SAGINAW, Mich.—It's all in the family at Specialty Manufacturing Inc.
President Kathy Thompson and her husband, Jim, were working at Dow Corning when they noticed a significant amount of inquiries requesting small-run silicone parts and decided to open their own business in 1979 in the basement of their home.
Today, the silicone manufacturing company, which has capabilities in extrusion and tubing, silicone sheeting, compression molding, injection molding and more, has three generations working at the Saginaw facility. Daughters Kristi Wiechmann and Amanda Schiebner are vice president and vice president of quality, respectively. Grandson Caine Wiechmann is a sales specialist, and grandson Chase Wiechmann is the office assistant.
"I am so lucky to see my family every day. We each have our own areas of the business, but we meet at the beginning of the day, lunch and recap at the end of the day," Kathy Thompson said. "I have loved seeing firsthand my daughters grow professionally, and I look forward to seeing the same with my grandchildren."
After 21 years of marriage with Kathy, Jim Thompson died in 1998.
"This forced our family to think differently. It was truly the commencement of Kristi and Amanda taking on more responsibility in the business," Kathy Thompson said.
Thompson said most of her day is spent on the shop floor with the SMI employees. Her day starts with short management meetings, and then she moves to the plant floor to package products to ensure they are meeting requirements, and she works with employees on quality issues that might arise.
"I enjoy giving my quality input to new products as they start at SMI and love seeing an idea/design go from paper to three dimensions, knowing that our input helped our customer's idea come to life," she said.
Thompson said that in the 1980s, SMI's male customers only wanted to do business with her husband. She said she was not seen as a critical part of the company until those customers began working closely with them—"it was then that they realized my experience in the silicone field."
"There were just so few women in this industry that I wasn't always taken seriously. I also knew that in most meetings I would be the only woman in the room," Thompson said. "Most memorable preconceived notions are when I would answer the phone in our customer service area. Sometimes there are many lines ringing and I help out by answering. The caller always seems to think they are speaking to a receptionist, and it's funny how they change when they hear you are the owner or the president."
Thompson said her current role is her "dream job" and that she is staying put until she cannot come into work anymore. To relax, she enjoys reading, cooking and working outside in the yard.
"Seeing an opportunity in an industry and starting a company in our basement with my husband is my greatest accomplishment," she said. "I knew that with hard work and dedication we would find success, and we have grown to new heights over nearly four decades. I take pride in the great work that we do and appreciate the creativity, innovation and passion that all of our employees embody each and every day."