CHICAGO—Linda McGill-Boasmond, 62, is owner and president of Chicago-based Cedar Concepts, a manufacturer of chemicals for the personal care, home, agriculture and aerospace industries, among others. Recently, she was named board chairwoman of the Illinois Manufacturers' Association. She and her husband live in North Kenwood.
You are the first and only black woman in the U.S. to own and operate chemical manufacturing plants. How did you get here?
I was daddy's little girl. He worked in manufacturing, and sometimes I (would) sneaked off to work with him. He was always building something around the house, too. And I'll never forget competing with him to solve word problems in math. To me, it was a game.
A major accomplishment?
In 2015, we completed construction of the city's first new chemical manufacturing facility in over 50 years.
A major goal for you as IMA chairwoman?
To encourage young women to consider careers in manufacturing by supporting programs that help them develop STEM skills.
This industry is interesting, exciting, and you can make good money. I enjoy the sense of making something, too. I'm working on a book—"Lab Coats and High Heels."
What's missing in education?
When I was at Lindblom Technical High, we hung out with the teachers at lunch. We developed relationships. That doesn't happen today.
Standardization. It erodes freedom and creativity. Back then, teachers had more control over developing curricula that catered to their students.
A challenging career moment?
At my first job after college, I was the first woman production supervisor out on the floor. Even with three corporate directors and a vice president overseeing, two guys refused to work for me and were sent home.
Did that end it?
Some of the guys tested me by turning off valves, which can create havoc with the equipment and halt production. But I let them know that we were a team, and they needed to stop that.
An embarrassing career moment?
The guys would post photos of naked women around the plant. It was the late '80s, and that was allowed, but it disturbed me.
What did you do?
For 13 years I was a volunteer at Lincoln Park Zoo. I happened to be there one day when a rhino wanted to make a love connection. I caught a picture, showed it to the guys and said, "If you can't top this, take the photos down." They did.
How do you de-stress?
I enjoy spending time with my nieces and nephews and my friends' kids. I'm a bit of a kid at heart.
I enjoy going to Disney, and I prefer movies like "The Secret Life of Pets." Anything with animals—I have a dolphin tattooed on my arm.
What would surprise people about you?
I still enjoy climbing on top of the three-story reactors where we make products. I am much more comfortable up there than speaking to someone like yourself. Sorry!