After attending the Bulova School of Watchmaking in and then a metalworking class, Tamea Franco Woodward got a thirst for the jewelry business. She borrowed $1,300 and started her own plating company in 1987 as Roanoke, VA’s first female-owned customized metal finishing business, East West Dye Com. She has since split the company into two entities and serves as president and CEO of both companies, which has grown to 20 employees and serves hundreds of clients such as Lockheed Martin, ITT Nightvision and Moog Component Group. Her other passions include promoting women in business, serving as member of the Virginia Manufacturing Council to the Governor, the Virginia Business Excellence Consortium and healthy living through quality food. We caught up with her after she finished off a hardy bowl of granola.
Q: You got your start in metal finishing after working as a watchmaker. Tell us how that experience got you into the finishing business full-time.
TW: I was looking for something new and growing tired of the watch-making business. I’ve always had an interest in art and metalworking, which fit well with my watch-making experience. I attended a weekend workshop about anodizing, conducted my own field research by visiting 13 different anodizing facilities across the country, and realized that this business was what I was destined to do.
Q: It wasn’t easy for you starting your own shop. We hear you pumped gas at night to make ends meet.
TW: It wasn’t easy! In the beginning, l had to sell some of my prized possessions, like my rotor-tiller and many of my watch-making tools. I started with exactly $1,300. Like many business owners, I’ve made mistakes along the way, but through all the rollercoasters of being a business owner I still enjoy what I do. I really get excited about giving customers quality and unique aluminum products that meet their needs. It is really fun stuff.
Q: Is it any more difficult for a woman to lead a finishing business than it is any other type of industry?
TW: Yes it is. The challenges of being a woman in a male-dominated industry are many, but I choose to focus on solutions. I’ve been at this for nearly 25 years and there have been many challenges leading a finishing business through the marketplace fluctuations and changing client demands. I continually surround myself with talented people and it makes my job as CEO much more interesting and productive.
Q: You had to fight hard with City Hall to expand your operations in Roanoke and grow your business.
TW: If you have any plans on expanding you’d better get the right contractor, the right architect, the right engineer, and the right manufacturer serving the metal finishing industry. Delays and inexperienced consultants cost me a lot of wasted time and money. My advice to other business owners wanting to expand is do your homework on the right consultants!
Q: We hear you’ve become a health nut, often eating only organic vegetables to cleanse your mind, body and soul. Tell us how that helps.
TW: Yes, I’m a health nut. I love researching and taking the confusion out of health care. I do eat nuts, but I soak them first to remove the enzyme inhibiting shield around them. I love organic veggies, clean meat, and I have an unwavering support for local and raw milk production. The first time I went to a detox center in Austin, Texas, I came home feeling like I could think more clearly and I then understood the importance of maintaining my own well being.
Q: What book are you currently reading, and/or what music CD is now in your car?
TW: I just started reading Cleopatra by Stacy Schiff. Music is Keane, Hopes and Fears, and my favorite song is Somewhere Only We Know.
Q: What’s the best piece of personal or professional advice you’ve ever received?
TW: Treat others the way you want to be treated, be honest, and never forget where you came from.