Breaking the Barriers

Manzi Metals Inc. president and CEO talks shop with the best of them

As a schoolgirl, Barbara Manzi was advised by a high school teacher to learn how to cook and sew because, as a poor black child, those would be the only jobs she’d ever have.

Today, as president and CEO of $4.3 million Manzi Metals Inc. in Brooksville, Florida, she runs the only black, female-owned metals distribution company in the U.S. Her eight-employee company supplies manufacturers with specialty raw metals and alloys for use in the aerospace and commercial industries. Manzi Metal’s client roster includes Lockheed Martin Corp. and Boeing Defense and Space Group. About 40% of the company’s current business comes from the Department of Defense.

After nine years of experience in the aerospace industry, Barbara Manzi founded the company that would become Manzi Metals in 1993 in her spare bedroom with about $45,000 in personal savings. A bank loan, used to hire staff and fund business operations, followed.

Traveling around the nation in her previous job and visiting corporate customers opened Manzi’s eyes to the need for more minority-certified vendors in the metals industry. “It’s a male-dominated field,” she says. “I realized there weren’t enough minority or woman-owned distributors in the field to even fulfill the obligations that the federal government was demanding.”

Learning the alloys and specifications necessary for quality control in the metals industry was a challenge. Manzi relied on knowledge from her past position and from her own research. And, despite the fact that she can now “talk alloys, specifications, lengths, and widths” with the best of them, Manzi says convincing buyers who were unsatisfied with the past performance of minority small business vendors continues to be a challenge.

“They only remember that the small businesses they dealt with in the past didn’t answer requests for quotations on time, or that they lacked in quality, service, and competitive pricing,” Manzi explains.

To break through to those skeptical buyers, Manzi says she simply asks for the opportunity, then knocks their socks off. “I convince them to give me the opportunity, then I fly. You really have to prove you can do it just as well as a large company,” she says.

Chris Gardner, purchasing manager at Dayron in Orlando, Florida, a defense contractor manufacturing timing devices for grenades and bombs, is one buyer who’s seen Manzi in action. “She’s passionate, and she really cares about customer service and providing a top-quality product,” he explains.

The only downside to doing business with a company the size of Manzi Metals, Gardner says, is that large contracts can be difficult for them to finance. “They are relatively disadvantaged financially,” he adds. “That makes it difficult to give them, say, a $1 million purchase order for metal, because you know they probably can’t get the funding.”

As advice to other small-business owners, Manzi admonishes that “the best way to succeed is by paying keen attention to detail, quality, service, and competitive pricing.” And, like the young girl who so obviously ignored her high school teacher’s suggestion, Manzi says: “Don’t ever take no for an answer.”

Manzi Metals Inc., 15293 Flight

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