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'Not just a hood ornament': She became Centryco's boss

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Mary Gordon, president, Centryco Inc.
Mary Gordon, president, Centryco Inc. - ()

Mary Gordon had always planned to be a teacher.

But when she was having second thoughts by her junior year of college, she realized she was just two credits shy of a minor in business administration.

Having worked as a janitor as a teenager and in administration at her family's business as a college student, Gordon approached her father about joining Centryco, a company that makes protective covers for machinery and its operators.

“I called my father and said, 'I can go and work for other companies, but I already know what I'm doing for your company. You want to retire; I'm not sure what path I want in life. We can kill all of these birds with one stone if I just come work with you,'” Gordon said.

After Gordon's father made it clear she would be working “for” him and not “with” him, Gordon signed on right out of college in 1979.

At the time, her father was the only shareholder, and set it up so that she and her siblings had an interest in the company under a trust.

“Eventually, that trust dissolved and we each had our own tiny piece of the business,” she said.

A business her siblings — though still part-owners — were content to put Mary in charge of on a day-to-day basis.

Gordon's uncle Henry started the business in Pennsylvania in 1946 as a consulting firm, advising industrial and small fire departments on manufacturing and machine safety. As the company transitioned from his business partners to his brothers, it evolved into a job shop for metal and fabric covers, bellows, screens and guards intended to maintain the integrity of the machine while reducing workplace hazards from debris.

It was also moved to Burlington in 1978 for a more cost-effective, climate-controlled building. And by the 1990s, all production was brought in-house to its current 29,000-square-foot production facility.

Having been in the business for more than 35 years, Gordon recalls a time when gender bias was more evident, but certainly not hindering.

Twenty years ago, she traveled on a sales call with a representative and her male boss at the time to a manufacturing facility in Michigan.

“The engineer was explaining to the gentlemen how his equipment operated and what he needed our parts for,” Gordon said. “Both of my colleagues were nodding, but neither one of them knew what he was talking about. It wasn't until the engineer asked a question and the two of them kind of stumbled that I spoke up and answered the question correctly.”

“That's when I got some attention, and wasn't just a hood ornament.”

Today, Gordon credits her mother, who took over the company from her father, for making her transition to president in 2000 as seamless as possible.

Since then, Gordon hasn't looked back.

Centryco has consistently earned about 20 percent annual growth, and last year, brought in the best revenue ever recorded in company history.

Gordon attributes the success of the company to how she was raised—and raises her children the exact same way.

“Sometimes you have to work a little harder as a woman in manufacturing, but most of the time, you just have to work a little smarter.”

E-mail to: megf@njbiz.com

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