Midwest Automation Inc.

Championing Diversity and Innovation in the Fabrication Industry

April 26, 2024
The CEO of a St. Louis-based electrical control panel fabricator leads with a pioneering spirit, supporting diversity and innovation in the fabrication industry through her recent WBE certification accreditation.

Colleen Keusenkothen, the CEO of Midwest Automation Inc., stands at the forefront of promoting diversity and female representation in the fabrication sector. She has carved a path in the male-dominated industry with her recent achievement of Women Business Enterprise (WBE) certification by the Missouri Office of Equal Opportunity.

Reflecting on her journey to leadership, Keusenkothen told Machine Design, “Midwest Automation Inc. is a family-owned business and, after working in the business since 2019, I became the majority owner in 2023.” This transition marked a significant milestone in her professional trajectory, solidifying her commitment to driving change within the company and beyond.

Keusenkothen is a 1991 graduate of St. Joseph’s Academy in St. Louis and a 1995 graduate of the University of Dayton. To expand new opportunities, Midwest Automation Inc. began offering Electrical Automation & Control Systems internships to students at Ranken Technical College. 

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For Keusenkothen, the decision to pursue WBE certification was driven by a blend of personal conviction and customer endorsements: “I've always felt strongly about giving women opportunities in the workplace. I lead a proudly diverse workplace, so this felt like great and familiar support from the female-led Missouri Office of Equal Opportunity.” This certification not only aligns with her values but also resonates with key industry stakeholders who prioritize supporting women-owned businesses.

When asked if there were any challenges in achieving WBE certification, Keusenkothen said, “The certification process presented no significant challenges, thanks in part to my network of other female-led businesses who have also achieved WBE certification and to the flexibility and responsiveness to the OEO.” She added, “The director even visited our office around the time of certification, which was a great conversation to have woman-to-woman.”

A Culture of Communication and Collaboration

In encouraging a culture of diversity and inclusion within her organization, Keusenkothen highlights the importance of mutual respect and accountability. “As a woman leading a company in a male-dominated sector, diversity and inclusion are really built into our company culture.”

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Her approach to fostering innovation involves prioritizing open communication and collaboration, empowering her team to drive continuous improvement and growth.  “We value employee feedback and listen when they have ideas about improving process[es]. For instance, if an employee comes to me with an idea of how we can be more efficient, I'm happy to not only hear them out but empower them to make a change they know to be right,” she said.

Inspiring Future Female Leaders

For aspiring women leaders in the manufacturing industry, Keusenkothen offers invaluable advice: Embrace confidence, practice active listening and never hesitate to ask questions. She advocates for women to assert themselves boldly in the face of challenges, contributing not only to personal growth but also to the advancement of female representation in traditionally male-dominated fields.

“Don't be afraid to speak your mind but stay strong in the face of resistance your male counterparts might not face. As women, we all have to muster that strength daily—in addition to the skills everyone can benefit from, like hearing what people truly need and being precise in how you can help and ultimately grow your company,” she said.

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Looking ahead, Keusenkothen’s vision for Midwest Automation encompasses diversifying the customer base and exploring new market segments, leveraging the WBE certification as a catalyst for progress. “We are very optimistic that the WBE certification will unlock new opportunities for us. Many companies have diverse supplier programs, so businesses like ours can really help meet those quotas,” she said, adding that they have been reaching out to partners about the WBE certification status. “We want to be on those diverse supplier lists and showcase how we can support their control panel needs.”

As Keusenkothen embarks on a journey of innovation and expansion at Midwest Automation, her story serves as an inspiring testament to the power of perseverance, unity and female leadership in shaping a more inclusive and diverse future for the fabrication industry.

Editor’s Note: Machine Design’s WISE (Workers in Science and Engineering) hub compiles our coverage of workplace issues affecting the engineering field, in addition to contributions from equity seeking groups and subject matter experts within various subdisciplines.

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