Trade missions a key to success for sisters

By Paul Sjoberg

Cathy and Susy Imbriglio know that as female owners of a machine parts company they are a rare breed, but the sisters find themselves in good company on trade missions catering to businesswomen.

Machinery is a male-dominated industry, say Cathy and Susy Imbriglio, co-owners of Imbritech Industries Inc., a Laval, Que.-based manufacturing company specializing in custom-made machined parts.

“We grew up in a machine shop,” Cathy Imbriglio says, alluding to the manufacturing company Profab Industries her father founded in 1974. From the age of 14, Cathy and Susy Imbriglio spent a lot of time at their father’s company, learning how to manage a manufacturing business.

Cathy Imbriglio went on to study mechanical engineering, specializing in aerospace, while Susy Imbriglio studied psychology, both at Concordia University in Montreal. Susy became involved in Imbritech at its inception in 2009, filling an administrative role in this new business she started with her parents. Cathy did not join the family venture until 2012, becoming involved then with production and sales. In 2014, Cathy and Susy took over Imbritech Industries from their father, becoming majority stakeholders.

In spite of their experience and qualifications, establishing connections with other business-owners in the sector can be challenging, the Imbriglio sisters say. That was one of the factors prompting them to join a trade mission organized by Global Affairs Canada’s Business Women in Trade (BWIT) group. The pair participated in the trade mission organized by BWIT to the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) Conference and Business Fair in Las Vegas in June 2017.

“We’ve heard this phrase too many times: ‘you don’t look like machining girls’—there’s always a little comment about the way we look,” Susy Imbriglio says, describing their experiences attending other business events and conferences.

The sisters say their male counterparts at traditional business events have often expected them to be owners of a spa or beauty products company or flower business or other businesses they might traditionally associate with women.

Susy Imbriglio and Cathy Imbriglio
Susy Imbriglio (left) and Cathhy Imbriglio

“Sometimes it’s nice to be with other women in an environment where everybody understands you instead of looking at you like ‘why are you here?’” Susy Imbriglio says of trade missions geared towards women. “We’ve noticed that a lot of these businesses really want to build a relationship with you. You know, they don’t want to see you at one mission and then you just disappear.”

“You feel the energy in the room where everyone just wants to help. It’s really special,” adds Cathy Imbriglio.

“We got to meet such amazing, inspiring women,” says Susy Imbriglio, adding she now feels like people know Imbritech and what they do.

Trade missions such as the one to Las Vegas give female business-owners and entrepreneurs opportunities to network and collaborate, says Lynne Thomson, a trade commissioner with the BWIT group. Women who attend trade missions develop connections and partnerships that serve them well for a long time, Thomson says, adding that participants have continued to do business together and promote one another long after they attend a women’s trade mission.

“Networking is a huge area where women just don’t have the same old boys’ club,” Thomson says. “The more women entrepreneur summits and women in business conferences there are, the better.”

This is especially true for female business-owners in sectors that remain heavily male-dominated, like manufacturing. The opportunity to interact with other female business-owners, network, and discuss business with no unnecessary distractions or impediments is something of significant value, Thomson says.

It is business as usual at trade missions geared towards women, and the business environment remains competitive, however the approach by women often differs from that of men, Thomson observes. Women in business have a real sense of the ecosystem that has to exist around them to “make it happen.” While a male business-owner might tend to think he alone is responsible for achieving success, women appear to be much more ready to reach out to fellow female business-owners to exchange strategies and solutions to problems that they face, she says.

“Women were asking questions of one another—despite the fact that the woman across the table from her could well be a competitor. It didn’t matter; it was all about bringing their best game and supporting others to do the same thing,” Thomson says, recalling a meeting between several female business-owners at a trade mission.

In addition to providing a space for female business-owners to network, trade missions for women are also especially effective because there is always a strong emphasis on pre-departure preparations. By the time participants arrive at a trade mission, they will have already talked among each other and interacted via social media, webinars, and other mediums, Thomson explains.

Cathy and Susy Imbriglio say the BWIT trade mission was invaluable for making business connections, in an environment where they did not stand out just for being women—which is often the case at other business events.

“Being a woman, people will actually remember you because it’s so different,” Cathy says, adding: “We went to a conference and everyone was calling us the ‘machine sisters’.”

Although Cathy and Susy Imbriglio say they are sometimes able to use their position as female business-owners in a still predominantly male-dominated industry to their advantage, the fact that they stand out so much simply for being female is indicative of the gender inequality that continues to exist in the business world. For example, the sisters attended a seminar in February 2018, where only five out of roughly fifty attendees—about 10 percent—were women.

“What’s important is that you don’t let it bother you,” Cathy Imbriglio says. “In college, when I told my teacher I’d been accepted into mechanical engineering he laughed. I could’ve stopped right there, but that’s not my personality.”

For Cathy and Susy Imbriglio, the trade mission for women provided a refreshing break from always standing out, an opportunity to focus only on business. They are planning to attend the WBENC Conference and Business Fair in Detroit, MI. in June 2018.

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