In 1997, minorities made up only 17 percent of all women-owned businesses in the U.S. Today, “women of color” own one-in-three of all women-owned businesses in America – that’s nearly a 100 percent increase! Minority women-owned businesses are also the only businesses besides publicly-traded companies which have seen a net-increase in employees over the last six years.
Dr. Karen Eng seemed an unlikely candidate to become an entrepreneur. Having completed her doctorate in optometry at the New England College of Optometry, Eng had already begun a successful career in the field when she recognized an opportunity to lead her father’s business. Confident that she could take the family business, an engineering firm called CSMI, to the next level, she committed to learn everything that she could about the business and then take managerial responsibility. Her father, who had supported her choice to become an optometrist, was surprised that she wanted to get involved in the family business, but over the next few years she transitioned fully into CSMI and became co-owner in 1999.
In 2009, with her parents’ blessing, Eng finally purchased CSMI outright and has since led the company to becoming a top engineering consulting services firm for the Food Drug Administration & the U.S. Department of Agriculture regulated industries, a mission that her father had laid the foundations for. The first major change that Eng implemented at CSMI was to look at ways to attract and retain the best talent. Regarding these initial efforts, Eng offers: “The most obvious change that I made was to make sure that our employees were getting the best benefits. We implemented a match with the 401(k) plan, reimbursed for education and training, increased the health benefits, and tried to make sure we were working cohesively inside and outside the office.”
Leveraging her family’s Chinese heritage, Eng wanted to expand CSMI’s footprint in Asia. In order to build a base of knowledge and support system before expanding operations abroad, Eng was careful to utilize all of the U.S. Federal Government resources that she could. She worked closely with MBDA, the International Trade Administration, and the Export-Import Bank of the United States to garner support and guidance. By utilizing these resources, CSMI has been able to deliver on contracts across the globe by expanding its contracts in China and the Philippines, and entering into new markets including Vietnam, Mexico and the United Arab Emirates.
Recently, on a panel discussion at the 2014 Ex-Im Bank Annual Conference in Washington, D.C., Eng highlighted that working closely with the U.S. Federal Government has opened doors and helped make initial business connections that have blossomed into important contracts. Eng was especially appreciative of working with MBDA, saying: “As a business owner, there are so many unknowns when trying to build and grow your company. MBDA clarified the unknowns, and worked with me to ensure success.”
CSMI and Eng have won many awards over the years, including the 2009 MED Week Award for Minority Service Firm of the Year. This Asian Pacific American heritage month, MBDA wishes to once again recognize Eng for her continued success as an entrepreneur and business owner.
AAPI EVERYDAY SHEROES
This May, we celebrated AAPI Everyday Sheroes in honor of APA Heritage Month.
AAPI women are creating change in their local communities and on the national stage. NAPAWF is proud to highlight the Everyday Sheroes among us – the fierce movement-makers who are building a more just world for AAPI women and girls.
Below are three of my “sisters” that have been diligently working in the community & the United States to make an impact. I am proud to be part of a group of such empowering women.
Dr. Theresa Mah (Chicago, Illinois)
Dr. Theresa Mah is a Senior Policy Advisor and Director of Asian American Outreach in the Office of Illinois Governor Pat Quinn. Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, she studied history and ethnic studies at the University of California at Berkeley before attending the University of Chicago where she earned her Ph.D. in U.S. history. She has researched and written about housing segregation in the United States and has taught history, ethnic studies, and Asian American studies at various universities, including Northwestern University, New York University, Bowling Green State University, University of Illinois Chicago and the The University of Chicago. She has served on the boards of The Toledo Fair Housing Center and Asian Pacific Americans for Progress. During the 2008 presidential campaign she served as a member of Barack Obama’s Asian American and Pacific Islander Leadership Council.
Since returning to Chicago in 2006, she has been a strong advocate and activist in the Asian American community. In 2012 she was elected Community Representative on the Local School Council at Thomas Kelly High School and appointed to the Illinois Advisory Council on Bilingual Education. While on staff at the Coalition for a Better Chinese American Community, an advocacy coalition in Chicago’s Chinatown, she led a successful redistricting effort for the Chicago Chinatown community; helped pass the Illinois Voting Rights Act of 2011; conceived the effort to establish an Asian American Caucus in the General Assembly; and spearheaded the passage of the Asian American Employment Plan Act. In her current position, she oversees the implementation of policies that promote diversity and inclusion at all levels of state government, paying particular attention to the recruitment, hiring, retention and promotion of Asian Americans in order to better reflect the diversity of the state’s population. She works closely with the Governor’s cabinet to ensure that state agencies provide adequate outreach and services to the Asian American population. She serves as the Governor’s representative in the Asian American community and advocates for the state’s 600,000+ Asian Americans, bringing their issues and concerns to the highest levels of state government and working on policies to address them.
On a more personal note, I am the child of immigrants and the granddaughter of a paper son who came to the United States from southern China in 1924. I am motivated to do what I do because of what I know about Asian American history and the experiences of people like my grandfather. I would not be where I am today were it not for their sacrifices, so I feel a deep obligation to give back what I can, to use my relative privilege to fight for justice and equality for our communities. Because I grew up in a working class immigrant family, I am particularly sensitive to issues of language access, immigrant rights, educational opportunity, equity and representation. Those are issues I work on every day, and I feel tremendously privileged to be able to do personally rewarding work that I love and feel a deep commitment to.
I support NAPAWF because I think it’s really important to support the next generation of AAPI women leaders, provide a local safe space for AAPI women and girls, fight for reproductive justice, and protect immigrant rights.
Kiran Ahuja (Washington, DC)
Kiran Ahuja has served as Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) since December 2009, working to improve the quality of life for AAPIs through increased access to and participation in federal programs.
Well-known as a leader among national and grassroots AAPI and women’s rights organizations, Ms. Ahuja served as the founding Executive Director of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF) from 2003-2008. Through her leadership, Ms. Ahuja built NAPAWF from an all-volunteer organization to one with a paid professional staff and organized a strong, vibrant network of AAPI women community leaders across the country. She attended Spelman College, an historically black college, and the University of Georgia School of Law.
Anne Shaw (Chicago, Illinois)
Born the daughter of Asian American immigrants in Atlanta, Georgia, Anne Shaw has lived and worked in the greater Chicagoland area almost her entire life, and is a proud wife, daughter, sister, small business owner and attorney.
Ms. Shaw and her husband, Matt, live in East Village/Wicker Park Chicago where they are both active with family life and community service.
Now the founding officer and shareholder of Shaw Legal Services, Ltd., Ms. Shaw’s legal practice centers around taking care of families and the businesses that support those families. Her and her firms’ work focuses on civil litigation in the areas of commercial, civil rights and personal injury. Her firm also handles estate planning, small business representation, bankruptcy, family law and real estate.
Ms. Shaw strongly believes that we need more Asian Americans and women in public office. Ms. Shaw ran for public office in 2011-2012 in an effort to save a local police station from closing. She organized thousands of people, 4 rallies, and gathered over 6000 signatures to save the police station from closing. With less than three months to campaign, she beat the incumbent and came in second place with 30% of the vote as a first time candidate. She is now a candidate for Chicago City Council and will make history if elected as the first Asian American woman to join the Chicago City Council in February 2015.
In 2012, Ms. Shaw discovered that the cosmetology and nail technician State licensing exams were only offered in English and Spanish but not in Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean or any other Asian languages. She immediately started working pro bono to have these licensing exams translated into Asian languages to help the Asian community. By 2013, working closely with Governor Quinn’s Policy Director, Theresa Mah, the Governor agreed to work on translating and offering these exams in Chinese, Vietnamese, and Korean and by February 2014, the first cosmetology exam in Chinese was offered to students.
Ms. Shaw is regularly invited to teach other attorneys business and financial laws. Knowing that the Asian Pacific story is part of the fabric of the American story, Ms. Shaw has remained incredibly active in her cultural community, and in May of 2013 she was honored by the National Association of Asian American Professionals Chicago for her achievements in our community and was invited to speak as a keynote speaker at their Asian American Heritage Month Leadership Celebration.
In 2010, Ms. Shaw co-founded the first pro bono legal clinic in Chinatown with Chicago Volunteer Legal Services and the Chinese American Service League, now in its fourth year and serving thousands of underserved and underrepresented immigrants and Asian American minorities.
Ms. Shaw has been invited to speak to numerous other organizations, including the Chinese American Service League, National Asian Pacific American Bar Association, and others.
Ms. Shaw received the prestigious Hon. Sandra Otaka Leadership Award, the highest honor from the Asian American Bar Association in 2010 for her work in the legal profession and the community.
In 2008 she was named one of the top lawyers under 40 in Chicago by Chicago Law Bulletin. In 2009 she was named a “Best Lawyer Under 40” by the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association.
In 2009, Ms. Shaw was appointed to serve as the first Asian American Commissioner on the Cook County Board of Ethics.
This year she received the Asian American Coalition of Chicago’s Community Service Award.
Ms. Shaw supports NAPAWF because she strongly believes that the greater community needs strong AAPI women leaders in the professional, civic, and political arenas and NAPAWF gives women leaders the support and resources to be able to do this.
Dr. Karen Eng (Chicago, Illinois)
Dr. Karen Eng has worked to build CSMI as a leading process & packaging engineering firm in the FDA & USDA regulated industries. CSMI provides project management, field and construction support, electrical, mechanical, controls, automation, and packaging engineering services. Upon Dr. Eng becoming President in 2000, CSMI has grown exponentially in both revenues and staff, and continues its growth by developing a stronger client base, more in depth projects, and more experienced staff.
Dr. Eng received a B.S. in Biochemistry and a B.S. in Biology from the University of California, San Diego and her doctorate from the New England College of Optometry.
Most recently, she has spoken at the Export Import Bank of the United States regarding exporting back to China, and the Food and Drug Law Institute’s conference in Beijing. She has been a panelist for Senator Durbin’s U.S. Export seminar, North Park University Executive Director Boot Camp, Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) Chicago Globalization conference, and Working Mother Media’s Chicago Women’s Leadership Summit.
Dr. Eng serves on the Board of Directors of the Export Import Bank of the United States, Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital, the Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana, YWCA of Metropolitan Chicago, Illinois College of Optometry, and Chicago Minority Supplier Development Council. She chairs the STEM Task Force through the Girl Scouts which aims to be the liaison between Chicago headquartered corporations & the Girl Scouts.
Dr. Eng supports NAPAWF because she is passionate about developing more AAPI women leaders and growing local safe spaces for progressive AAPI women and girls.
I love the song “Brave” by Sara Barielles on many levels. When talking with North Park University graduating students at the Etiquette and Networking dinner on March 27, 2014, I wanted them to walk away with the beliefs from her lyrics of “You can be amazing!” and “Say what you want to say honestly, I want to see you be brave.”
What does this have to do with Networking? I think that these are a couple components of successful networking. One is believing you are amazing, not arrogant. You have a great story based on YOUR life. Another component is bravery when interacting with others either in a familiar or unfamiliar setting.
A couple of items to remember when introducing yourself include:
- Introduce yourself using your name
- Shake hands
- Have eye contact
- Speak clearly
- Speak confidently with a good flow
- Make yourself memorable? (be authentic and compelling)
Networking. What exactly is it?
Networking is such a powerful entity. It’s an exchange of information between individuals and groups. You’ve heard of “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” There is true validity to this; not saying you don’t have to be knowledgeable, but networking yields knowledge beyond yourself. If you have a strong network, you have access to answers and solutions versus obtaining it blindly both professionally and personally. Wouldn’t you rather call someone you know and trust to help you with an electrical problem in your home versus google “electricians” and pick one randomly? Have you ever gotten an opportunity to do something perhaps an internship, a job, go to an event, got a huge discount all because someone provided you an introduction?
You only have one shot and 10 seconds to make a first impression so let’s talk about making YOU as amazing as you can be.
Specific tips to try
My mantra is to try and make everything a no brainer. How you take care of yourself is typically the first impression of you. Let’s eliminate the variables.
YOU: Physical Aspect
- Dress appropriately for the situation (business attire vs nightclub attire, be clean and pressed, shoes in good shape)
- Hygiene (clean hair, clean body, good breath, appropriate make up, cologne/perfume appropriate, nails trimmed)
- Be on time
YOU: Mental Aspect
- Check your attitude: Are you conveying a positive of negative attitude?
- Are you feeling good about yourself?
- Eat good foods
- Get enough sleep
- Reduce your stress
YOU and Others: Psychological Aspect
- Make sure you are listening
- Try and Ask applicable questions
- Reengage if you are interrupted
My Secret to Networking
I want to tell you my secret about being an effective networker. When I meet someone, I get to know them regardless of what they can do for me.
There is a delicate balance of meeting someone deliberately at a networking event because you want the opportunity for the internship or job. My advice is to be authentic and compelling by saying something like: “This may not be the right time, but can I follow up with you to discuss the opportunity of working with you?”
Networking As A Way Of Life
You never know who you are going to run into, and then you never know what opportunities they may bring. So it is important to know what your brand is, what you represent, what you want to do and how you are going to get there.You know how excited you get about things you are passionate about, and sometimes you can talk endlessly about it. Why wouldn’t you surround yourself with that passion?
My brand is strongly linked to my Twitter profile: CEO of an engineering firm, President of a wine branding company, golf and Harley enthusiast, mom, and a passion to empower women & girls.
So I challenge you to come up with your brand. And if you have, do you need to revisit it and revise?
One thing to remember: Networking gets easier and better the more you do it.
I’ve had the honor of serving on several non-profit boards, and I am very happy that I am involved. I feel that it adds to the balance of my life as its own entity, but filters into both my professional and personal life. My motivation was two fold. Primarily, I wanted to be an example of stewardship to my daughter. The other was to be impactful in my community.
- Understand the mission and goals, and truly be passionate about it. I have come to the realization that the boards that I have dedicated a lot of my time are causes that are close to my heart. I can identify these quickly: empowering females, fairness to everyone, and encouraging education especially in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields.
- Understand the “state” of the organization.
- Financially: If there are funding issues, budget constraints, and/ or a capital campaign when onboarding, this can be a bigger challenge versus a financially robust organization that has just completed a campaign.
- Leadership: Considering that I will be dedicating my time and resources typically on a volunteer basis, I want to surround myself with people that give positive energy and can inspire me. It is imperative that I feel a connection with the President/ CEO or Exectutive Director and the other board members.
- Strategy: The organization should have a strategic plan that they are executing. It should be clear to explain and have metrics that can be met. I have found that it’s a red flag when longstanding organizations justify their actions with “We’ve always done it this way.”
- Understand the organizations expectations and the criteria for their prospects. Typically, the nominating committee has reviewed the demographics of the current board members and have identified gaps and/or successes that they want to enhance. There is a reason they want you on their board.
- Give or get: One of the responsibilities I’ve always encountered is a fiduciary responsibility (anywhere from $2000-$10,000 per year). If I cannot directly donate the dollars, I’m expected to find others to financially support the organization (friends, family, business associates).
- Development expectations: There may be an expectation to bring ideas and innovation to the organization to help them grow. This can also include involving your network, your industry, or your professional affiliations.
- Time commitment: There are Board meetings and committee meetings, and there is usually an expectation of attending a majority of them. In addition, there are also events to attend and possibly committee assignments.
- Understand your capabilities. With all of this being said, it is important to consider your motivation and your contribution.
- Financials: I believe it is important to realistically evaluate the financial commitment. It should be an amount that will not stress you out in order to keep the board seat.
- Time: Adding an extracurricular activity does include a time commitment, and it should align without interfering with current work or personal commitments.
- Network: As a Board member, you will be representing the organization to your network. You also have the opportunity to inspire others to get more involved. Will that network support you and the organization?
- “Secret sauce”: As a prospect, to solidify your seat at the table, you should identify what makes you an excellent fit. There should be something compelling that draws them to you, and sets you apart.
Invitation: Being active in your community is a very rewarding experience. It is an opportunity to learn more about those in the community who are helping others. It is also good for your soul. Are you giving enough to your community and how can your talents and resources better your community?
I had an opportunity to speak to the Business Scholars, and had a great experience! The purpose of the UIC Business Scholars program is to develop leadership excellence and professionalism among a cohort of highly motivated undergraduate business students. Below is the write up from Ms. Amiwala, one of the business scholars with an amazing smile.
Yesterday, for the Business Scholars CEO Perspective Series I had the wonderful opportunity to meet our final guest speaker of the semester, Dr. Karen Eng.
Dr. Eng was absolutely wonderful and she made sure her presentation was interactive so that all of us young business students could open up and ask questions. Dr. Eng began by explaining her position as CEO and President at CSMI, and later, she talked about the steps she took to become an accomplished professional.
Dr. Eng, like many students, did not always have this vision of being a CEO of an entire company; in fact, she went to the University of California and got her degree in biochemistry and biology. Once she graduated, she aspired to become an optometrist. It wasn’t until later in her life that she decided to take over CSMI, the small business that her father started in 1983.
Now, CSMI is a successful firm that serves countries all over the world. Dr. Eng told us that CSMI is an engineering consulting firm which also works with administrations such as the USDA and FDA. One interesting fact we learned about CSMI was that it helps companies create exclusive machines to make packaging and production very efficient. Many of Dr. Eng’s clients are food companies such as Nestle, Kraft Foods, and PepsiCo.
Dr. Eng advised us to explore all our options and ask questions to those who are experienced in the professions we want to pursue. She also said that one of the keys to success was networking, and as business students, we must start developing our network now.
Dr. Eng was very passionate about empowering women and told us that she was one of the few women leaders in her field. I was touched by the fact the she told us that everyone in the room is capable of doing anything they dreamed of, and it was just uplifting to hear that all 40 of us can make an impact to the world, in 40 different ways.
Aside from being an accomplished professional, Dr. Eng is highly involved in organizations that she is most passionate about. She serves as a board member for the Illinois College of Optometry, the Girl Scouts of Chicago and Northwest Indiana, and many more.
Towards the end, Dr.Eng provided us with great insight and she encouraged us to be the best cohort of Business Scholars, so that one day we could also give back to our community.
Is it truly a milestone when you’re invited to your 25th high school reunion? I’m not convinced it’s a milestone, but more of a celebration of life amongst my peers – many of whom I’ve grown up with since the second grade. Obviously, I felt different compared to my 10 year reunion and I can clearly state why. I was at a different stage in my life – newly engaged and a few years out of graduate school. At the 25th year high school reunion, we are in our early 40s, have been working for a couple decades, and (lightly or heavily) seasoned in marriage, family, and children. Here are a few things that I took away from the evening that I believe are true across the board whether you’re attending a reunion or not:
- Be proud of yourself, but tone down the bragging. It seemed like most of my classmates were comfortable sharing what was going on in their lives. Whether a professional or stay at home mom or a combination, it didn’t matter. Their eyes lit up when they were talking about their children and/or their satisfaction with their career choice. It made for such a great evening with no “one upping” each other.
- Enjoy talking about the past, but be optimistic that the best is still to come. There were a couple of stories about high school, but they were good memories that made the group smile. Memories are great, but if you are stuck in high school, it limits the possibilities of what the world can offer.
- Be genuinely happy for your friends, acquaintances, peers, classmates, family versus compare yourself to them or be jealous. It was a genuine pleasure to listen to what my high school friends were currently doing. It was inspiring to hear what made them happy, and seriously, I felt everyone was SO nice.
- Eliminate the variables so you have the confidence to talk to whomever you interact with. Since you haven’t seen some people in awhile, of course, you want to look good. I would think that new haircuts, new makeup, and new fashion will make you self conscious. I recommend wearing that outfit that matches the venue and that you feel great in.
- Keep in touch with everyone to keep updated on their lives. Facebook has been an excellent tool to keep in touch. A quick flip through your news feed (or if you’re lucky like I am, you have an amazing coordinator who sets up a reunion page), and you have some great prep conversation when you get to the venue. Quick tip: just reveal baseline information so you don’t cross the line of Facebook stalking.
In addition, I connected with a few more friends after the reunion which made the evening even more worth while. Although I can’t recall how much I enjoyed high school, I truly appreciated an evening with no cliques, no obsession about popularity, and no gossiping.
When Karen Eng meets with potential clients, she often totes along her iPad so she can show off a prized photo. In it, she stands beaming on a boat, raising the tail of a short-nosed swordfish she’s just reeled in off the coast of Maui. It weighed 40 pounds.
In her world of engineering, one predicated on prototypes and programs, this is Eng’s way to place the focus on relationships.
“Almost every single time,” Eng said, “I go in there, and you have your slot, from like 10 to 10:30 a.m., to present. The people before me and the people after me are two men. …
“And they wear khaki slacks or black slacks and a blue shirt and a white shirt. And so there is this, whatever you want to call it, standardization that goes on.
“And then I show up, and I have, like, this (iPad), and I go, ‘First of all, I need to show you, I caught this fish.’
“Or I’ll say something like, ‘One of my favorite things in the whole wide world is nacho cheese,’ which it really is. That kind of personalizes it, you know, versus just getting started, straight up, like a presentation.”
Still, as a non-engineer among a phalanx of engineers, Eng already stands out.
The president and CEO of CSMI, an engineering services firm, Eng, 43, holds an advanced degree not in engineering but in optometry. In school, she spent years studying the human eye but now spends her time figuring out how to solve the packaging problems of companies like General Mills, Hillshire Brands and PepsiCo.
In the past 18 years, Eng has transitioned from doing administration in the Schaumburg headquarters of CSMI, which her father started in 1983, to managing operations and co-owning the business with her dad, to becoming CSMI’s sole owner.
Now, her ambition is to shepherd its growth.
Revenue for CSMI has jumped from $7 million to $8 million last year, according to Eng, to a projected $15 million by the end of 2013. She attributes part of the increase to an expansion in services, such as buying equipment for clients.
Another reason is Eng’s civic involvement. She sits on the boards of directors of the Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago & Northwest Indiana, the YWCA Metropolitan Chicago, the Illinois College of Optometry and the Chicago Minority Supplier Development Council. These activities allow her to make new connections that provide openings for her company to land more work.
This year, Eng was inducted into the Chicago Area Entrepreneurship Hall of Fame at the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies. Two years ago, she was named one of Enterprising Woman magazine’s Enterprising Women of the Year.
In the past year, Eng has attracted so much new business that CSMI had to turn away work because it would have been too much for the roughly three dozen employees she oversees.
As a result, Eng is hiring engineers and considering acquisitions.
“Her energy and her desire to grow the organization are what appeal to me,” said Larry Kujovich, senior partner at Executive Partners, who met Eng through a consulting job for CSMI but has become a mentor and friend. “I think the future of CSMI is extraordinarily exciting.”
Putting pieces together
CSMI has a suite of offices on the fourth floor of a high-rise in Schaumburg, just off state Route 53, in which Eng, a feng shui aficionado, has hung various mirrors and crystals in discreet corners.
In her office, where orchids bloom on a window ledge, Eng works on a MacBook Pro, reading proposals and communicating with clients. Though much of the drawing, design and programming are done in the office by engineers, the action-oriented part of CSMI takes place in plants all over the U.S. and the globe.
CSMI designs production lines at manufacturing plants and provides expertise on operations. Its clients — food and beverage companies and pharmaceutical firms — are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration or by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
For instance, when Capri Sun, which is owned by Northfield-based Kraft Foods, decided to appeal to older kids with its spout-topped Big Pouch, CSMI figured out how to divert the ingredients into the new pouches, put the pouches into packaged boxes and put the packaged boxes onto pallets.
What CSMI does, Eng says, is analogous to designing a media center for a home.
“So I would specify all the pieces of equipment,” Eng said. “I don’t make a TV, I don’t make a receiver, I don’t make the speakers. But you like movies that are action, so of course, we’ll get the big screen and the speakers that surround you. We’ll say, ‘This is the best for what you want.’
“And then we get it all installed and in your house, connect it all, program the remote and teach you how to use it.”
Tom Pirko, managing director of Bevmark, a food and beverage consultancy based in California, does not know Eng but said the kind of business she runs is “in a boat at high tide.” Public consciousness of health, wellness and safety in manufacturing has driven innovation in the sector, he said, which in turn increases demand for the kind of services CSMI offers.
Thirty years ago, Eng’s father, Joe, started CSMI, inspired by his engineering experiences at Kraft and Air Resources Inc.
At Kraft, he familiarized himself with the manufacturing and packaging processes for products like cheese and salad dressing; at ARI, he helped manage projects in the chemical industry.
Joe Eng started Cybernet System Management Inc. with the vision of applying the automation he witnessed at ARI to food manufacturing, which he called labor intensive because it required so much manual handling.
“I needed to apply the technology in petrochemical to food technology,” Eng said. “That was my motivation and my insight into starting the company.”
Born in Chicago’s Ravenswood neighborhood, Karen Eng lived in Chinatown, where her mother and grandmother grew up, until she was 2. (Her father emigrated from Hong Kong when he was 11.) But her parents decided they wanted their kids to play in yards, Joe Eng said, instead of alleys.
So the Engs moved to Schaumburg, where eight years later, they had another daughter, Cheryl. While a student at James B. Conant High School in Hoffman Estates, Karen worked at a Marshall Field’s store and helped clean her father’s CSMI offices.
Karen remembers dusting. Her father remembers how she helped scrub the office toilets.
Joe Eng said he and his wife, Doreen, wanted their daughter to be any kind of professional, though Karen said she felt that her parents wanted her to become a doctor or a lawyer.
While attending the University of California at San Diego, Eng worked for an optometrist, helping kids and stroke victims with their hand-eye coordination.
“That optometrist that I worked for said, ‘You need to go into this. This is the best profession ever,'” Eng said, adding that he made several introductions for her.
She took his advice and packed for Boston to attend the New England College of Optometry, where her fun-loving side — which can compel her to hop on her black Harley-Davidson Sportster and ride it to work — often emerged.
Her friend and classmate Karen Grucci Brown recalled that they were studying at Eng’s apartment in Boston on a rainy night.
“We were really tired of studying and needed a break,” said Grucci Brown, now an optometrist in North Carolina. “She suggested we go play in the rain! So that’s what we did — two, 20-something-year-old optometry students playing in the puddles at night in the city. It was one of those things only Karen would think of doing.”
After optometry school and a fellowship in Baltimore, Karen Eng devised a plan to become what she called “an eye doctor to the stars.”
She would move to Southern California and target people “who had so much money, they would need different outfits and different glasses. But then again, I came out with all this student loan debt, so I was like, ‘How am I going to do this?’ And if it fails, I gotta go work for somebody. I never wanted to work for anybody.”
(This sentiment has been adopted by Eng’s 9-year-old daughter, Kiana Pouyat, who, while relaxing on the deck of their North Barrington home recently, said, “My parents say, ‘If you be your own boss, you do anything you want.'”)
By the mid-’90s, Eng had moved back home with her parents for the summer to relax until her father asked Eng to come into the office to help with administrative tasks.
Then, she made a giant pivot.
“Here was my thought process: Basically, I was like, ‘I want to have a certain lifestyle, and to afford that lifestyle, you have to generate revenue,’ and I thought, ‘You generate revenue by seeing patients.'” Eng said. “So the more patients you see, the more money you make, versus something like, at the engineering firm, you have the engineers doing all the work for you. The scalability is easier.
“But what I failed to think about is, if you hire optometrists, then you’re not going to have to work as hard. It’s generating revenue by managing the practice, by having other people in place doing it and not me seeing patients for 20 hours a day. I didn’t think that far in advance. But it’s a whole different scale.
“I just thought (CSMI) was more scalable, and I kind of had that Tom Sawyer attitude: Get everybody to do something for you. But little do we know how much I work. I was up at like 3 this morning, just answering stuff, and it’s fine.”
Her dad had not yet devised a succession plan for CSMI, so Eng asked him to give her five years to learn everything she could about the business, with the expectation that she would manage it someday.
“I was in total shock,” said Joe Eng, when Karen told him of her plan. “I didn’t remember her ever mentioning it before. Otherwise I would have sent her to engineering school.”
While still practicing optometry at the AccuVision on Michigan Avenue on the weekends, Karen immersed herself on the weekdays in the purchasing and proposal processes at CSMI, as well as engineering operations, at least from a macro standpoint.
“She did not get into the minute details of how a robotic arm could rotate 360 degrees,” Joe Eng said, “but she knew enough to say, ‘Somebody has to study that.'”
From the start, she prized building relationships.
“Karen was smart enough and wise enough to deal with these (purchasing) guys, where I was not,” Joe Eng said.
Five years ago, Eng bought out her father and became sole owner of CSMI in what Joe Eng calls a natural transition.
“I was very confident,” he said, “that she could take this thing and probably do better than I could.”
Since then, Eng has not only bolstered staff and revenue numbers but also expanded CSMI’s global reach, with jobs in the Philippines, China, Vietnam, Mexico and United Arab Emirates.
Michael Espinosa, CSMI’s director of engineering, who has been working at the company for nearly 17 years, said seasoned engineers might think Eng’s lack of an engineering background is a communication barrier. But Espinosa acts as a buffer. The newer engineers, he said, tend to understand that “Karen doesn’t have all of the technical background, but she knows the business.”
Eng says she makes a practice of admitting that she is not an engineer by education or training.
“When you are upfront from the beginning, saying, ‘I don’t understand this,’ then it’s easier to admit it than pretending you know what you don’t know,” Eng said. “And I’ve always been that way. But I’m intelligent, so, when they do explain things to me, I do understand them. And I understand what the capabilities of this firm are and what they’re not.”
Jon Riechert, a senior corporate engineer with Hillshire Brands, said it doesn’t bother him that Eng isn’t an engineer. What matters to him is that she communicates. If he has a question on a project, he says, Eng is always able to get him an answer.
Riechert first considered CSMI for a project six years ago after a Girl Scouts event, where Eng met Brenda Barnes, the former CEO of Sara Lee Corp., from which Hillshire Brands was carved.
Impressed by the confidence Eng showed in her staff, Riechert hired CSMI to figure out how to improve the efficiency of moving Jimmy Dean sausage from the packaging area to the chiller at a plant in Tennessee.
“It’s very difficult to get our plants to actually like people that our corporate group picks out,” Riechert said. “But the plant liked them so much, they started calling (CSMI) directly.”
One of the most challenging tasks so far, Eng said, has been to manage clients’ expectations.
“We are engineers; we are not psychics,” Eng said. “If you want something, you have to tell me what you want, and we have to make sure that we can balance that.”
Once, Eng said, a proposal written by someone else set unchecked expectations that proved costly.
“I had to own up to it,” she said. “The client was like, ‘You wrote in this proposal you would run 700 bottles per minute. Why is it only running 500? I had to go back and fix the whole line.
“I only did that once, but those are the types of things that you don’t want to get caught on, and until you make some of those mistakes, you don’t learn.”
Linda Emmert, in her 14 years as CSMI’s office manager, has watched Eng rise at the company, and she credits her boss’s persistence for the company’s growth.
“She’s very determined,” Emmert said. “When she’s convinced other people want and need us, it’s, ‘I’m going to get this client.'”
Born in: Chicago’s Ravenswood neighborhood
Raised in: Chicago’s Chinatown and Schaumburg
Lives in: North Barrington
Family: Husband Scott Pouyat, 42, and daughter, Kiana Pouyat, 9
Education: Bachelor of Science in biochemistry and cell biology at the University of California at San Diego and Doctor of Optometry at The New England College of Optometry; executive education program at Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College.
Eats at: Shaw’s Crab House and the Little Goat Diner
Junk food addiction: Nacho cheese and chips
Shops: Through a stylist at Nordstrom
Enjoys: Playing golf. Eng’s home backs up to a driving range.
Spends time with her daughter: Going to Girl Scouts events and cooking lasagna, dumplings and chicken Parmesan.
Vacations in: Maui
How she lets an employee go: “My approach is to be direct, but encouraging. I ask to speak to them in my office and clearly state that this is not going to work out.”
Areas of personal improvement: Time management. And her golf game.
Have you heard of CSAs? “Community Supported Agriculture is a direct relationship between local farmers and consumers. Consumers support the farm by purchasing shares of the harvest. In turn they receive seasonal, fresh and nutritious food for their family on a weekly schedule. By making a financial commitment to a farm, consumers become “shareholders” of the farm. Farmers usually ask shareholders to pay up-front for the food. This helps the farmer with much needed revenue at the beginning of the growing season. The shareholder then participates in the success of the farm throughout the season.” (from www.genesis-growers.com)
Genesis Growers is a farm in St. Anne’s, IL that has been delivering fruits, vegetables, and herbs to our home for two seasons.
Here’s how our CSA works. An email is sent on Wednesday and Farmer Vicki gives us some insight of what’s going on at the farm. She discloses what we are going to receive in our box, and maybe a tip or two on how to prepare the food. She writes from her heart, and we really like how she answers everything so promptly. This is a verification of her tagline “Locally grown with love and dedication.”
We have the luxury of having them drop off our box at our front door. It’s like Christmas every week to me. I am amazed how beautiful the veggies are, and how delicious the fruits taste. The colors and smells of the foods are intoxicating.
One of the interesting things is how long the food stays fresh. The lettuce you purchase at the grocery store seems to wilt and brown within a few days. The lettuce from the farm can last up to a month! And this bodes the question: How long does the food take to get from the farm through the grocery stores and to the consumer?
The CSA opens the door to creativity in the kitchen. Last year we received a lot of kale and beets. It is still a fun challenge to try new recipes for my family to enjoy. My 9 year old daughter can make homemade kale chips by herself!
Lastly, it is an inspiration that we are respecting the land. Farmer Vicki practices sustainable farming, and this has motivated us to do our part in reducing our carbon footprint. We’ve implemented a strict recycling system, we compost, and we utilize the water from our new rain barrel to water our plants. Sure, there’s even more room for improvement, but I’m proud of the steps we’ve taken.
I had a wonderful evening with a group of dynamic women participating in the POWER: Chicago conference. The venue was Sandra Rand’s home in Hyde Park that provided an intimate setting with a candid opportunity to discuss entrepreneurship. About 40-50% of the women are entrepreneurs with the remaining interested in pursuing their own business. Ms. Rand was an excellent moderator who leveraged her experiences in both corporate and entrepreneurship. Hedy Ratner was a thought leader who discussed the benefits of the Women’s Business Development Council. The panel discussion included Pat Pulido Sanchez of Pulido Sanchez Communications, Danielle Hrzic of Gourmet Gorilla, and myself. A quick summation of our core points:
- “Do your research. And then do more research.” Creating a business plan and understanding the market is essential for entrepreneurs. You need to understand who will utilize your services and products. You need to understand your competition, and the impact it will have on your business. You need to understand all the costs associated- in addition to all of the time it will occupy to launch your business.
- “Take risks, but know that you can always say ‘No’ if it doesn’t feel right.” Entrepreneurs are already taking risks by starting something new. This may include leaving a corporate position with high pay, numerous benefits, and a corporate reputation. I recommend that if you are making bigger decisions, to create smaller bite size decisions that you are comfortable with that will eventually lead you to your goal. It’s rarely a life or death situation.
- “Make time for work/life balance.” It’s a gentle reminder that spending time away from your work is good for the soul and can make you more productive with your business. This includes spending time with family and friends, exercising, meditating, and taking up a hobby.
- “Failure is not an option.” Entrepreneurship is such a humbling experience. Pat spoke about how you learn something from every situation that occurs. She mentioned that some of her career changes that seemed like failures were opportunities for bigger and better things. If you lose your biggest client, view it an opportunity to seek a better client. You learn to be flexible and nimble and create your own opportunities.
Personally, I feel that none of the discussion included rocket science or brain surgery, but it was reinforcement and encouragement that it IS viable to have a successful company and enjoy the fruits of your labor. There’s nothing worse than listening to someone complain day after day (even year after year) about how unappreciated and underpaid she is with her current employer when she has the capacity to be the CEO & Chair of the Board of her own company.
I travel a LOT for my business. In the beginning, I used to get excited for the trips, and then eventually I got hit with the negatives of traveling which includes airline delays, bad weather, and long hours. So I created some goals and activities that help ground me and keep the trips exciting. One of my goals is to visit all of the baseball parks in North America.