Diversity Woman Magazine

FALL 2016

Leadership and Executive Development for women of all races, cultures and backgrounds

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22 D I V E R S I T Y W O M A N Fa l l 2 0 1 6 d i v e r s i t y w o m a n . c o m We Mean Business > We Mean Business e larger tile industry got wind of what I was doing, thanks to the Tile Heri- tage Foundation. ey put me in touch with a major tile showroom in the Pasa- dena area called Mission Tile West. e owners there really loved the work, be- cause [Pasadena is] an Arts and Crafts– style town. It was a beautiful match. I set out to learn about the tile indus- try. I learned about the wholesale gift industry, which is now where I sell tiles. I read business books. I read Inc. maga- zine, which provided my learning journey on the business side. I was interested in learning about business, because that was how my independence would be maintained. I have lots of ideas about cool things to make. at's the easy part. It's sorting out where there's a market. I don't insist on making only one thing, whether it sells or not. at's not how I roll. I'm much more pragmatic. Getting into a gallery show is nice, but it doesn't necessarily translate into a living. I see selling for profit as a huge challenge— and a challenge that I relish. DW: Where do you get your design inspiration? NM: I keep being drawn to nature-based imagery. Stylized natural motifs are excit- ing to me. Art Nouveau stylization, Arts and Crafts period things I find appealing. When I'm making a piece, there has to be some dramatic visual emphasis— a visual hook. I'm looking for a sense of movement in my pieces. I'm trying to lead the eye around the composition. ere's unity and drama, and a boldness. DW: What have been some of your favorite projects? NM: A really cool piece that we did recently is at the University of Michigan, Dearborn. ey had set up fabric flags of all of the countries recognized by the UN, in honor of the incredible diversity of the student body. e flags would get damaged, so they raised money to get them done in a more permanent fashion. So we made 195 differ- ent tiles depicting all the flags. It was chal- lenging and exciting. We had to adapt the flag artwork to something we could do. We ended up doing some incredibly de- tailed pieces that I still shake my head at. [e Motawi staff] takes a field trip every year to go visit our installations, and that year we got to be present at the dedica- tion of this amazing tile wall. DW: How would you describe your lead- ership style? NM: I'm the visionary type, and I can also be strategic. But I need people around me who are very organized, because getting every little detail taken care of and right is not my thing. DW: Motawi Tileworks has incorporated Toyota's approach to efficiency. Why? NM: In 2003, I said to my business asso- ciates, "Look, this is a nice company, but we're not really making enough money. is is not cool. I can't pay the landlord in reputation." For many years, I wasn't clear on how much profit I needed to protect the company. So it's my limitations as a business manager that limit the company. It turns out that the Toyota philosophy and the Arts and Crafts philosophy are oddly correlated, because you're looking for people to execute very well, and you're looking for the people who have more ex- pertise than just hitting a nail and pass- ing it down the assembly line. Our system, which is based on Toyota principles and utilizes a technique called kanban, shows everyone what to do, so the manufacturing part has a quite clear progression. ere's no confusion about what job to do first or what parts to be making. at's quite well laid out so any- one can see it for any department. And we're good at using the kanban system to our advantage. Within the artist communities, money doesn't usually drive people. You want to get your things out there, and I want to provide a great workplace for people. At this point, though, my attitude has shift- ed. In order to be stable, it has to be profit- able. Allowing [my employees] to prosper along with the company is important to me, but you have to prosper if you're go- ing to share anything. It would be a bit- tersweet victory to see my people running into trouble while I'm doing all right. DW: What do you think of the resur- gence of makers and artisans in the US, especially the thriving community in nearby Detroit? NM: I'm delighted to see it. Clearly, I'm behind any artistic effort that's going to be financially profitable and is making items that are well designed. Shinola is an up- start, and there are other companies, like Detroit Bikes. I don't know that we can cre- ate commodity goods here—things that are incredibly cheap, because that requires low wages—but making quality, high-de- signed things is wonderful. DW: What is your favorite object in your office? NM: ere's a cartoon from Non Sequi- tur that I've had almost since the begin- ning that sums up my attitude about art and business. e label is "e Reality of Muse." It shows an artist looking at a blank canvas up in his garret, with the landlord coming up the stairs and saying, "Your rent is past due, Art-boy." at says it all to me. I want my independence, and you have to pull it all together. DW: What book have you read recently? NM: ere's one that's been influential, Finish Big: How Great Entrepreneurs Exit eir Companies on Top, by Bo Burling- ham. ere are people in the company who would like to go on with it after me or in case something happens to me, and I'm working to set the tileworks up to go on after me. So that's pretty exciting. DW Kimberly Olson is Diversity Woman's managing editor. In 2003, I said to my business associates, "Look, this is a nice company, but we're not making enough money."

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