Supplier Woman of Distinction - Lori Kates
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As a newlywed in 1996, and with an accounting degree from Ohio Northern University, Lori Kates says she got into the industry the "old-school" way – she answered an ad in the Sunday paper to be the controller for Ohio-based supplier Vitronic Promotional Group (asi/93990). "Back then, I thought I'd still be crunching numbers," Kates says.
Flash-forward 17 years and Kates is the mother of two sons, Jacob, 14, and Drew, 10, and vice president and general manager of Vitronic, a large industry supplier that grew its sales last year by 4.3% to reach $32.4 million.
When Kates started, Vitronic was a small company without a lot of management personnel. Eventually Kates became responsible for many areas of the business including IT, customer service and purchasing. In 2001, she was promoted to vice president when Vice President Steve Hill retired and there were fewer than 200 employees at the company. Now? Vitronic employs 268 people.
Vitronic's growth with Kates on board has been impressive. "Sales were under $10 million in 2001," she says. "Today we are over $30 million."
Kates credits Hill, the person who hired her, as an important mentor for her in the industry. "Steve is one of the most intelligent people I've ever met," Kates says. "He taught me the importance of continuous improvement in all aspects of a business. Today, these principles are still imbedded in our corporate culture. He gave me the opportunity to learn about all areas of the business, not just the financial side."
Kates feels there are plenty of opportunities in this industry for women to succeed. "Like anyone, you have to perform well when those opportunities arise," she says. "I'm glad that there are more options for personal development in the industry today. You never stop learning."
Another influential industry member for Kates is Mari Pena, Vitronic's national sales manager. "She opened the world of sales and marketing to me," Kates says. "She was instrumental in showing me the people side of our industry. While understanding facts and figures is important, this is truly a relationship industry, and it's the people who make it special." – JC