Mohawk Andra Rush on Building Three Businesses, Revitalizing Detroit and Tribal Ties
Andra Rush jokes that she lives on Delta Airlines.
The 53-year-old mother of three adult sons also is the founder of Detroit Manufacturing Systems, the largest creator of new manufacturing jobs in America’s motor city in decades. Established in 2012, the company is being praised as a business owned by a Native woman and one that hired more than 700 employees in its first 18 months.
A single mother since her husband died 12 years ago, Rush balances a busy schedule as founder and chairwoman of the Rush Group, which includes Rush Trucking, Dakkota Integrated Systems and Detroit Manufacturing Systems.
Together, these manufacturing, trucking, assembly and distribution enterprises make up one of the largest Native-owned businesses in the nation.
“My golf game is not as good as it could be,” said Rush, who is Mohawk. “My physique is not as sharp as it once was. It’s a lot of hours; it takes a lot of time.”
Rush received national attention January 28 when President Barack Obama included her success story in his State of the Union Address. Rush was invited to attend the address and sit in the first lady’s viewing box.
“Two years ago, as the auto industry came roaring back, Andra Rush opened up a manufacturing firm in Detroit,” Obama said. “She knew that Ford needed parts for the best-selling truck in America, and she knew how to make those parts. She just needed the workforce.”
The business started in June of 2012 with 45 employees. By the beginning of 2014, it employed 730, with nearly 500 of those workers living in Detroit.
“What Andra and her employees experienced is how it should be for every employer and every job seeker,” Obama said during his address.
In recent years, Rush has been recognized by many organizations, including minority business groups, the Native American Chamber of Commerce and the Detroit Women’s Foundation, but her story as one of the most successful Native women in business had humble beginnings 30 years ago.
As a 23-year-old MBA student, Rush took a summer internship with a freight company and realized that unreliable service could cost the company a lot of money. She opened Rush Trucking in 1984 with three trucks and hauled auto parts throughout the Detroit area.
Rush was something of a lone woman in a man’s world, she said.
“I faced a lot of the stereotypical thoughts – that no woman can run a trucking business,” she said. “It was hard to be taken seriously because there weren’t a lot of women in positions of decision-making.”
During the first years, there was a lot of trial and error, a lot of door-knocking, Rush said.
“People looked at me and saw a young person, a woman,” she said. “They always wanted to know if my husband or father was running it.”
Success came from building a reputation, Rush said.
“In the beginning you have no points of reference to give customers the feeling that you are reliable,” she said. “When an opportunity came, you had to exceed expectations.”
Having seen first-hand how the Mohawk people lived on New York and Canada reservations, Rush specifically wanted to create opportunity in underserved areas, she said.
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