Lizabeth "Beth" Ardisana is CEO of ASG Renaissance (Dearborn, MI), and a proud Hispanic female business owner. Her firm is an international technical and communications business employing 250 people. About 20 percent of them are minorities, and nearly half are women.
"Automotive still represents more than half our business," Ardisana says. "When we started out we did all the things we tell suppliers not to do, like concentrating on one client and one industry!"
She loves the auto industry, but she's learned to diversify and differentiate. While 60 percent of her work is still automotive, she's picked up pharmaceutical, federal government, transportation and other clients.
ASG Renaissance provides marketing, consulting and human capital services in a variety of technical and non-technical areas. They include manufacturing, product development, engineering, program/ project management, strategic planning and supplier diversity.
The supplier diversity segment includes M/WBE suppliers referred for mentoring by large corporations. "The director of supplier diversity development at Ford might engage us to work with a supplier the company wants to develop," Ardisana explains. "We do the same for DaimlerChrysler and other companies."
Ardisana enjoys these assignments. "We all need some sort of help. It shouldn't always be non-minority companies helping minority companies. We should be able to help ourselves." As part of the self-help, ASG has developed performance enhancement techniques for small to midsize suppliers. "One thing always leads to another," she says.
"Small and midsize auto suppliers are the backbone of Michigan communities, and we want them to survive." Like ASG itself, they need to learn new industries and how to do business there. "You need somebody to show you how to do that," Ardisana says.
The firm has seven locations in Michigan, California, South Carolina, Washington, DC and Ontario, Canada.
HASA: unique issues
ASG maintains certifications and ties with WBENC, NMSDC and the Michigan Minority Business Development Council (MMBDC). It's ISO 9001 and 2000 certified. And of course it's part of the Hispanic Auto Supplier Alliance (HASA), which Ardisana founded two years ago.
"HASA focuses on issues unique to Hispanic auto suppliers," she says. "If we're going to grow our businesses, we can't be so completely dependent on the one industry."
So she convinced the University of Michigan-Dearborn to partner with HASA, the National Association of Black Auto Suppliers (NABAS), MichBio, a nonprofit group concerned with growing Michigan's life sciences industry, and other organizations, and apply for a grant to set up a Twenty-first Century jobs fund. "We will look at what we can do to help businesses transform," she explains.
The reluctant business owner
Ardisana didn't start out hoping to be an entrepreneur. "I like working in the corporate environment," she says.
Her father, Brigadier General Bernard Ardisana, had a long career in military and government service, including deputy director of the National Security Agency.
Her mother also worked for the government. One brother works at Ford and another works for the government.
But the family does have some entrepreneurial heritage. "My grandfather moved to the U.S. from Cuba and ran a cigar store before he became a postal delivery guy," Ardisana reveals.
Going with technology
"As a high school freshman I had the world's greatest math teacher," Ardisana recalls fondly. Math was so interesting and exciting that she went on to a 1732 BS in math and CS from the University of Texas-Austin.
After college she spent a year on the European auto racing circuit. Her team was successful, but she knew she had to plan for a "real job."
"I'd never set foot in the state of Michigan or anywhere in the Midwest, and I flew out for a job interview at the Ford Motor Co engineering center," she recalls. "It was an absolutely gorgeous fall day, and I guess I thought the weather was always like that in Michigan."
A few weeks later she drove up from Austin to start her first job as engineering manager. "I had a $100 car that didn't have heat, and while I was down in Texas preparing to move, Michigan had had eighteen inches of snow. It was quite an introduction to my new state.
"When I'm hiring, I always try to schedule the interviews on a nice day," she adds with a laugh.
Ford and beyond
"Ford was very supportive of me as an Hispanic, as a woman and as a new engineer," Ardisana says. "I will always be grateful to those wonderful human beings who paid for me to get my MSME and my MBA." The ME is from the University of Michigan, and the MBA from the University of Detroit.
After a number of years at Ford, she took a leave to build an auto racing team of her own. Tragically, the team car crashed, her friend and business partner was seriously injured, and the auto dealership where she had a part-time job went bankrupt. Ardisana found herself drowning in debt.
"I realized I had to get off my butt and do something," she says.
ASG Renaissance: working 24/7
So in 1987 she started ASG Renaissance, borrowing money where she could. The startup company worked on engineering support services for Ford.
The initial project was an ambulance recall. "We had to design the fix and put a program and a resolution plan together. It was a lot of high-level visibility and pressure, working twenty-four hours a day. As the project got bigger, people asked us to do more, including human capital and staffing, consulting and marketing. It was fun."
Running the firm
Ardisana married Gregory Rouke, her business partner and COO, after they worked together for ten years. "What happens is you don't see anybody else," she says with a laugh.
But seriously, "I don't think I could be in business without my partner/husband," she says. "There are two other really strong women in the business and the four of us form a management team."
Ardisana serves on several corporate boards and supports many regional initiatives. In 2003 she was elected chair of the Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the first woman to hold the post.
Ardisana encourages Hispanic students to pursue engineering careers. She is a board member of Detroit's Focus: Hope organization, and helped open a training center in a predominantly Hispanic area of the city. And as a Kettering University trustee she formed a Hispanic committee to recruit students into engineering work and study programs.
She works with Kettering, U Mich and other schools, as well as community leaders, to interest students in technical fields. "You've got to engage kids, especially girls, at the elementary and middle-school levels," she says.
Ardisana has attended business and minority development sessions at several universities. In fact, she's vice chair of the alumni group for basic and advanced programs at Dartmouth's Tuck School of Business.
How does she manage to do so many things? "I get up really early in the morning and I don't watch TV. It doubles your day and opens up all kinds of time," she declares.