Being nominated by your clients for a major industry award is humbling enough, but actually winning it? “That would be indescribable,” said Lisa Lunsford, CEO and cofounder of Global Strategic Supply Solutions LLC (GS3 Global).
Earlier this year, one of GS3 Global’s customers, Faurecia North America, nominated Lunsford and her company for the Michigan Minority Supplier Development Council’s 2014 Minority Supplier of the Year Award. And, in September 2014, GS3 Global was named a finalist.
The award recognizes outstanding achievements among Minority Business Enterprises (MBEs) in business growth, development and operations, and honors excellence among corporations, minority-owned businesses and individuals who lead in supplier diversity.
“To see that clients took notice and said, ‘I think you deserve this nomination’ means a lot,” Lunsford said. “It’s a victory to know people trust me with their business.”
In addition to leading GS3 Global, Lunsford is also the vice president of sales and marketing for Deshler Group, GS3 Global’s parent company, and executive partner and cofounder of I Thinc LLC, a software development company.
Her experience includes a decade as a research and product development engineer at Ford Motor Company and she has been a participant in GLN (Global Logistics Network.) She is also a member of the Automotive Women’s Alliance Foundation and the SEMA (Specialty Equipment Market Association) Businesswomen’s Network.
Under Lunsford’s leadership, GS3 Global has gone from a Michigan-based start-up in 2010 to a global industry player, experiencing phenomenal growth during a period of harsh economic challenges for the automotive and manufacturing industries, particularly in the Midwest.
Even against those odds, GS3 Global manages to process over 4 million parts annually and has established itself as a comprehensive supply-chain management company that provides efficient, focused and successful management of materials, manufacturing, assembly and distribution for companies of all sizes, domestic and international.
In just four years, the company has grown to a workforce of 128 employees with $20 million in annual sales.
Lunsford believes that GS3 Global works because the company is large enough to handle the big jobs, and nimble enough to quickly support unexpected production up-turns. It’s no coincidence that successfully adapting to the changing reality of the professional landscape is Lunsford’s specialty. It’s a skill she’s been honing since childhood, when she first started to seriously contemplate her career path.
“My parents and grandparents told me that only you can put limitations on you,” Lunsford recalled.
By the time she reached college, Lunsford had decided to pursue both medicine and chemistry to discover which field would be the best fit. While exploring professions in both fields during summer internships, she began to let go of her dream of becoming a doctor, opting to answer the call of a career in applied chemistry.
“I had to take gross anatomy. That sealed it, no career in medicine for me,” Lunsford said. “I could not get past it. I had a difficult time cutting a cadaver. I nearly went into research, but again, gross anatomy was in the way.
“Finally, I took some engineering classes to compliment the chemistry classes in my senior year. I was invited to a recruiting event where I met representatives from Ford Motor Company. I took the job offer,” she remembered. “I figured I could donate to medical research rather than participate.”
Making good on her decision, Lunsford earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Bennett College in Greensboro, N.C., and the training she gained in methodical scientific inquiry has informed her work well beyond the lab.
“The thinking comes in handy — the problem solving and logic,” Lunsford said, “because the way you flow things out is what I do to problem-solve. It’s the way I think through things to create solutions.”
Out of college, Lunsford was hired into the Ford College Graduate Program, which she knew was grooming her for management.
“Ford is a great training ground. I had some ideas while participating in my first meeting. My mentors told me to pump my brakes,” Lunsford said. “The company was happy to have me, but Mr. Ford was not going to turn over the keys to the kingdom to me just yet.”
Her first project was the 1988 Mustang.
“It just happened,” she said. “The gods of car design smiled down on me. I had great mentors all along the way. They knew I wasn’t afraid to take chances.
“The biggest thing was to be accountable — good, bad or indifferent, I just owned it and it led me to do other things within the company. I started my career working in research and design in the plastics division. From there I moved to manufacturing and then to design.”
Lunsford ended her time at Ford after working on the 1996 Ford F150 truck platform.
“By the time I got my last assignment, I thought, ‘I really want to do something on my own,’” she said. “My brother Kenny had become a software developer, and we were talking about developing software that would extend the life cycle of existing legacy systems.”
In 1998, the founded Williams & Williams Process Improvement in Detroit, which later became I Thinc LLC. Within a year, Lunsford and her brother had secured contracts with leading shipping and transportation companies. Many of I Thinc’s systems are still in use, managing vehicle sequencing and warehouse management operations for the auto industry, plus continuing to provide services to GS3 and other companies.
From I Thinc, Lunsford explored other possibilities in the industry, and answered another challenge she wasn’t expecting — expanding into supply management and manufacturing.
“A business associate introduced me to Robert Gruschow, president of Deshler Group,” said Lunsford. “At that time, automotive suppliers were being downsized. He wanted Deshler to grow into another area and he wanted me to to participate.”
Forming a partnership with Gruschow, the two founded Global Strategic Supply Solutions (GS3 Global) with Lunsford as CEO.
“We like to think of ourselves as integrators of solutions because we offer three distinct business units — manufacturing, assembly and international transportation,” she said.
Being able to capitalize on a great partnership means finding the right partner, and Lunsford’s collaboration with Gruschow is an example of having the right people play the right roles.
“He’s open to things. That’s what makes our partnership work. We’re both open, willing to listen and try things,” Lunsford said.
“If something doesn’t work, we ask, ‘What did we learn, what can we take from it and use someplace else?’ It’s great to have a partner like that.”
Lunsford’s building success over the years has not gone unnoticed, as evidenced by GS3 Global’s selection as a finalist for the 2014 MMSDC Minority Supplier of the Year. One of GS3 Global’s nominators was Charles R. Perkins, director of diversity management for Faurecia North America, and to him, there’s nothing secret about Lunsford’s winning formula.
“Lisa is a solid business person, with what can be considered ‘old school’ methods of dealing with people,” Perkins said.
“She brings a warmth to her business relationships that you just don’t see much nowadays. She is always honest and direct, and she understands when to take control of a conversation and when to simply listen.
“Lisa started GS3 Global at a time when many companies were going out of business,” Perkins said.
“Lisa has navigated her company through some difficult times in the automotive industry, experiencing significant growth every year. She also understands that sometimes it’s good business to turn away business. She will not accept business for the sake of having business.”
Backed up by GS3 Global’s continued success, Lunsford has decided that, right now, beginning new relationships and expanding into new markets makes a lot of sense.
“I see us growing and expanding internationally because of our capabilities,” Lunsford said. “We’ve established relationships in England, France, India, China and Thailand. The sky’s the limit. We will expand into other markets besides automotive.
“We’ve already started creating products in the aftermarket and we’re getting looks from the retail industry. There are no limitations in terms of anything we want to go after.”
Even at the top of her field and climbing, Lunsford makes it her business to remember who she’s really working for.
The daughter of an AFL-CIO union rep, her professional success isn’t only the result of hard-won experience and determination, but also an opportunity to support the community that makes future success possible for all stakeholders, especially her employees.
“One reason I started a business is that I wanted to provide a means for people to feed their families. I believe in job creation. That’s key to America, to everybody,” Lunsford said. “Onshoring is about manufacturing and information technology. It’s about putting America back to work.”