By Kurt Batdorf HBJ Editor
SEDRO-WOOLLEY — Lisa Janicki’s line of work in a male-dominated industry has made her used to entering a meeting to find herself alone among peers.
“I’m often the only woman in a room full of men,” the chief financial officer for Janicki Industries in Sedro-Woolley said.
Lisa Janicki grew up in Alaska and graduated from Gonzaga University with a degree in finance. She joined the family-owned business in 1984 when her husband, Mike Janicki, returned to Skagit County to run the Janicki Logging and Construction Co. operation with his brother, Rob.
Lisa Janicki, 51, spent her early work years with Janicki Logging managing the books on the kitchen table after putting the couple’s five kids to bed. Now she manages a broad array of Janicki business ventures that employ 550 workers at high-tech manufacturing facilities in Skagit County and Layton, Utah, from her storefront office in downtown Sedro-Woolley. She works with the board of directors and executive management team to develop the company’s long-term business strategy.
“We call it wood fiber to carbon fiber,” she said.
Janicki Industries positioned itself well to weather the recession. Janicki credits her brother-in-law, Peter Janicki, and mother-in-law, family matriarch Annie Janicki, with the foresight to lead the business out of the proverbial woods and into the future.
Janicki Industries started as Janicki Machine Design in 1993. Its first innovation was to introduce machined composites to the marine manufacturing industry. Peter Janicki’s marine molds were much less expensive and faster to make than the hand-assembled techniques of the time. Over the years, Janicki expanded its composite fabrication and computer numerical control (CNC) machining capabilities and moved into composite fabrication for the aerospace, defense, transportation and wind-energy markets.
In 2008, the family mortgaged all of Janicki Industry’s assets to buy an enormous five-axis CNC mill to use for high-end marine tooling and complex, large-scale, high-precision aerospace projects, Lisa Janicki said. In January 2009, with the recession deepening, Janicki Industries moved into 164,000 square feet of manufacturing space it developed on the site of a former lumber mill in Hamilton, 12 miles east of Sedro-Woolley.
The bet paid off for the Janickis.
“Manufacturing has a future,” Lisa Janicki said. “We have to identify where those core markets are where American (manufacturing) is just better.”
Janicki Industries has doubled its investment in the company since 2008, she said. It has six CNC milling machines in Hamilton and three more in the Utah plant. Most of what the highly skilled workers make are prototypes and molds that Janicki customers use to make their own composite parts for aerospace, alternative energy, marine, military and space exploration ventures. Earlier this year, Janicki Industries installed an autoclave to treat carbon-fiber parts. The autoclave is so large, it took 13 weeks to truck it to Hamilton from California.
Janicki said the company had a major role in development of rigid carbon-fiber wing sail of the BMW-Oracle sailboat that won the 2010 America’s Cup. Janicki Industries builds 220-foot long blades for wind turbines and sections of the Boeing 787 fuselage for the South Carolina assembly line. It created a mockup for a module that sits atop a NASA Saturn V rocket.
As Lisa Janicki explains her job, Peter Janicki and Janicki Industries’ 100 engineers look to solve the next big problem.
“As CFO, I want to find a customer who will pay for it,” she said. “My job is to fund their good ideas.”
One project they’re working on now in conjunction with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation: A truck that sucks up human waste in Third World villages and converts that sludge into clean, mostly self-propelled power, Janicki said. Think of it as a “green” septic tank pumper truck.
“There are a lot of really smart people who’ve stayed with us over the years,” she said.
But there’s more to Janicki than raw numbers and analysis. She tries to be a mentor to the young women she meets on the job.
“I was able to balance a career with family,” Janicki said. “I want to show young women it’s possible” to still do that in the competitive, high-tech sector.
She also tells them about another on-the-job reality, the one where guys can wear an REI shell jacket to a meeting without a second look but she can’t.
“There’s a double standard, and you just get used to it,” she said. “But your credibility won’t be questioned if you walk into a room looking like you mean business.”
Janicki explained that’s why she always keeps an extra suit jacket hanging in her office.
Janicki also pushes the need for high schoolers to focus on math and science classes as the workplace becomes more and more technical.
“I tell students, ‘You have to get beyond high school,’ ” she said.
Now that Janicki has proven herself with Janicki Industries and served on several community service organizations, she’s taken an interest in politics. Her goal is to help the Legislature extend its financial view beyond two-year budget cycles, but a run for elected office might have to wait until she finishes a three-year commitment to the Association of Washington Business’s executive board.
“I want to be able to say, at some point, ‘I made a difference,’ ” she said.
Kurt Batdorf: 425-339-3102, firstname.lastname@example.org.