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Five questions for Suzy Ganz, Lion Brothers CEO

Happenstance brought Suzy Ganz from Wall Street to a Baltimore County manufacturer. A deep interest in the work kept her there.

Before she was CEO and chairman of Lion Brothers Co., an Owings Mills maker of brand logos, uniform insignia, Girl Scout badges and similar products, Ganz was an international equities trader and bond specialist. Her only connection to Lion was that her father had acquired it with a group of investors.

Then he died unexpectedly. Her mother asked her to take a look at the business so they could figure out what to do. What started as a 90-day commitment at age 28 grew into a career that's already lasted more than a quarter-century.

"I was unattached, had no responsibilities elsewhere and thought it would be fun — and along the way fell in love with manufacturing," Ganz said.

The company, which makes products locally and in China, dates back to 1899. It employs about 500, including 60 in Owings Mills. Lion's patches have been worn by astronauts in space, pro athletes on the field, and countless kids.

Ganz chatted with The Baltimore Sun recently about lemons and lemonade, intriguing projects and unwinding via songwriting.

What's your biggest challenge now?

The biggest challenge this [past] year was working through the impact due to the change in federal government procurement policies while we were in the process of repositioning the company for growth.

In 2012, we had made a conscious decision to invest for the future. We had already begun to accelerate innovation, commercializing new products that were well-received by the market. We came out with a portfolio of performance products, like the identification worn on the new Nike NFL jersey, but felt that in order to properly support growth, new infrastructure and … additional skills and talent were needed.

In June of 2012, the federal government decided to hold up for review a government contract with its uniform suppliers. For us, as a subcontractor to the uniform company, the impact to our manufacturing operations was significant. We were told over the course of the year that the contract would be settled shortly, so we held factory, staff and support in place. Our thought was, "Of course the federal government would purchase its products for Homeland Security in the United States."

This past summer, 15 months later, we were informed that federal procurement changed the wording of the contract to now allow U.S. trading partners to supply the goods. That means you may have your Customs and Border Patrol identity produced on the other side of the border. While it brings up all sorts of security considerations, for Lion, which has produced these type of items for decades, it meant having to reduce staff — and losing critical mass. …

The cost in lost jobs, capital and time is one that has taken the past year to work through. It has been challenging, difficult and expensive — not to mention a lost opportunity to act as a catalyst for adding new manufacturing to this cluster as Asia costs increase and global supply chains rebalance.

Do you see a light at the end of the tunnel?

While we were in the middle of this change, one of Lion's clients took another approach. They decided to align their merchandise strategy with their organizational mission and made the decision to re-shore goods in 2014, because they understand that sustainable economies begin with jobs, and manufacturing jobs — with their multiplier effect — create a better economy.

As a result, in the first quarter of 2014, Lion is opening a new manufacturing microfacility in Maryland. The facility will serve not only to produce products, but be utilized as a "living classroom" so that others can learn about manufacturing.

What are the prospects for more manufacturing in Maryland, both at Lion and elsewhere?

There are plenty of industrial seedlings in Maryland and across the U.S., but they take new forms. … In our industry, legacy products were created with fabrics and threads. Today, we utilize performance fabrics, advanced adhesives and new forms of surface imaging, cutting and forming. …

Personalization and customization of products is in one area where there [are] real opportunities. [So too with] industries that have a high level of intellectual property in their product or production process. …

In the apparel industry, we will see the proliferation of smart apparel and smart fabrics fairly soon. I would love to see Maryland create a wearable computing innovation cluster. … With Maryland's assets in cyber, life science, defense, education, we have many of the ingredients.

What are some of the most complex or intriguing projects Lion has handled?

We work with such a wonderful variety of clients, from the global brands to the Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts and Harley-Davidson. Though there are similarities in product, every relationship bears some level of complexity. We work to get it right.

The new NFL jersey introduced by Nike is one example. Within six months, Lion developed and delivered to Nike factory partners new textile digital print products for every NFL team, player, size and [stock keeping unit]. Commercializing a new performance product and bringing it to market in a short period of time required a tremendous amount of effort and coordination. Time frames for new products in the apparel industry are generally 18 months.

You count a lot of business-related activities among your hobbies. But what do you enjoy that has nothing to do with entrepreneurship, economic development and the like? How do you relax?

I play tennis on Sunday mornings. I grew up as a competitive tennis player on the courts of Miami and still love to play. I have three terrific kids and a very wonderful husband who keep me sane and grounded. I play guitar and occasionally write and record. Nothing complex — I'm a folk singer at heart.

And I'm a curious person, I love to learn — I will tap any venue I can. I find learning to be an ultimate form of relaxation.

jhopkins@baltsun.com

twitter.com/jsmithhopkins

Suzy Ganz

Title: CEO and chairman of Lion Brothers Co., based in Owings Mills

Age: 54

Residence: Owings Mills

Education: Bachelor's degree in economics from the University of Florida; Master of Business Administration in finance and multinational management from the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School

Family: Husband, Howard Sugarman, and three children, Sam, Ali and Molly

Hometown: Philadelphia, with teenage years in Miami

Hobbies: "Lots of things with regard to social entrepreneurship, women's economic development, education."

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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