When Gloria Ender is not dancing her heart out, cooking up a delicious Tex-Mex meal for family and friends, or serving her community on numerous boards and charitable activities, she is running the show as president of Freedom Finishing in Benton Harbor, Mich. Gloria and her husband, Erik, started powder coating in 1988 and moved to their current 60,000-sq-ft location in 1992, where they added electrocoating in 2001. We caught up with Gloria right before she headed out for a night of salsa dancing.
PF: You installed a new electrocoat line in the fall of 2001, just as the economy tanked. How did you manage to get your company through that rough patch, and how bad did it get?
GE: My immediate family and business family depend mainly on the terms “adaptability” and “respect.” That was an extremely difficult time due to losing three large accounts overseas in the powder industry, having to face a large bank loan for the e-coat line and laying off more than half our business family. It almost led us into closing, but then we landed two large accounts; one for the e-coat line and one for the powder line. We hired 70 people in a two-week period, and we went from minimal hours to three shifts.
PF: Did that experience help you with the 2009 downturn?
GE: Yes, it was instrumental as it made us a very lean and efficient company. We kept our customers satisfied and continued to show our gratitude and respect for their business.
PF: Tell us about the business and economic groups in the Benton Harbor area you are involved heavily with.
GE: I devote a lot of time to my community, and I participate on many boards such as our local college, Boys and Girls Club, symphony, chamber of commerce, women’s business center and others. The most important reason in dedicating my time is for the children, and I strongly believe that healing souls and minds will affect our kid’s futures, whether it is this generation or the next.
PF: You started your career in the teaching profession. Any similarities with running a finishing shop?
GE: Instead of students, I now have employees. With both students and employees, I work with different cultures, different developmental stages, different disciplinary issues, etc.
PF: Being fluent in English and Spanish led you to be a volunteer translator with local hospitals and police departments.
GE: I translate for the local and state police and FBI by phone or in person. Once at our local hospital, a doctor had me translate to a baffled young mother that the full-body cast from many months earlier must come off her growing baby. The baby that would not stop crying did so instantly after the cast was removed. I also translate documents for my employees and local businesses because I know how difficult and helpless it feels when you are lost in a different culture and language.
PF: One of your hobbies is dancing. We can only assume you do it graciously, but how well does husband Erik cut a rug?
GE: Both Erik and I enjoy doing things together. We have been together 32 years, and every day I feel fortunate to have him, our daughter Liz and our business as we all strive for the same goals: to work hard and play hard!
PF: What’s the best piece of advice you have been given?
GE: My father was a bounty hunter in Mexico, and he highly respected the law and a man’s life. He never killed anyone that was wanted “dead or alive,” and he always turned them in, even when the bribes were more than he could have ever imagined. My mother was home teaching her children important cultural and spiritual values. I have admired my parents for coming to the U.S. with seven children, not understanding the culture, currency, language, weather, etc. Both my parents demonstrated “adaptability” and “respect” as we adapted to every situation that was placed in front of us. They modeled this, and at a very young age I accepted it as advice on how to live my life: Adapt to every situation with respect, whether it is dealing with employees or customers, assisting in translating, or teaching. These are values that I hope to pass on to my daughter and generations to come.
Get to know Gloria
Family: Husband Erik, daughter Liz and tons of cousins.
Favorite hobbies: Cooking, dancing, golf, paddleboarding and reading.
Favorite movie: Any Western movies that my whole family could relate to without knowing the language. It was great to watch my father’s face light up, too.
What’s playing in your car CD/radio: Mexican and American music with a danceable beat.