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Kath Paul

What is your official title?

President and CEO of Kalamazoo Stripping and Derusting. And Mom to many.


What’s an average day in the ‘Zoo look like for you?

Up at 6:15am, out of the shop at 4:00pm, phone calls and texts, spending time with various employees and customers. I am a working owner, so it’s about operating the shop. I probably put six to eight miles in a day walking through the shop.


What is Kalamazoo Stripping and Derusting?

We are a factory, a service company that takes paint and rust off of all metal for manufacturing as well as individual homeowners, car enthusiasts, and we have a lot of automotive customers, too. I’ve been doing this for 26 years. I nursed my son, Jonathan, in the bathroom here after he was born. I brought him here, got a cradle, and he was here with me, eight days old.


Can you tell us about your background/passion?

I have no idea! I went to college to be a nurse, and I only wanted to do geriatric nursing; I love old people. I had to learn all of the other stuff along with it, though, and I didn’t like that. After that I went into basic bookkeeping and accounting. I was the controller here, and there were three male partners that owned the business. The books were bad, and I knew which of the three partners would be the first one to go. He said he couldn’t give any more money, and I said that I could. Then the second one, the chemist, was done, and I bought him out as well. For a while I owned 51% of the business, but I wasn’t very good at that. I bought out the third owner, and then the partnership on the property; it was a process. I’ve owned 100% of everything since 2004. There have been ups and downs, absolutely, but I’ve learned that if you want something, you can do it.


What are the challenges/benefits to being a woman business owner in a male-dominated industry?

I think it’s to my advantage, but my personality carries me; what you see is what you get. I’ve had the same customers for over 20 years, and I focus on building rapport and building relationships with the people I work with every day. A man or a woman could do the same thing, but I think those are the things that are so important when you’re a business owner. Your advantage is your personality and how you treat people. Be fair to people; I tell my customers, “I’m not here to screw you.” I’m not. I’m there to be fair to the people that I work with, and I think anyone can do it, male or female.


Tell us about the people you hire.

I’m a risk taker. It takes a little bit of risk, and I run a little bit of an unorthodox business. My box is big, and it gets bigger every day. I have 25 employees, and eight of them are recovering non-violent felons at various degrees of recovery. I write letters to judges to try to help my employees; some I can help, and others go backwards. They didn’t have what we had growing up; they didn’t have the opportunities or the education, so they took the easiest exit ramp they knew. We all take the exit ramp at different points in life, but we have to remember to get back on it. They didn’t have the funds or the opportunities to get out of trouble, so they ended up going to jail. I started with one or two, and had a lot of success with it. I’m not easy; I can be a mean momma sometimes, but I have to be tough on them. I love to see them blossom, and they do. They’re very respectful and they’re very kind to me.

Not everyone can do eight, but certainly other people could do one and give someone a second chance. It’s a challenge because they’ve typically never worked; they’ve sold dope or they’ve taken from people. I have to teach them to trust, and I have to trust them, too. I’m not there to fire them. They don’t walk in the door a good employee; it’s my job to make them a good employee. It’s a hardship for me when they’re not here, and I try to make them see that. What I’ve done is come up with an incentive for them – near or perfect attendance for 30 days, including punctuality, gets them a $50 gift card of their choice that we purchase through South Portage Little League. It’s all announced in front of the rest of the employees, and everyone is very supportive of each other. We are going to go on a trip together to a Detroit Lions game this year! We’re going to all take a bus over together, and everyone is so excited about it. I’m not afraid to tell my employees that I love them; I do, and they love me back. Through my breast cancer this past year they have all been very supportive and they showed me how much they cared about me.

I think my employees and my job helped me heal. It was curable out of the box; I didn’t have the “bad” cancer, if there could be a good kind, but it was diagnosed early enough on and the type I had was curable. I lost my Plant Manager of 23 years during that time because he was mean to me. My employees defended me when I didn’t know how to, and I had to let him go.

My employees and I all painted the shop blue and gold. There’s a big Trey Burke Fathead on the wall, and a Charles Woodson Fathead above the bathroom. They wanted to paint it Michigan colors, because Michigan saved my life. I love to come to work every day. I love my job. I love my people.


What community organizations are you involved with?

I used to be very involved with the Holiday Food Drive. We would collect 1000 jars of peanut butter and 1000 jars of jelly for years. On the day of the Food Drive we would also donate our trucks and our people to help deliver the food into Kalamazoo’s intercity. I want to help people help themselves. It was starting to get to me seeing the same people year after year. It seemed to me that there was something else that we should be focusing on to help people, so I stepped away from the Holiday Food Drive.

Then I found the Community Healing Centers. This program provides emotional, medical and psychological help at no charge to physically, emotionally and sexually abused children. Have you heard of Roof Sit? They raise money for CHC. It makes a difference in people’s lives, and that’s what we want to help with.


What do you love most about Kalamazoo?

It’s home. It’s not too big, it’s not too small; it’s been home forever, and home takes care of me. I’m 55 years old in July and have lived in the same 20 mile radius my whole life.


What have you been jammin’ to recently?

Old school Motown. I love old black spiritual so much; it’s my Sunday music. I love John Mellancamp. Minutes to Memory is a fabulous song.


How do you take your coffee?…or do you?

Dark roast. I have a Keurig in my office. I take my coffee black.


Do you have a “go to” spot in Kalamazoo?

My backyard. It’s solace. It’s quiet.


What is your ideal Friday night?

Go to Firekeepers, play the slots, pick up a Mangia pizza, and come home. It’s therapy.


When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Ginger from Gilligan’s Island; she looked great every day.


Who would play you in a movie?

Bette Midler because she has a little bit of some sarcasm and comedy, but she also has kindness.


If you could give your younger self a piece of advice, what would it be?

Don’t be so quick to trust. Guard your heart.


If you could give your younger self a piece of advice, what would it be?

Don’t be so quick to trust. Guard your heart.


What is the future of KSD?

I want it to go on forever. I want to keep taking care of my people. The business has to keep going on forever so my employees have a place to go. I want it to sustain, and when it’s time, Jon will be there to keep it going.


What would you say to other companies that want to hire the same way you do?

Take a chance. We all have a past, and why should we let that determine our future? I would tell them to step out of the box and don’t listen to everything you hear. I have some rough days, sure, but doesn’t everyone? But I come back every day; you have some bad times with it, and you have to be willing to lose some. Sometimes what they are looking for is a defender. You have to be ready to be a mom and a counselor.


Kath, thank you for taking the time to meet with us and sharing your thoughts! Be sure to follow us on facebook and twitter for updates.