For Linda McGill Boasmond, the chemistry was right.
After years of managing plants for other people, “I thought it was time I did it for myself,” she says of her decision nine years ago to become the sole owner of Cedar Concepts Corp., a chemical manufacturing plant on the South Side.
That entrepreneurial move made her the first and only African-American woman to own a chemical manufacturing plant, one that does more than $20 million in annual revenues, says Boasmond, who expects the company’s revenues to triple in two to four years.
Cedar Concepts, which sells 50 to 70 million pounds of chemicals per year globally, processes raw materials used in personal care, household, industrial and agricultural products. Its customers include Procter & Gamble, Citgo and Boeing.
Boasmond, who holds a degree in chemistry, initially worked for chemical plants in various positions for multinational corporations. In December 1998, she began work as a technical director and assistant plant manager at Cedar Concepts. She became a partner in 2003 and sole owner in 2004.
Has she faced challenges breaking the mold in the male-dominated industry?
“Oh my God, yes,” she says. “While I was at one of those multinational companies, I was up for a plant manager position in Houston. I was told by my manager, ‘You know we can’t send you there.’ ”
But she ultimately became the first female production supervisor for the company by simply producing.
“They recognized I really do know this business, the products and processes,” she says. “Gaining respect is the method to overcoming resistance.”
Steps she’s taken to get her business to the next level include seeking assistance from the Chicago Minority Business Development Council, the Women’s Business Development Center and the Chicago Urban League.
“They’ve helped create connectivity, especially to the multinational organizations,” she says. “If you’re a small to midsize business such as Cedar Concepts, in order to have those types of customers you have to be able to have a network inside of those corporations to be able to navigate through.”
She also benefited from a grant from Project Realize, a program run by Vista Equity Partners, a private equity firm with $7 billion in capital commitments.
Project Realize “sent staff into our facility to help us implement better strategic planning and put in place industry best practices,” she says.
They also aided Cedar Concepts in establishing an advisory board and are helping the company implement a new major software system to better manage and run the business.
She credits the guidance she has received with helping drive revenues up 25 percent last year.
Linda McGill Boasmond’s entrepreneurial advice:
– Believe that it’s possible despite “the four F’s: finances, family, free time and being female.” She’s proof it can be done, she says.
– Know the key to overcoming difficult times is faith and perseverance. “Like with your GPS, when you miss the turn, you’ll reroute quickly,” she says.
– Think you’re superwoman. “As an entrepreneur the business is your baby that you don’t want anyone else to hold,” she says. “The problem is you can never grow a business to scale by yourself.” Ask for help.
– Try to be one of the guys. “Bring the female perspective to the table,” she says.
Photo of Linda McGill Boasmond by Heath Sharp