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Crews finds chemistry to create engineering firm

St. Petersburg, Florida , July 12, 2002

(as featured in The Business Journal Magazine)

A confident executive can successfully lead an engineering company without actually being an engineer, said Nancy Crews, owner and president of Custom Manufacturing & Engineering™ (CME™)

With more than 100 employees and a 30,000 square foot facility, CME is organized into production and engineering teams that provide commercial and government markets with systems integration services for end to end design in support of technology and systems development.

"I think the biggest challenge, given the industry that I am in, is for people to take you seriously and think that you are just not a figure head but you know what you are doing," said Crews. "A lot of people think engineers are the only people who can run this type of company. That is not true. A technical person can run this type of company, and I am a technical person."

Crews, who has a bachelors degree and a doctorate in chemistry, started CME in 1997 as a spin off from a Lockheed Martin Corp. division that closed in Largo.

In an attempt to preserve displaced defense workers in the community, Lockheed Martin Supplemented Crews' personal $100,000 investment with a million dollar startup grant.

CME, a woman owned small business, is certified with a disadvantaged small business designation and has grown from $2.9 million in revenue in 1999 to $7 million in 2001.

"We see continued growth as we go through the year and have added to our technical capability in terms of the type of people we hire and the type of projects we go after," said Crews. " We have become more focused in implementing our strategy."

Part of implementing a successful strategy is fine-tuning. In January CME held a two day meeting for the executive team to outline long term goals for three to five years and short term goals for the coming year.

This year Crews expects to hire 25-30 people. She'll concentrate in the areas of communication electronics, eventually shifting from a defense-oriented company to more of a monitoring and control operation. The company also targets power electronics and general instrumentation markets.

Executive growth plans requires cultivation of strong relationships with clients.

Crews said being a female business owner could be an advantage in new business development because " once you form a relationship with a customer, it is a stronger relationship and there is a trust element there. I don't know if that is a personality thing
or being a woman."

Highly skilled employees also play a pivotal role in company success, and Crews said company-hiring criteria is based heavily on applicant qualifications but through pure luck CME has been fortunate in attracting a diverse staff.  The company encourages personal growth and continued education.

"We want our employees to be long term employees," she said.

Engineering staff credentials range from bachelor's degrees to doctorate degrees, with most employees having an average of 13 years experience in their specialty areas.

An adjunct faculty member of the St. Louis University College of Business and Management, Crews teaches courses such as marketing research, design, and methodology . She lives in Tampa with husband, Larry, and sons, Mike and Chris.

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