Today, there are many women business leaders who have proven themselves to be uniquely qualified for piloting their companies’ workforces and strategies — including those in the tri-state region. Here, Elisabeth Smith, president and chief executive officer of Acutec Precision Aerospace Inc., a privately held, woman-owned aerospace and power generation firm, shares her leadership experience and vision for the company, which employs more than 400 people in locations in Meadville and Saegertown, Pennsylvania, as well as an overflow facility in St. Stephen, South Carolina.
Acutec has been a big part of your life. Tell us how the company got its start and the influence of your father, Rob, who took over the reins in 1994.
Acutec is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year and my father is a big part of that, but not from the beginning. He was an initial investor, and then he moved back as head of sales and marketing. He actually started at Firestone tires, so he was in Akron for awhile and traveled around the world while he was head of marketing for certain divisions at Firestone. He comes from a tractor tire background, which was not a common switch over to manufacturing. So, he actually learned blueprint reading while on the job and took it over when previous owner of Acutec founded ChipBLASTER. In the early ‘90s, Acutec was a company of about 17 people and supplier to LORD Corporation that became an aerospace company. We changed our name to Acutec Precision Aerospace from Acutec Precision Machining to reflect the fact that we’d grown beyond just machining.
You have an interesting career and education journey. Tell us more.
We moved to Meadville when I was 12, but as a teenager, it wasn’t my aspiration to live in the same town as my parents. I went off to college outside Philadelphia to become a labor economist, so my major was actually in mathematical economics. I worked in economic litigation consulting after college and, it turns out, that the company I worked for had an aerospace and defense practice. That’s where I really fell in love with aerospace and realized I could really make a difference from the inside.
From that point on, I decided to go to grad school, and that’s where I had all the intention of coming back to Acutec. I went to the University of Michigan, got an MBA in manufacturing operations, and I was in the operations leadership program at United Technologies Corporation (UTC), rotating between divisions, really understanding what the customer expectations were. I was on the Black Hawk final assembly line, and it was a really cool place to work. But, at the time, there was very little connection to what the operators were actually doing, so that really influenced a lot of what I’ve been doing since I joined Acutec in 2013.
Presently, Acutec is one of the world’s leading privately owned aerospace and power generation components firms with a worldwide customer base and sales of approximately $80 million annually. Please explain the products and services you provide.
Acutec makes components that are on almost every fixed wing and rotorcraft platform out there. We make products that go into dynamic systems primarily. Vibration dampening, rotor systems, engine power generation, fuel and air control, hydraulic actuation avionics, landing gear, braking systems, rod ends and bearings for actuation systems — pretty much everything except structural stuff.
We also have a software development company called Lojic, which is a full-service software development and services company. It provides manufacturers with an analytics platform, or dashboard, which allows for the display of real-time data based on their current ERP systems, so that they can have the latest and greatest information to make better decisions.
What would be your advice to young women who may be considering careers in manufacturing that would help them succeed and lead?
Have confidence in yourself and make sure that you’re not holding yourself back. The second thing is find a female mentor. I had a fantastic mentor, Audrey Brady, at Sikorsky/UTC. She was the head of final assembly and flight operations, so she covered the entire final join of the aircraft to hangar and flight testing. She really helped me with that confidence, identifying opportunities to improve, and having those one-on-one conversations in career development.
One of my goals is making sure that we have promotion opportunities within Acutec for women and are attracting women. Right now, I think we have more female machinists than we’ve ever had in the past, and that really excites me.
What is your vision for Acutec’s future?
We want to be the employer of choice in the region and to be the most respected supplier in the entire aerospace industry.
For more information about Acutec Precision Aerospace, visit www.acutecprecision.com.