Forging New Paths
Devon Winter is not where she thought she would be by her early thirties. Afterall, Devon's academic journey intended to lead her to a career in television by way of writing and journalism. Yet, she ended up somewhere far more familiar, proving that passion can be found in unexpected places.
Devon is the Vice President and Chief Operations Officer of F.W. Winter Inc. & Co., a New Jersey-based second generation family business that prides itself on being an industry leading supplier of metals and alloys in powder and lump form.
“It’s funny because I really wasn't that involved with the business growing up in the suburbs. With the businesses in the city, I really didn't come to the factory that often. So it really was a very new industry for me. Yes, we talked a little bit about metals and powders at the dinner table but you know, as a young girl, I was more interested in art and television marketing.”
That all changed when Devon was working toward her Master’s degree at Drexel University. She worked at the office to help her father —who founded the company in 1983 — from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. and then attended evening classes four nights a week. Devon says she quickly became more involved as her casual day job evolved into a career that redefined what it meant to be creative.
Her first major administrative task was to negotiate a copier contract which led to Devon spearheading sales, booking logistics and trucks while managing loads of paperwork. She quickly developed an interest for management, took over the HR department, traveled to meet with suppliers, audited facilities, and eventually led the company through its ISO quality certification process.
“Let’s just say, I've worn a lot of hats and I continue to do so.”
The COVID-19 pandemic posed an unexpected new challenge for the company. With a team of just 21 employees, many of whom are nearing retirement, F.W. Winter Inc. & Co. is an essential small business that people depend on. Devon says they managed to safely keep the lights on, doors open, and production running. One of the most important responsibilities for Devon was not just keeping everyone safe and employed, but keeping the spirits high.
“We really made a big effort this year, especially as things started to open up, to do things together. We've done lunches, dinners, outings, Phillies games, raffles, and birthdays. We keep things light and try to do something fun every month so we have something to look forward to. I think that it's pulled the company through. There's definitely been more of a community and family feel. We all work really hard together and it creates a bond.”
Devon makes an active effort to nourish her other passions, especially creativity. She’s an active squash player, enjoys yoga, and recently re-committed herself to writing poetry. This allows Devon to rediscover her feminine self in the hardcore metals industry. Additionally, she is able to unleash her creativity and curiosity while solving problems at work.
“What we do here, I think it's just as artistic as it is scientific, you know, just the way in which we make the powders and engineering that goes into it. We have 18 mills, and they're all pretty much made by us. There's a lot of creativity in that.”
When asked what the future holds for F.W. Winter Inc & Co, she doesn’t miss a beat in laying out her ambitious, femme-fueled goals. In the next 3-5 years, Devon plans to acquire smaller manufacturing firms while steering the company towards officially becoming a women-owned business.
Devon also suggests that she'd like to reframe the equality narrative that focuses too much on the numbers game, pushing industries toward a 50-50 gender split.
“We need equal opportunity to show that women are capable. That's something I had to fight for. But I was lucky to have a father and men in the industry who offered support when there were many who fought against me. If you don't have that kind of foundation, it's very easy to quit and that's a shame. You need support. You need the opportunity to ask for help.”