Cheryl W. Snead, owner, president and CEO of Banneker Industries Inc. in North Smithfield, realized in the early 1990s that manufacturing was the company’s historic foundation, but no longer its greatest strength.
The field in which her company really excelled was battling the clock and calendar. Over time, Banneker had become expert at supply-chain management. Because of that moment of self-recognition, Banneker stopped producing precision machined components, as it had when it was Peerless Precision, and began providing other businesses with supply-chain services.
Today the company manages about $750 million in assets for companies around the country. It has 90 employees (half of them in Rhode Island), a warehouse in North Smithfield covering a half-million square feet, and 10 more facilities in six other states. The client list includes Raytheon, Harris Corp., Johnson Controls, BAE Systems, Honeywell, CVS Caremark Corp., and Alex and Ani. What’s more, the Banneker team is now making plans to expand into countries around the world.
“We realized our core competency wasn’t making the product, but managing the product,” Snead said. “We provide logistics services – purchasing, inspection, inventory management, warehousing, packaging, distribution and every other step in the supply chain.”
“We’re a big promoter of manufacturing, because we let those companies focus on what they do best,” said Junior Jabbie, sales and marketing director.
The company owes much of its success to Snead’s management style. She’s one of those executives who can take the floor and invigorate the team with a rousing can-do pep talk. In the early 1980s she became the first African-American woman to graduate from the University of Massachusetts with a degree in mechanical engineering. Later she earned an MBA from Purdue University.
One of her first jobs after college was at General Electric, where then-CEO Jack Welch was leading a much-discussed company resurgence. At the time, Welch was one of the top promoters of six sigma, a management system that helps businesses run more efficiently. The techniques were first developed by Japanese companies, then adopted and refined by American businesses in the 1990s. Besides General Electric, other early proponents included Motorola and Honeywell.
Snead still sticks with the lessons she learned at GE. She often points out that the management team at Banneker is fully trained in the six sigma method, and she offers training to clients and partner businesses as well.