacturing, show them you can get a good job in your own hometown," he said.