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As president of A. H. Marty Co., Diane Champion Hayes faces the same challenges as many executives of metal bending companies in Cleveland.

The prices of steel and energy over the last 18 months have kept the company’s operating costs high. Finding skilled workers in a blue collar trade, which some observers see as a symbol of Cleveland’s industrial glory rather than its future, remains a constant struggle. However, as some fabrication outfits have fallen out of the race because of industry pressures, Ms. Hayes, who approaches both small and large problems with good natured humor, seemingly hasn’t lost a step.

Established in 1910, A. H. Marty’s signature work can be found in the brass trim within Tower City Center as well as the handcrafted doors of several Cleveland churches. However, the company’s challenges became Ms. Hayes’ challenges after her husband, owner Thomas Champion, died unexpectedly in 1991. Dismissing some financial advisers who recommended that she sell the company, Ms. Hayes chose to make a go of the fabrication business.

The pressure to maintain a company started by her husband’s grandfather, and where profit margins are constantly squeezed, was significant.

“For someone who has been given lemons, she’s good at making lemonade,” said Kathleen Curry, a sales representative for A. H. Marty.

Fifteen years later, Ms. Hayes,
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52, said customers of A. H. Marty are what have kept the fourth generation family business moving forward on Cleveland’s East Side.

“I think people continued to support the company because they wanted to ensure I didn’t fail,” Ms. Hayes said.

The company, which employs 15, manufactures steel catwalks, container tanks and conveyor parts that are used in such industries as mining and steelmaking.

On a typical day, Ms. Hayes is on the factory floor interacting with company workers or is with customers to ensure that A. H. Marty continues to meet their needs and its log of orders. She said being receptive to both employees and customers is key to remaining in business, especially when a sour economy can quickly affect production.

“We’re not driving Jaguars around here,” Ms. Hayes said. “When we see a downturn in the economy, we cinch our belts as tight as we can.”

“It’s indicative of all those shops in Cleveland that have found their niche and are humming along,” Mr. Morey said.

Ms. Hayes, a longtime board member of the Association of Women in the Metal Industries, said the company not only continues to meet its customer needs but also continues to “evolve.” For example, equipment upgrades planned for the Union Avenue plant will expand the company’s market presence, she said.

Perhaps a bigger step in A. H. Marty’s evolution is preparing her 29 year old son, Tom, to take over the business when she retires in the next few years so she can spend more time with her grandchildren and on the golf course. Her other son Ron, 27, oversees the information technology side of the house.
timberland white boots Crain's Cleveland Business