When still in her 20’s, Susan J. “Suzy” Ganz walked away from a Wall Street job and took over the running of Lion Brothers Company Inc., the Owings Mills, Md., company with world leadership in the manufacturing and distribution of embroidered and appliquéd emblems.
You could say her career hung by a thread, given the perilous state of the company in the late 1980s after her father’s sudden death, the garment industry itself and the twin forces of globalization and technology. But Ganz says she fell in love with the factory floor, as much as the people working the yarns.
“You know the best period of time was spending time on the factory floor, there were about 350 people and they were some of the most knowledgeable, kindest people one can imagine and they sold me on Lion,” Ganz told citybizlist’s Edwin Warfield in an interview. “I fell in love with manufacturing and it was probably falling in love with people that did it,” she added.
Ganz, who earned her MBA from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and worked initially for Merrill Lynch, turned around the fortunes of Lion Brothers. For her leadership, she has been inducted into Maryland’s Circle of Excellence and thrice ranked in Baltimore Business Journal’s Maryland’s Top 100 Women.
In the interview, she talks about taking operations to China and many other parts of the world, embracing new technology, and building partnerships with the Girls Scouts, NBA, NFL and Nike.
EDWIN WARFIELD: I am Edwin Warfield and I am honored to interview Susan Ganz, the CEO of Lion Brothers. Suzy has done a masterful job of navigating globalization and technology. Welcome Suzy.
You were an international equities trader and bond specialist. Your father died unexpectedly. Your mother asked you to take a look at the business. You made a 90-day commitment. You were 28 at the time. Can you tell us that part of history?
SUSAN GANZ: I came in and thought it was going to be a fast 90 days. In fact, the apartment that I had sublet was a 90-day lease; that is how fast I thought it was going to be. Along the way Lion was a legacy company that had challenges like many textile- and apparel-based companies at that time. The companies were moving from the United States, in the United States they were moving down to the Carolinas in chase of labor and Lion had challenges being a union shop in the Northeast. But it had an incredibly loyal (and) wonderful customer base and so the question was: how could it create value for its customers in a new world order?
You know the best period of time was spending time on the factory floor, there were about 350 people and they were some of the most knowledgeable, kindest people one can imagine and they sold me on Lion. Days I was strategic planning manager and in the evenings I would spend time on the factory floor and ask the people to teach me what they did and they did and they were kind and one asked what are the issues as they see them. They were very open what the issues were. I fell in love with manufacturing and it was probably falling in love with people that did it.
The first 90 days we were scoping out: does this company have a chance of success or survival at that point and if so how are we going to move this thing forward? It ended up transitioning some of the leadership team at the time and going on a mission to make Lion survive and be relevant and so ever since we have been relevant and it has been an incredible journey over these past decades now.
EDWIN WARFIELD: Can you tell us about the history of Lion Brothers? It was started in 1899.
SUSAN GANZ: Two Lion Brothers, Albert and Ben Lion, started an embroidery company in downtown Baltimore, and Baltimore was part of the garment trade. You had garment centers in Philadelphia, Detroit, New York and Baltimore had a really vibrant apparel community. It was downtown at Hollins and Poppleton, which is right by the University of Maryland Bio Park and today it is being transformed into an innovation center. So it is actually very apropos.
The two brothers sought to create an insignia in the old Swiss method of creating embroidery and that was thepower looms, which were the finest looms available and they started having really the cornerstones of two simple philosophies: one was making the best product available in the world and two was serving people.
The business of Lion reflected what the world was doing at that time. So, in the early days it was a uniform center. It then transformed making uniforms in the 1940s during World War II. In fact, Lion had its own brand for World War II. It was called Leona. So if one goes on eBay and sees that, one can still purchase Leona products. And then during the ‘50s it then transformed more towards the commercial sectors and then with ‘60s you will see our insignia that went up in space with the NASA astronauts, in the ‘70s it started with America’s fascination with sports and Lion was decorating the first Super Bowl. Over the ‘80s it was brand. You know Ralph Lauren and others, and less sports brands. In the ‘90s, it was the commercialization of sports. So as TV rights duly created a behemoth in the sports market you know Lion became really more engaged in terms of the sports industry.
In 2000, more and more in terms of other areas like college bookstores and other places where you would find insignia and other sorts of identity but through it all the cornerstone was actually a couple of fundamental clients and those were the Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts. All of the people that have been with us since like the 1920s, I have to tell you that the Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts have been with us since their very beginning. These are youth organizations who we work with and honor in a wonderful way still today.
EDWIN WARFIELD: When did your father get involved?
SUSAN GANZ: It was owned by Albert and Ben Lion. The second generation came in and ran the company and died in a tragic plane crash in the 1960s, the company was sold to Safeguard, a company based out of King of Prussia in Philadelphia. My dad was on the board of Safeguard and at the time they helped companies that were number one in their field, niche businesses, and what they would do is they would take the cash flow from those companies and reinvest in high-tech and biotech assets.
In the late ‘70s, they decided to divest their assets. My dad, who was a money manager, said this would be fun to own a company that was an actual operating company versus just something that is engaged in capital and so he bought it with a group of investors and that began the journey in terms of my family’s engagement with Lion.
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