When you ask Cheryl Merchant, president and CEO of Hope Global in Cumberland, how she’s doing at the start of a conversation, like most of us she will say she’s doing great. In her case, she truly means it.
“I’m already rocking this morning,” said Merchant, a phrase uttered completely without irony at an hour when many people are still blinking.
“She has more energy than I can even fathom,” said Leslie Taito, senior vice president of new-business development. It was Merchant who wooed Taito away from a post as director of the R.I. Office of Regulatory Reform. Taito doesn’t hesitate to say that she’s banked her career on Merchant and believes her to be a winning bet. “We all say she’s like the Energizer bunny,” Taito said
Hope Global develops and manufactures textiles for automotive, commercial and industrial use. Founded in 1883 in Pawtucket as Hope Webbing Co., it produced mainly cotton webbing. In 1957 the Casty family bought Hope and began producing apparel and parachute cord, as well as industrial cordage and shoelaces.
Merchant comes by her energy honestly. Long before she was presiding over a worldwide operation, she was being groomed to be a hard worker and a leader with integrity. She honed these skills toiling as a child on her family’s 350-acre Michigan farm. Every day before school, she and her sister rose in the early-morning hours to feed hundreds of cattle, hogs, chickens, ducks and goats, returning in the evening to do the same. “My mom was pretty emphatic about it. She told us that we were responsible for them,” said Merchant.
Merchant credits the sense of togetherness as just as important as the development of a work ethic. “We learned how to understand teamwork. We might be walking the fields or cleaning barns, but we were having fun, and we were a family working together,” she said.
She learned more than a thing or two about managing finances during that time. She saved up enough money to buy her first car at age 16, recalling how she scraped together some of the funds: she and her sister would get a nickel per ladybug they pulled off the potato plants.
It was in the Motor City – Detroit – Merchant began to make a name for herself. She spent time managing teams at General Motors, Mazda and Ford Motor Co. When Ford acquired the interior trim company Lear Corp., Merchant jumped at the chance to run factories all over the world.
She evaluates her career with the same honesty she learned year after year on the farm. “It hasn’t always been great,” she said. “I didn’t always succeed. In one of the plants, there was a team that I just could not pull together.”