Her father's daughter

Michelle Quadri practically grew up in Al’s Awning Shop, a business her grandparents started in 1945 and where her father and uncle worked as well. “When I was 10, I was sewing—putting grommets in tarps and tents for many hours,” Quadri says. It was truly a family business. In 1988 her father became sole owner, but six months later he died suddenly; worse, the day of his funeral her grandfather died. She was just 17 and about to head off to college. 

For Quadri, the heart of the business was gone and at such a young age, she was not prepared to take over. Not yet. Instead, her mother, a school psychologist, stepped in to keep it going while Quadri got a degree, got married and started a family of her own. “If she hadn’t held on to it,” Quadri says, “I wouldn’t be here.”

A new attitude

At first she didn’t want to run the business without her dad, but now she says she can’t imagine not being there. Her father is still a very powerful presence at work, and it’s an emotional place for her. “I believe my father works here every day,” she says. “Somehow he pushes us to keep going forward.”

But now it’s time that people know that there’s a new face. “I am my father’s daughter,” she says, “but we’re focusing on our own objectives.” That means rebuilding personal connections in the community and giving back, too. “We need to stop acting as if we are the best and ask how can we become better? How can we provide more for our community,” she says.

This is all part of a “new attitude” Quadri is promoting that includes building employee relationships. “People used to think that [my dad] did everything,” she says. “I have a team. I want my team to know this is a commitment for the rest of your life. I don’t want people to think of this as a transitional job.”

They also have a new logo, which she feels is important, but the biggest difference is her perspective as a woman. “I have a different look at the end result of things,” she says. “My father’s edges were always straight. I like things with a nice curve, softer. It’s a nice look.”

Away from the shop

With her husband running his own contracting business and three school-aged children to raise, Quadri’s challenges extend beyond the shop, but she approaches family and friends activities with the same sense of leadership, guiding her daughter’s Girl Scout troop and spearheading fundraising for a trip to Disney World. She also partners with their nine-year-old son, who was born with a cleft lip and palette, to deliver United Way speeches.

She’s even president of her euchre-playing group, which is purely social, but it’s been especially meaningful for her since she was diagnosed with Lupus. “It’s a great group of women,” she says, “We’re there to support one another.” Reiterating her appreciation for her friends, her team at work, and her family, she offers a special mention of her grandmother, who 65 years ago helped to start Al’s Awning Shop in the family’s garage. Today, at age 94, “She is so proud that I’m still doing it,” Quadri says. 

By Janet Preus, editor of Specialty Fabrics Review.