This article appeared in the November 2021 issue of MiMfg Magazine. Read the full issue and find past issues online.
When you’re a woman leader in the manufacturing industry, it helps to be strong and tenacious. Just ask one of the state’s leading auto industry entrepreneurs, Andra Rush.
“I get motivated when people challenge me and say, ‘Well you can’t do that,’” says Rush, Founder, Chairman and CEO of Dakkota Integrated Systems.
“And then, when they add, ‘Well, a woman can’t do that,’ that’s when I get really motivated.”
Dakkota, one of the largest Native American woman-
owned and led companies in the United States, manages supply chain complexity for customers through the assembly of complex modules and components sequenced and delivered just in time for larger original equipment manufacturers and looks to transition those core competencies into other industries.
While largely known as a hard-driving entrepreneur, Rush’s lesser-known legacy lies in her dedication to diversity and inclusion, specifically providing opportunities to underserved neighborhoods. In fact, Dakkota was founded as a training ground to help people facing societal barriers gain the skills and experience needed for fulfilling careers.
Today, Dakkota’s 15 plants are committed to helping their employees and the communities where they are located improve quality of life for this generation and the next.
Andra’s motivation is partially because she and her family grew up in such a neighborhood and pulled themselves up through hard work and grit. In fact, her sister, Lori Lancaster, is now bringing those same qualities to Dakkota as President of the company.
“My parents and grandparents grew up in poor, underserved communities. We just wanted a chance; not a hand-out but a hand up,” she says.
Rush has been a larger-than-life presence in Michigan manufacturing since she founded Rush Trucking in 1984 with three trucks and $15,000 in loans and credit. For nearly 40 years, she oversaw massive growth until selling the business in December 2020 so she could focus on Dakkota and the emerging global water crisis.
Despite her status, Dakkota employees see Rush as very down-to-earth. Delonza Darty, Operations Manager at the Dakkota plant in Hazel Park, says after he was hired, he remembers having a nice conversation with somebody walking the floor. He learned later that it was Andra Rush.
“We just had a casual conversation and then later I found out it was her,” says Darty. “She’s a phenomenal leader and everything I heard about her is true. She comes on the floor and makes herself known. She’s not one of those people who, because of their stature, treats anybody less than. She treats everybody the same.”
Plant Manager Jim Wellington describes the long-time CEO as “humble,” and having an uncanny knack of uplifting her team members. “She has a lot of humility. She’s always involved in both people and decisions.”
It’s been Rush’s brand of compassionate and empathetic leadership that has led Dakkota through a challenging time dating back to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic to the present-day labor crisis. She says when it comes to lean and disruptive times, it’s critical to have a positive and collaborative workplace culture to keep people focused.
“Implementing the culture is the big challenge for us every day,” says Rush. “If you add 200 people to a shift, that can cause changes. It’s imperative that our leaders and our supervisors live our culture. I always approach leadership as ‘we’ not ‘them and us.’”
So, being recognized not only as a statewide leader but as a female leader is very special to Rush, and she hopes this inspires girls in elementary and middle school who have to fight systematic bias.
“I think for girls and young women, we need to start reaching out to them in elementary and primary school,” says Rush. “Girls do very well in math and science up until middle school and then it gets stigmatized negatively. Often they purposely stop pursuing things that they’re very good at because of the peer pressure.”
There are many things that Rush can look back on through her long career. For her own part, she’d be happy if her story touched and inspired just one person.
“If I let you know that I believe in you and we’re a better company because you’re here, then hopefully you will feel successful because you’ve worked with us. To me, that’s a great legacy.”