Women in Business panelists traveled varied paths to ownership

Women in Business

Dawn Vogelsang never imagined owning a business. Now president and owner of Waukesha-based Hamacher Resource Group Inc., she was looking for the right job out of college when she met the company’s founder, Dave Hamacher.

She joined the drugstore category management and marketing services company, rising through the ranks as the company grew, eventually becoming vice president of operations.

“When I started, Hamacher was a small company, so I learned every aspect of the business,” she said.

When Hamacher sold the business in 2000 to an out-of-state firm, Vogelsang became the general manager of the local operation.

“I didn’t like where the (parent) company was going and I knew I had to do something,” Vogelsang said. “I talked with the other members of the local senior management team and worked out a plan to purchase Hamacher back, with me as a majority owner. By the end of 2001, I was a business owner.”

Hamacher is one of more than 9.4 million U.S. companies owned by women, which employ nearly 7.9 million people and generated $1.5 trillion in sales as of 2015, according to the National Association of Women Business Owners. Vogelsang joined three other women business owners on May 24 at the BizTimes Women in Business breakfast panel at BizExpo to discuss the role women-owned businesses play in shaping the economy. The discussion was moderated by Kimberly Kane, founder of Kane Communications Group.

While Vogelsang admitted to being a bit out of her comfort zone in taking on the title of owner, Crystal Miller always wanted to run a successful business.

The president of Frontida Assisted Living, Miller got into the industry in 2009 when she purchased several area assisted living homes with her husband.

“It turned out the homes were in rough shape, so I worked my tail off so we could keep the business going,” Miller said. “Our path to success was focusing on our employees, since they are on the frontlines providing care to our residents. We want to provide them with a great working environment.”

Miller succeeded in doing just that. Frontida Assisted Living won a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Top Workplace award for the past two years. The company has 140 employees, with women making up 95 percent of that total.

Now with eight assisted living homes, Miller found success focusing on an underserved market: older adults with mental illnesses.

“As a business owner, you need to find your way,” she said. “I’m an entrepreneur at heart and also believe you should never be afraid of asking questions.”

Linda Katz has seen her career go full circle. After watching her father run a plastics injection molding business while growing up, and working there during high school and college, she is now chief executive officer of Molded Dimensions Inc. in Port Washington. Katz became majority owner of the company in 2001, with the remaining ownership shared by employees through an employee stock ownership plan.

Katz, who earned an engineering degree at Duke University and an MBA with a general management focus at Harvard University, always enjoyed working in manufacturing.

“I loved the camaraderie, loyalty and tenacity of my fellow manufacturing employees,” she said.

After working at large businesses like GE and Cummins Engine Co., Katz preferred the personal connections at smaller businesses. Since she respected and admired her father’s company, Katz decided to look for a small molder or stamper to purchase in Wisconsin with her husband.

Molded Dimensions fit the bill. Katz is impressed with the number of women now working in manufacturing – very different from when she was the only woman in her mechanical engineering track at Duke.

“Manufacturing is basically a huge team of diverse people working hard together to accomplish a challenging goal. Essentially, we are a very high-functioning family,” she said. “Many women are very well-suited to this work if they are great communicators, team players and nurturers.”

Holly Ritz purchased Milwaukee children’s book distributor The Penworthy Co. in May 2016 after a friend called her out of the blue. Ritz had been working as vice president of wellness sales at fast-growing Chicago health care startup Higi. There’s never a “right” time to take the leap into entrepreneurship, she said.

While Vogelsang initially was unsure about owning a business, there are no doubts now.

“I had such a drive to not have things fall apart for Hamacher and its customers that I just had to take action” to buy the company, she said.

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