For the full article visit: There was nothing at their first meeting that suggested to Chris Salow that Amanda Hutchings would one day be president of his Peak Manufacturing Corp. and take it to record revenue.
It was 2007 and she was applying for a job as marketing manager at his Shop Rat Foundation, a Jackson area-based nonprofit that teaches area high school kids how to operate factory machinery and prepare for skilled, well-paying jobs upon graduation.
She was 22, and although she had graduated from Baker College with a degree in business administration with honors, she was so nervous about the interview that she had broken out in hives.
She was youthful and a self-described "girly-girl" — though she says there is a Jeep-owning, off-road-vehicle-riding tomboy under the surface — and Salow's first impression was not of an assertive and confident leader with the potential to run an operation making components for wheel assemblies for heavy-duty trucks, supervising veteran shop-floor workers who were old enough to be her father.
But something about Hutchings impressed him. She got the job.
"The first month or two of working for me, she told me that at her previous job she'd been told to lie to customers and that she couldn't do it. She said she wanted out of there as fast as possible, that being honest was paramount to her," Salow said. "That was the first indicator I had that she was trustworthy."
Shop Rat shared space with Peak in a large manufacturing plant in Pleasant Lake, a community in Jackson County, just north of the state prison, and Salow had her answer phones at Peak as needed. It was a foot in the door for her. She was promoted to manage the small front office, then to her surprise was asked to be plant manager when the previous manager quit.
The key promotion came when Salow put her in charge of Peak's quality control and accreditations, even though she had no experience in what is a crucial position for companies looking to win contracts from other manufacturers.
"She didn't have any background in quality control but she took us through our annual audits with no problems whatsoever. She would nail them year after year, which was unheard of. That proved it to me that she could run the company," said Salow, who has just returned from Malawi, where he has set up another nonprofit, EcoAfrica, a Christian-based charity providing a range of services to Malawians.
"Because of Amanda and her work at Peak, I'm able to do this," Salow said of his work in Africa.
Salow has owned a variety of manufacturing businesses over the last 35 years. He incorporated Peak in 2007, splitting it off from another company he co-owned, Belleville-based SMW Manufacturing Inc., and turned over management of Peak to Hutchings in December 2013, naming her president when she was only 28. His father had just died and his mother had dementia, and he decided he needed to be her full-time caregiver.
"He told me, 'You're going to run the company. I'm going home,'" Hutchings said.
"Chris had an unreasonable amount of faith and trust in me. He just said, 'You can do it.' It strengthened our team because it forced people to learn how to do things. Before it was always, 'Chris can do it.'"
Salow said Hutchings has taken on the role of president with ease.
"It's been amazing to see her become so assertive. She's that rare combination of a strong leader who does things in a loving, caring way," he said. "The great thing about Amanda is she has no pretense, no phoniness. She loves people."
Peak uses old 1950s-era Brown & Sharpe tooling machines, but Salow brought them into the modern age by figuring out a way to fit them with modern automation equipment.
Salow said that doing so gave Peak a big advantage over more modern CNC (computer numerical control) machining equipment. He said the Brown & Sharpe machines have more horsepower than their modern brethren and can do their cutting and grinding without being liquid cooled. Salow said that while liquid cooling extends tool life, it slows the cutting and grinding processes and causes shock to the steel being machined, leading to higher rates of substandard parts.
Hutchings said the increased speed and quality of her machines gives Peak a big cost advantage over competitors using new equipment, and that cost advantage has driven its dramatic inroads into China and the burgeoning heavy-truck market there. Sales are up 60 percent since she took the helm, with projections this year, thanks to the exploding Chinese market, of an increase of 80 percent to what she describes as "the high teens" of millions.
In the last five years, she said the Chinese market has grown to about 50 percent of Peak's business.
She said domestic revenue should be up about 10 percent this year. On a recent visit by a reporter, Peak was doing a run for MNP Corp. of Utica, cutting a single groove into small lengths of steel. It is cheaper for MNP, an auto supplier, to hire Peak and pay for shipping than to mill the parts itself.
Employment has risen from 20 people to 46 since Hutchings took over, with another handful expected to be hired this year.
She said 95 percent of Peak's revenue comes from making what are called bearing spacers, strong steel cylinders that sit between bearings in wheel assemblies. And the bulk of that 95 percent comes from a single customer, Consolidated Metco Inc. of Vancouver, Wash., which has several U.S. plants, including one locally in Canton Township, as well as plants in Mexico and China.
Does such a reliance on one customer cause Hutchings distress?
Yes. "Absolutely," Hutchings said. And no: "We have a great relationship. We helped them develop that business. We have 10-year contracts with them, which is unheard of. We're committed to them and will grow with them."
Hutchings runs another business on the side, a photography business from her home, shooting children and newborn babies.
But it is another photo she is most proud of, and it's posted on her Facebook page. It's of her and her fellow female employees at Peak holding a sign that reads: "We are proud to be women in manufacturing."
About a fifth of Peak's employees are women, and the company pays for their membership in Women in Manufacturing, an organization based in Independence, Ohio, that provides education, networking and mentoring.