Often times our families can be our harshest critics. Just ask Sherry DePerno, President and CEO of Advanced Tool Inc., of Marcy, New York: “At 16 years old my parents fired me! Like so many young people I wasn’t ready to be serious about a career or the commitment required to run a business.”
Five years later she returned to the family business with a second chance to prove herself after attending college and experiencing other work opportunities. Her father, Harold “Butch” Lockwood began Advanced Tool in his Sauquoit, New York garage after being laid off from Chicago Pneumatic in 1975. After starting at the bottom, DePerno learned each part of the business including customer service where she began to voice her opinions with her parents that included ideas about possible future opportunities for the company. DePerno transitioned into the leadership role when she and her husband Rob purchased the business from her parents in 2007.
“There’s a misconception that when you work for a family-owned business you don’t have to work hard or you don’t have to work at all. In many ways you have to work harder. You have to prove yourself and prove to your family that you have earned their respect. I am truly grateful to my parents for not handing me anything because the knowledge and experience I have gained from working hard and earning my way is something that I will pass on and instill in my own children,” said DePerno.
DePerno’s father had found success in building the business through meeting clients every need for industrial tools. But as the more experienced tool makers retired, DePerno found she didn’t have the skilled labor to handle every customer request as they had before. After studying where the business was most profitable and successful, DePerno refocused the business model from all cutting tools to solely specializing in the company’s core competency of end mills.
Specializing in one area allowed the engineering department at Advanced Tool to develop a trademarked program called Wear Analysis™, to study the precise end mill tool areas damaged through overuse and inefficiencies and design more cost efficient tools. The Wear Analysis™ program allows Advanced Tool to differentiate itself from all competitors in the industry.
“Our engineering department has built this program on not only knowing how to decipher wear patterns and stress points, but knowing exactly what changes to make to give our clients they results they desire,” explains DePerno. “Rather than trying to make a standard catalog product fit into their process we conduct an analysis of our clients use and build a better model improving their tools’ efficiency.”
Advanced Tool Inc. continues to expand and lead among the industry and in 2013 purchased new equipment that can produce micro-diameter end mills that are as small as one-thousandths of an inch in diameter, as small as one-fourth the size of a human hair and invisible to the naked eye. Advanced Tool Inc. has evolved into a premier world-wide carbide end mill manufacturer solving problems and reducing inefficiencies for Fortune 100 and 500 companies around the world including Canada, Mexico, Germany and Australia.
When the Mohawk Valley Small Business Development Center Director Roxanne Mutchler encouraged her to consider pursuing the SBA Emerging Leaders program in 2014, DePerno saw the opportunity and filled out the application that same day. The eight-month intensive training helped DePerno set clear priorities, define how to achieve them and move forward in every phase of her business. DePerno now feels empowered to share her vision for the company with her employees, creating the opportunity for the staff to buy-in on the future for Advanced Tool Inc.
“This program is so needed and helps businesses get stronger. Many people don’t recognize how hard it is to be a small business owner. It was invaluable to be in a room of almost 20 people facing the same challenges, in an environment where you can be open and real about what you’re facing”, added DePerno.
DePerno has demonstrated excellence and leadership within the manufacturing industry. In March of 2015, DePerno was recognized by the Manufacturing Institute in Washington D.C. at the STEP Awards Ceremony (Science, Technology, Engineering and Production) Awards Ceremony on Capitol Hill. DePerno was one of 130 women recognized in Washington for significant achievements in manufacturing through positive impact on their company and the industry as a whole. The STEP Awards are part of the larger STEP Ahead Initiative launched to examine and promote the role of women in the manufacturing industry through recognition, research and leadership for advancing and retaining strong female talent.
DePerno will continue to use her experience from the SBA Emerging Leaders program to advance the business into its 40th year of operations. With DePerno’s 17-year-old son Michael expressing an interest in a summer job this year, she may be looking at the future generation of Advanced Tool Inc. ownership in the making.