Four years ago, when Sam Grage joined Allstates Rigging in Two Rivers, she entered a maelstrom of challenges. Not only was she a woman entering a male-dominated field, but previous executives were embroiled in an embezzlement scandal that would rock the company and its customer base.
“I came on board when all of this was coming to a head,” says Grage, 49, now president and chief operating officer of Allstates, a rigging company that moves heavy machinery for other businesses. “It was a pretty volatile situation. The guys wouldn’t even look me in the eye.”
Even though the Air Force veteran grew up in the trucking industry, some of Allstates’ two dozen mostly male employees were wary of their new boss. “I show up, (they think), ‘You’re not a rigger, you don’t have a CDL, how do you think you’re going to be able to run this company?’”
Grage, who bought out a shareholder last year to become the sole owner of the company, was eager and ready to prove them wrong.
Allstates Rigging was founded in Manitowoc in 1992 by Jim Schaus, who recently retired. To meet size demands, the company moved to neighboring Two Rivers in 2012 and now inhabits a 174,000-square-foot building with an additional 150,000-square-foot outside yard.
The nationwide company handles the moving of heavy machinery for any industry but specializes in the plastic, metal, printing, food and wood industries. The company, which doesn’t release earnings numbers, has 10 semi-trucks, 30 trailers and 24 forklifts.
Royal Bruhn, service manager with Renco Machine in Green Bay, says his company has used the services of Allstates Rigging for 15 years. “They are very knowledgeable and careful; they’ve moved a lot of our machinery through the years, and nothing has ever gotten damaged,” he says.
Allstates also helped move 27 semi loads of printing equipment to Hamilton Wood Type & Printing Museum’s new location in Two Rivers. “The guys were friendly and professional; they did exactly what we had hoped and insisted that I be happy with their work all the way along,” Director Jim Moran says.
But despite accolades, the company had to almost start over with some clients after the embezzlement scandal. “It took a year and a half to clean up that mess … (and take over) ownership at the same time,” says Grage, who faced the task of winning back some customers burned by the company’s scandal.
“Several of our good customers (went away),” she says. “We rebuilt some lost relationships; we just did everything possible (to convince them) this isn’t what Allstates was about. Mending fences has been the biggest challenge the first few years.”
In addition to placating clients, Grage had to work hard at selling herself to her own employees. And that took small steps, she says.
“I didn’t come into this job thinking, ‘Oh, no; I’m female; I think this is going to be hard.’ It didn’t really cross my mind until someone pointed it out.”
Tiny changes, like her apparel, helped employees relate to her better. “When I would walk into a conference room and meet with a bunch of guys … I would walk in dressed up and professional,” she says. “I found that I had to dress the part; I had to prove that I do read blueprints.”
So, she began wearing jeans and her Allstates shirt to feel more comfortable, which in turn, made others more comfortable. “I could feel that and I could see it.”
Still, not every employee was on board. Grage says she had one supervisor tell her, “Well, you’re not going to be here long.”
That made her even more dedicated to earning their respect and changing the male-oriented culture.
“It took a while to change the culture … (but) going into the second year, they started taking pride,” says Grage, noting that she told the doubting employees, “I expect to earn your respect. I’m going to run the company; that’s going to be my job. Your job is to do what you do.”
She started posting praise about the employees’ good work on Facebook, giving credit to the riggers.
Now, four years into her tenure, Grage is preparing to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Allstates and look ahead to the future.
She’s brought new technologies, such as GPS systems and new dispatch software, and would like to see the company grow to maybe 35 to 40 people. “I don’t want to get so big that we lose that personal connection,” she says.
And, as much as she enjoys what she’s doing now, she’d like to “continue and find that person who wants to learn to run the company.”