Blood and steel: Two sisters successfully take over the family machining business
Every day, Cathy Imbriglio puts on her blue smock coat and safety boots before entering the machining workshop in which parts manufactured by Imbritech Industries are cut, manufactured and adjusted.
Although it’s rare to see women in industrial settings, this is a rather familiar environment for her and her sister Susy. They grew up in the factory founded by their father, Benny. They often went there with him before working in the business during the summer when they were students. “The smell of the steel is in our blood!” says Susy Imbriglio.
It was only natural for the sisters to follow in their father’s footsteps. Today, they run the Laval-based business, which specializes in CNC machining, as well as welding and cutting. Imbritech serves several industries, including pulp and paper, hydroelectricity, heavy tracked vehicles and aeronautics.
As business leaders, it is not always easy to find one’s place in an industry dominated by men. “We have to work harder to build our credibility,” acknowledges Susy. “But it’s okay, because we come from strong stock!”
According to Susy, her sister Cathy, who is in charge of production, has experienced more sexism than she has. “Since she works more with the machines, she has not always been taken seriously,” says Susy. “There are people who asked if they could see her boss! She is a trained mechanical engineer so she knows what she is talking about.”
Contrary to what one might think, being women is almost a benefit for the Imbriglio sisters when it’s time to meet with investors. “We have an easier time getting their attention,” notes Susy. People are interested in our story and are happy to do business with a company that’s women-led.”
A successful transition
Imbritech was founded by Benny and his co-partners, wife Teresa and daughter Susy, in 2009. Benny had already owned two other manufacturing businesses that he got rid of to start on this new adventure. From the outset, Susy took over general management of Imbritech, supported by her mother. Cathy joined the family business in 2012, after working at Pratt & Whitney for a few years.
In 2014, Benny, then 68 years old, felt that he was ready to pass the torch on to his daughters. The succession process was completed a year later. “It was quite simple. We were already working at the company, so we were familiar with its inner workings. It was mostly a matter of transferring the ownership,” explains Susy Imbriglio.
She and Cathy each hold 41% of the company shares; their father holds the rest. Benny remains nonetheless present in the company and acts mainly as a quality control manager. “Each of our roles is clearly defined. We complement each other well; that is our strength,” says Susy.
Recruitment and retention challenges
The year following the business transfer was no walk in the park for the Imbriglio sisters. “One of our employees was injured and he was the only one who could operate one of our machines. Being a small team, our turnaround time became longer, which prevented us from producing as much as usual.”
Although the situation is now back to normal, it illustrates the difficulty manufacturers experience when it comes to finding the specialized workforce they need. Imbritech is no exception. “Finding qualified machinists can be an extremely tough challenge,” says Susy Imbriglio. “We also have to know how to keep them with the company.”
The business is working hard to retain its staff. “We are doing a lot to show our appreciation,” says Susy. “We do something for every anniversary, and we sometimes offer lunch for the entire team, among other things. This is important because our employees are our best representatives. They are the ones who make the company.”
The Imbriglio’s (father and daughters) recipe is paying off because some employees have more than 25 years of seniority. “They followed my father around his various businesses. We’ve known them since we were young.”
Is it difficult to become the boss of workers who you’ve known since you were young? “My father taught us to never think we were better than anybody else. We treat everybody as equals and the respect is mutual.”
Better positioning the business
In 2017, the Imbriglio sisters decided it was time for Imbritech to shift gear and develop new markets. Among other things, they are working with a BDC expert to evaluate and optimize their sales and marketing approach. The two entrepreneurs have also obtained a loan from BDC to purchase equipment.
“We’re faced with increased competition,” explains Susy. “We need to diversify and increase our customer base. To do that it’s important to increase awareness about our company. We want to put Imbritech on the map!”
Currently, exports represent approximately 12% of the company’s revenues, a number that is expected to grow. Imbritech recently joined WEConnect International, managed by the Quebec Business Women’s Network, which supports women-owned businesses in developing their business with major contractors. In addition, Susy and Cathy participated in an economic mission to Las Vegas with this organization.
The two executives also want to be closer to their customers. A few months ago, they visited a customer in North Carolina with whom Imbritech has been doing business for a few years. “We had never met. We took the time to get to know each other better. We realized how important it is for contractors to build a true relationship with their suppliers.”
Maintaining a work-family balance
Although the Imbriglio sisters are seeking to grow Imbritech, they do not plan to expand at any price. “Since 2009, we have gone from 9 to 14 employees. Our objective is to have 20 within a few years. We want to remain a flexible business that focuses on the quality of the work.”
There is also the fact that their reality is different from their father’s, who’s had more than 40 employees working under him. “This is not what we want. Running a business as a woman is not the same thing. I have to make choices that my father did not have to. My mother was at home and took care of everything. She began to work at the company when Cathy, who is my younger sister, started school,” explains Susy Imbriglio, who is the mother of a three-year-old boy.
“Imbritech is my other baby,” she adds. “Juggling work and home life requires a dynamic balance. It has to be constantly adjusted.”