A Conversation with Stacey Bales, Bales Metal Surface Solutions

The owner of the Downers Grove, Illinois, company serves on the board of the Technology and Manufacturing Association (TMA), the Chicago chapter of the National Association for Surface Finishing and the Chicago AESF Foundation.

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Stacey Bales is owner of Bales Metal Surface Solutions of Downers Grove, Illinois, which she and her sister have run since their father passed away suddenly in 2009. Stacy also serves on the board of the Technology and Manufacturing Association (TMA), the Chicago chapter of the National Association for Surface Finishing and the Chicago AESF Foundation. She is also a member of the TMA’s Women in TMA Committee and its Young Leaders Committee, which focuses on engaging younger professionals in the manufacturing industry.

PF: How has Bales Metal Surface Solutions transformed over the last 5 years?

SB: We completely rebranded. We updated our company name, logo and website to better reflect our core competencies and our vision. We have added a new coating, Diamond EN, as well as expanded our nickel, chrome and blasting departments. We are currently celebrating our 40th anniversary and are undergoing some major renovations that we can’t wait to share.

PF: Personally, how have you transformed?

SB: I have had the opportunity to serve on several industry boards of directors over the last 10 years. Through that involvement, I have gained tremendous support and insights that I have been able to apply to my own business. On a very personal note, my daughter has gone off to college, so I am adjusting to having an empty nest.

PF: What will get your company to the next level at which you want it to be?

SB: Training, training and more training. We are working to define training programs for apprentices as well as our veteran employees. Knowledge transfer will be critical to ensuring that we have the human resources available to meet customer demands.

PF: What’s the best piece of advice you have been given, either personally or professionally, and who gave it to you?

SB: My dad, Steve, told me: “Leave work at work and home at home.” Running a business is stressful and, combined with taking care of a family and home, sometimes it can be overwhelming to be pulled in opposite directions. I find it helpful to be able to “flip the switch” from work to home and to focus on where I am/who I am with. 

PF: What was your first job, and what did you learn from it?

SB: When I was about 12, my dad would bring me down to the shop on the weekends so that I could clean all the offices. I learned early on that my dad didn’t want to be the “piggy bank,” and that it was nice to be able to have my own money in my savings account.

PF: If you had $100,000 to give to a charity, which would it be?

SB: That’s a tough one. I would really like to see that money go towards scholarships for students pursuing manufacturing careers or towards manufacturing equipment to support middle school/high school programs.

PF: What was your first car, and what is your dream car?

SB: My first car was a 1996 Mercury Cougar—yikes! I loved it because it had a sunroof, power everything and a six-disc CD changer in the trunk. My dream car is and always will be a Ford Mustang. I have two in my collection now but am always on the lookout.

PF: What leadership traits have helped you along the way?

SB: I like to think that I am a good listener and am not too proud to admit that I don’t have all the answers. I am also an optimistic person in general, and I try to have a positive attitude.

PF: When you were 10, what did you want to be when you grew up?

SB: I loved playing with Legos and building things when I was a kid. In middle school, we had a class where we were able to design a house and build a small model. I was hooked on becoming an architect when I grew up.

PF: Night owl or early bird?

SB: I used to be more of a night owl, but I am converting to an early bird the older I get. There is some satisfaction in getting up early, not rushing and arriving to work ready to take on the day.

PF: Favorite place you’ve ever lived?

SB: This sounds boring, but I was raised literally a couple of blocks from where Bales is located and haven’t moved far. I appreciate the short drive to work every day.

PF: What organization or company aside from your own do you most admire?

SB: Disney. I got the opportunity to hear Lee Cockerell, former executive vice president of operations for Disney World Resort, speak at the NASF Leadership Summit in 2017. It was fascinating to hear Lee’s tips on how he organized more than 40,000 employees, 20 resort hotels, four theme parks and more!

PF: Where would we find you on a typical Saturday?

SB: Either in my backyard, playing in the pool and barbecuing, or kayaking.

PF: What’s the best way to keep competitive edge?

SB: Never stop learning. Whether it’s through school, attending trade shows or local industry events. There is always a wealth of knowledge available.

PF: Personal hero?

SB: My dad.

PF: How do you motivate people?

SB: I think sometimes it’s the little things that mean the most. A simple thank you or acknowledgement of a job well done. Or an ice cream treat on a hot summer day.

PF: How do you motivate yourself?

SB: I remind myself I have 30 more years until retirement. Honestly, I love the people I work with. They motivate me every day.

PF: Three greatest passions?

SB: My family, my company and traveling.

PF: Most unique office décor?

SB: I inherited a stuffed pheasant with a rattle snake at its feet. He sits and stares at me from behind my desk.

PF: What advice would you haven given to yourself 10 years ago?

SB: Don’t try to tackle everything by yourself. Surround yourself with the right people and provide them with the right support, and nothing is impossible.