Women of Influence 2013

“I’m convinced that we need a cultural revolution around this and I want to help make that happen.”

Women of Influence 2013

By: Jeff Engel

 Isbister03 copy 304June 7th, 2014-Mary Isbister has trouble saying “no” to new commitments.While that means she doesn’t have a lot of free time, passionate participation is the only way she knows.“My problem is I don’t feel comfortable saying that we have issues or have to improve things without trying to help make that happen,” said Isbister, president of Mequon metal fabricator GenMet Corp. “I’m often surprised that, many times, people aren’t willing to volunteer. If no one else is enthusiastic or willing or feels capable, then I will, because somebody has to.”

Isbister, a former Pfizer Inc. chemist, is an advocate for manufacturing and small businesses in Wisconsin and nationwide. This year she was named vice chair of the Manufacturing Council that advises the U.S. Secretary of Commerce, and was named chair of Gov. Scott Walker’s Council on Workforce Investment.

She also serves on the boards of the Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership, the WUWM Advisory Board, Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce’s Council of Small Business Executives, the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association Precision Sheet Metal Council and the Milwaukee 7.

“I don’t know anyone in the state who is as zealous in their efforts to promote and support policies that are critical to manufacturing and the Wisconsin economy,” said Mike Laszkiewicz, vice president and general manager of the Rockwell Automation Inc. power control business, who works down the street from Isbister and serves with her on the Manufacturing Council and Council on Workforce Investment. “She’s the reason that I’ve gotten more involved. I see her passion and how important she believes it is for our economy and for our next generation to really focus on these issues.”

Isbister and her husband, GenMet chief executive officer Eric, have grown the company from $3 million in sales when Eric bought it in 1999 to $13 million. Growing the business and developing its staff of 70 has allowed the Isbisters to dedicate time to civic involvement and advocacy, the 48-year-old Mary Isbister said.

She has been one of the more visible Wisconsin executives drawing attention to the skills gap, where employers say they are struggling to find qualified workers, despite high unemployment. The former New York state high school debate champ has spoken to groups around Wisconsin and the country and been interviewed by local and national media.

Isbister thinks it’s a shame that manufacturing is often disparaged in America, unlike in countries such as Germany, where it’s “revered as opposed to reviled.”

“I’m convinced that we need a cultural revolution around this and I want to help make that happen,” Isbister said. “(Manufacturing is) what I do. It’s what I live. I really do believe that countries that make things are the countries that innovate.”