Published Wednesday, November 22, 2000 12:00:00 AM in The Daily Bulletin
Photos by Stan Lim/Staff Photographer
SUCCESS STORY: Anne Acebo-Houlihan, president of Satori Seal Co. in Rancho Cucamonga, says her company's profits continue to grow. This year she expects to see a 20 percent increase over last year, she said.
Satori Seal workers Otto Reyes, foreground, warehouse manager, Les Matus works on company products such as O-rings, seals and custom-molded rubber products
When her husband died seven years ago, Anne Acebo-Houlihan didn't know what the future would hold for the business in Rancho Cucamonga they had run together.
"He died on a Friday, I came in Monday and called a meeting with all the employees and told them not to worry, that the company would continue," Acebo-Houlihan, president of Satori Seal, said of her late husband, Alex Acebo.
But the loss so shook her, she said, that she wasn't sure whether she would keep running the company, which manufactures and distributes O-rings, seals and other rubber products.
A year later, Acebo-Houlihan had increased the company's profits by more than 70 percent. Three years later, profits had increased by more than 140 percent.
Acebo-Houlihan would not reveal the company's annual revenues, but she said profits continue to grow. This year, she expects to see a 20 percent increase over last year.
Now 43 and recently remarried to Jesse Houlihan, Acebo-Houlihan attributes part of her success to making some difficult, but necessary, decisions along the way.
The biggest change came in 1994, just after her husband's death, when she conducted an in-depth review of the company's finances and found that the manufacturing arm of the company was actually draining resources.
Closing the manufacturing plant to focus solely on distribution of imported products was a difficult decision, Acebo-Houlihan said, because it meant laying off 12 of her 20 employees.
"But it was like I had a tree and some of the branches were dying and if I didn't take them off the whole tree could go down," she said.
Other difficult decisions have involved turning down high-priced contracts with companies whose integrity Acebo-Houlihan found questionable.
Though she is clearly detail-oriented and driven, Acebo-Houlihan runs a low-key firm. Two cats live full-time at the combined office-warehouse space and there is an almost family-like feeling among the small staff of seven.
Acebo-Houlihan brings this sense of caring about the work and the people she works with to her dealings with customers, said Barbara Collins, purchasing agent for Brea-based West Coast Gasket, which has done business with Satori Seals for five years.
"They are an excellent vendor, with very friendly people and fast service," Collins said. "They've never gotten an order wrong. I can't say enough about them."
Born in Glasgow, Scotland, Acebo-Houlihan came to the United States on what was supposed to be a short vacation in 1979. It was then that she met her first husband, whom she married the same year.
She attributes her success on a combination of luck, skill and timing. As for being a woman in a male-dominated field, she said that things have gotten better.
That may understate some of the challenges Acebo-Houlihan and other women business owners often face, said Teri Ooms, president of the Inland Empire Economic Partnership.
"I admire entrepreneurs, male or female. They all have to deal with the same types of risks - financial and social," Ooms said. She added, however, that women in business often face greater obstacles.
Though things have gotten better during the past 10 years, it is still harder for women to be taken seriously when it comes to things like obtaining business financing, Ooms said.
So women like Acebo-Houlihan have had to work "harder and smarter," Ooms said, adding that women-owned businesses are on the rise both locally and nationwide.
Elizabeth Zwerling can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (909) 483-8546.