At the Helm: Sandra Westlund-Deenihan

By Patricia Olsen

A few minutes with the CEO and design engineer at Quality Float Works Inc., Schaumburg, Ill.

Generation of family ownership: Third.

Size of company: Between $3 million and $4 million (2014 estimated revenue).

Number of employees: 22.

Years with the company: Lifelong. The company was in my DNA from Day 1. I used to say I was born on the shop room floor, but my mother didn't like that.

First job at this company: At a young age, I put together partitions that were used inside shipping boxes. My first official job was in high school. I worked part-time in the office helping with administrative duties, such as answering phones and coordinating sales meetings.

Most memorable thing I learned from my father: The art of the sale. He had a way of talking to customers and was a great listener. He used to say you come from a stronger position once you have a better understanding of the customer and their needs.

Most memorable thing I learned from my mother: Always give 100%.

Best thing about this job: Being able to conceptualize a design according to a customer's specifications and turn it into a finished component.

Worst thing about this job: I don't have one bad thing to say. I love my job.

One of our greatest successes: Expanding our product line overseas in 2003. Our international business is now 37% of our total revenue.

Best advice I ever got: Surround yourself with people who are better than you.

Quote from our company's mission statement: Quality isn't just in our name, but in our products.

On my wall: A plaque with one of my father's favorite quotes: "Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people." I also have an autographed photo of Mike Ditka and a Chicago Bears helmet. I'm an avid Bears fan.

One of my greatest accomplishments: Continuing the family business after rescuing it from the auction block after my father passed away in 1995. Also, helping to interest young women in STEM careers on the local, state and national level.

Best thing about working in a family business: The trust factor. My son, Jason Speer, is company president, and he and I run the business together. We have common goals.

Worst thing about working in a family business: Taking my work home at the end of the day. I eat, sleep and breathe the business.

My advice for other family business leaders: Empower the next generation. Some of the greatest results come from allowing them to bring their ideas to the table.

On a day off I like to. . . cook, play with my three grandkids, watch football if there's a Bears game or attend the ballet.

Books I think every family business leader should read: Generation to Generation: Life Cycle of the Family Business by Kelin Gersick, John Davis, Marion McCollom Hampton and Ivan Lansberg. It offers both theoretical and practical models of family businesses.

I realized I had emerged from the previous generation's shadow when. . . my father told me he knew I could do a good job and stand on my own after he fell ill. He gave me his blessing.

Future succession plans: Having experienced a rough transition myself, we have a strong succession plan in place. We also have a fifth generation in the wings to follow in my son's footsteps.

Words I live by: Have gratitude for all you've received, in good times and bad.

Copyright 2015 by Family Business Magazine. This article may not be posted online or reproduced in any form, including photocopy, without permission from the publisher. For reprint information, contact

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July/August 2015


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