By Kathy DeMott
Stewart Sutherland Inc., a Vicksburg paper-bag manufacturer under the leadership of President and CEO Colleen Paran, has received national certification as a Women’s Business Enterprise by the Great Lakes Women’s Business Council, a regional certifying partner of the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council.
According to Karla Meeks, human resource manager, the council’s standard of certification implemented by the Great Lakes Women’s Business Council is a comprehensive process including an in-depth review of the business and site inspection. The certification process is designed to confirm the business is at least 51% owned, operated and controlled by a woman or women.
Many corporations and government agencies are committed to supporting diversity within the supply chains by including women-owned businesses among their suppliers.
Stewart Sutherland has been coowned by a woman since 1959, when founders Bob and Barbara Stewart combined their assets and purchased a bag machine and started making paper bags for the food industry. In 1961 Lou Sutherland became a partner as the company expanded and needed larger facilities and more machines. He remained with the company for 20 years.
The company prospered as the fast food and bakery industries flourished. In 1983 John Stewart became president. He and his wife, Patty, purchased the company in 1994, continuing the family business for over 26 years until John passed away in 2020.
Patty said that John was the best salesman the company ever had, but it was not just a job but a career that mattered. As president, he had many offers to sell the company over the years, but he wanted to keep it a family business where people were valued. He hoped one of his children would eventually take over the helm and felt Colleen would do very well in management.
Colleen has been with the company for over 10 years in a variety of roles since graduating from Michigan State University. “It was when I worked in operations and really got to know the people working on the floor, learning about their families and stories, as well as being involved with making the products that something changed in me,” she said. “I wanted to be an integral part of our family’s business.”
Patty said, “factory work isn’t glamorous, but if you can see through that, it is worth it. We have great employees here, some as long as 40 years, because we care about them. We are a family business that takes care of our people.”
She said that John always respected his mother, Barbara, because she was active in the company, attended board meetings and was involved with decision making. As owner, Patty continues to be involved as well. “It is part of the culture here to support everyone including women in leadership roles. As CEO and president, Colleen has a new pace here, a management style different from her dad and is continuing to grow Stewart Sutherland.”