by Joni Astrup
When Traci Tapani and her sister Lori took over the family machining business in 1994, they did so knowing they knew little about sheet metal fabrication, managing people or running a manufacturing company.
Both had other careers. Lori was a CPA in the health care industry and Traci was working in international trade finance.
But their father assured them that a longtime management team was in place at the business, Wyoming Machine, and “the business ran itself.”
“She and I were both in our late 20s, getting ready to start families, and I have to tell you it sounded super attractive to become the owner of a company that ran itself so that I could focus my time on my family and raising my children,” Traci Tapani said with a laugh Tuesday at the Elk River Area Chamber of Commerce 2016 PACE Business Awards, where she spoke about authenticity and integrity.
Unfortunately, it didn’t turn out to be that simple. Tapani said she and her sister soon found that they weren’t comfortable with their plant’s leadership.
“We saw a general manager who, when things went wrong, commonly called everyone in the company together, publicly humiliated people, blamed people, shamed people, yelled,” she said. “People were yelling all the time. We were both kind of shell-shocked.”
Tapani said it pains her to say it now, but she tried that management style herself a few times, with disastrous results.
“It did not feel good to me,” she said.
Experiences outside the walls of their business also shaped the leaders they would become.
Early on, Tapani and her sister decided to go to a machine tool show in Los Angeles. Tapani spent weeks prepping for the event by making sure she understood every nuance of their equipment.
But when she and her sister arrived at the event’s cocktail reception, their sales representative announced loudly to a crowd of hundreds of people – predominantly men – “Hey, everybody, the blondes are mine.”
That, Tapani said, was the end of any chance of being taken seriously.
After several similar experiences, Tapani said she and her sister decided to skip the shows and focus on their business. And at some point, they decided simply to be themselves.
That all helped them understand themselves as authentic leaders and led to recognition and success.
“When you can find a place of authenticity for yourselves, it can be very valuable and, I think, it can help bring success to people’s careers,” she said.
“To thy own self be true,” words written by Shakespeare more than 400 years ago, still strike a chord today, she said.
Authentic people are true to their own personalities and don’t pretend to be something that they aren’t.
“We often refer to those people as being the real deal,” she said.
Most people feel authenticity is a very desirable quality in others, she said.
Assessments such as Myers-Briggs, StrengthsFinder, StandOut, Emotional Intelligence and Social Style can help people understand themselves and give them the language to talk about it, she said.
Evaluating and reflecting on experiences in life also help people identify their authentic selves.
Integrity is another key trait important in leadership, Tapani said.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary describes integrity as the quality of being honest and fair. She shared some ideas from Michael Jensen, a Harvard professor who wrote an article titled “Integrity: Without It Nothing Works.”
Today, Tapani and her sister are co-presidents of Wyoming Machine.
Tapani is involved in volunteer activities that promote math and science education, technical training and careers in manufacturing, has received awards and serves on the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce Board and the Governor’s Workforce Development Board.