Throughout 2023, WBENC is recognizing and celebrating WBEs who have demonstrated remarkable resilience and capacity to reinvent themselves. The 2023 WBE Stars are being honored for perseverance and excellence through reinvention and innovation, despite the unprecedented challenges of recent years.
Cathy Koch is Founder and CEO of K-TEC SYSTEMS, a global manufacturer, distributor, and engineering integrator of temperature sensors, wire harnesses, and control systems, and a leader with the Great Lakes Women’s Business Council Regional Partner Organization. When Cathy’s automotive component business lost 97% of its business in March 2020 at the beginning of COVID, she didn’t let that deter her. Hear about how Cathy moved business operations to Washington and was able to not only save, but grow, the business, reestablishing jobs for affected employees and picking up clients in aerospace as an added bonus.
Get inspired by Cathy and stay tuned for our 2023 WBENC Stars article series throughout 2023!
Each WBENC WBE Star has been selected by one of 14 Regional Partner Organizations (RPOs), who lead the world-class WBENC Certification of women-owned businesses throughout the country. The 2023 WBE Stars were honored during the 2023 WBENC National Conference, a gathering of more than 3000 entrepreneurs and business leaders taking place March 20-23, 2023, in Nashville, Tennessee, and throughout the year. WBENC will be featuring the 2023 WBE Stars in many ways, including this article series and in WE USA Magazine feature articles this summer.
Meet the inspiring Cathy Koch, of K-TEC SYSTEMS
“To me, resiliency means not giving up, and finding a way around issues, failures, and obstacles that get in the way of our plan. I practice resiliency by learning, listening, and creating a plan of actions.”
That’s exactly what Cathy did during the pandemic. Instead of accepting that her Michigan-based business was completely shut down, causing her to lose nearly all of her automotive manufacturing business in electrical harnesses and temperature sensors, she picked up the business and moved it to Washington state, where she rehired employees there.
The K-Tec Systems production facility has since reopened in Michigan, but Cathy also has learned that she can produce the electrical wire harnesses in small facilities where there is sufficient talent. She is opening small facilities when she is able to find pockets of talent due to her increased use of technology – a core business strategy takeaway for the future of her business.
K-Tec Systems currently is a direct supplier to many of the world’s largest automotive companies, as well as part of the healthcare supply chain by producing temperature sensors for the shipping packages of the COVID-19 vaccine because they were the most accurate and able to register very cold temperatures – a feat other companies could not match. Now K-Tec has a global presence with this line of business.
When and how was your business started?
I started my business in 1989 as a manufacture representative selling wire and infrared sensors. Our first name was K-Temp Control Systems and the K stood for Kelvin, a temperature starting point of absolute zero.
What does resiliency mean to you? How do you practice resiliency as a woman leading a business?
To me, resiliency means not giving up and finding a way around issues, failures, and obstacles that get in the way of our plan. I practice resiliency by learning, listening, and creating a plan of action.
Share more about the challenges you faced because of the COVID-19 Pandemic, and how you faced it.
We lost our workforce in Michigan when were mandated to shut our business down for about 3 months. Most of our customers were also closed. We took a chance and picked up a few employees in the state of Washington that were losing their employment due to Covid. They helped find a location and we landed a new opportunity making a Temperature Sensor for the shipment of the Covid Vaccine. Being in another state helped us grow with new types of customers and work with different time zones for faster production times. Cash was an issue. We had a small line of credit, and our bank was meeting with us weekly to make sure we were still in business! Ceed provided us with a loan, and we were able to keep moving forward.
Provide an example of how innovation helped you overcome a challenge, pivot, or adapt to a crisis.
Technology such as Teams and Zoom helped us lead our team across the country by staying in touch when travel was a challenge. Also, coming up with a new product design, a new location, and new suppliers, helped us create an accurate sensor.
What have you learned about yourself as a leader from mentoring or coaching others?
Failure is not the end, but a way of improvement.
What do you view as benefits of being part of the WBENC network? How has your company grown and changed since its inception and since becoming certified?
- The trainings, Tuck program, The Ceed Lending… The Ceed Lending, for example, saved our company.
- The networking with other women who believed in me.
- Getting an opportunity to tell our story to OEMs: “Getting our Toe in the door.” The rest is up to us!
Since becoming certified, I have developed a business and a marketing plan, and I know that I am not alone.
What guiding words would you like to share with a newly certified WBE who is looking to get involved in the WBENC community?
“Get Involved” – volunteer, learn, network. Use the programs that are available. Ask questions.
What areas of innovation do you foresee for women entrepreneurs over the next few years?
Marketing and storytelling will be key to the brand and the sales increase in the next few years. Making sure the business model is aligned with the culture of your company and customers, and making sure your products or services are meeting the current needs, will be essential.
K-Tec Systems is a global manufacturer, distributor, and engineering integrator of temperature sensors, wire harnesses, and control systems. For over 30 years, K-Tec Systems has helped companies minimize wasted yields and mitigate costly recalls by providing solutions that control temperature, pressure and flow during their manufacturing processes.