Companies are realising they need more diversity, says Zago VP

Zago Vice President Jackie Luciano sheds some light on the sealing manufacturer’s ethos and key focuses for the year ahead, while CEO and co-founder Gail Friedberg Rottenstrich discusses her career in the fastener industry so far...

Since being born out of the New Jersey Institute of Technology Enterprise Development Center’s small business incubator in 1993, high‐tech sealing fastener specialist Zago has evolved into a fully‐ fledged global manufacturing company.

The firm is active in several industries, in particular the military and aerospace sectors, and has lately seen growth in commercial‐type applications and industries such as lighting, commercial vehicles, robotics and food. Most recently, the firm’s specialty high‐tech sealing fasteners have been used in the manufacture of ventilators during the Covid‐19 crisis (more on pg. 18).

Medical devices containing a suction or pumping mechanism can benefit from integrating Zago’s sealing fasteners with O‐ring technology which prevents airflow leakage and ensures contaminants are sealed out. The firm’s intention is to make manufacturers who are new to ventilator manufacturing and its supply chain aware of Zago’s capabilities on this front, and to collaborate with them where possible.

And it’s this engagement and presence within its wider community which defines Zago, says Jackie Luciano, the firm’s Vice President: “Our company is very big on sustainability – it’s not one part of what we do but encompasses everything the company does. Of course, this includes the basics like having a solar roof on our building, but it also goes way beyond that in terms of the time we have spent focusing on our relationship with our local community.

“We are very involved with the community, having started education and training programmes, internships, mentorships with students and even training within our own organisation to make sure the company continues to move forward in a sustainable way.”

Zago's work with the local community extends to engaging with future generations. The firm has done a lot of work with local young people to encourage them to pursue a career in manufacturing.

“We have started putting on tours for high school students where they come in for a factory tour and we talk them through all the different types of careers that there are in the industry and the different positions available,” continues Luciano. “We want to engage them and help them to understand what is available in their own backyard, what the possibilities are, and what potential careers they could have.”

This collaborative approach is reflected internally within the company too, through continual training and education for employees as well as updating and improving processes. One of these improvements comes in the form of a recently overhauled website designed to improve customer usability.

“We’re really happy with the outcome,” says Luciano. “We wanted to build some‐ thing that was really easy to use and focused on helping our customers with understanding the products and the industries that we serve, particularly with our product builder and search functions. So far we have got a lot of great feedback on the website and we have definitely seen customers are liking it and using it every day.”

Looking to the future, one of Zago’s most important focuses remains education, particularly educating engineers further down the supply chain. “While our products are sold through distribution, one of our key focuses is getting the education on how to use the product, and in which applications, out to the engineers,” Luciano explains. “We have put a lot of effort into our marketing to try to get those messages out there, and we’re going to continue to do that so that those engineers can continue to innovate and come up with different types of equipment.

“On top of that, we are trying to come up with different sealing products that engineers need, at the same time as they’re coming up with new designs. They may need a different type of fastener that has not been designed yet, and that will be where we come in. We sit with the engineers, we talk with them, and try to come up with a sealing solution that hasn’t been invented yet.”

According to Luciano, Zago saw a strong start to the year compared to the one prior. However, as with the rest of the industry across the globe, the firm is waiting to see how this year plays out during these unprecedented times.

In conversation with...Gail Friedberg Rottenstrich, CEO, Zago


How did you get into the industry?

I started practicing law 30 years ago, and my husband and I started the business 27 years ago. He had experience in this industry, so we started working on the business together. I did all the groundwork and the legal side of setting up the company while he did all the initial marketing, and that’s how we got into it.

What tasks would you undertake during a typical day?

As CEO of the company, I focus on the bigger picture and future planning. So, one day I might have a meeting about a marketing campaign regarding capital investments, yearly or five‐year forecasting, and then the next, as the face of the company, I’ll go out to manufacturing industry meetings. I also sit on the board of the New Jersey Manufacturers Extension Programme, and I’ve previously gone to Washington to help lobby for manufacturing policy.

I have also testified in front of state senators and assembly people, as well as lobbying Congress. There isn’t really a typical day because I have a hundred different responsibilities, and every day is different, which is how I like it. I may be dealing with a big picture issue, or management personnel issues, or whether we should invest in this or that machine, for example.

I’m the person that is always looking at the broader economics landscape and our place in it, and the decisions we should be making based on macroeconomic trends, not just what our bottom line is or what our sales were last month.

Do you have any particular career highlights?

In the last couple of years, I have been really happy to have raised my profile in the state. I was chosen to be part of the New Jersey Manufacturing Policy Academy and I went to Washington to meet people from other states to develop national policy on manufacturing, which was a big highlight. Regarding the company, though, it’s really hard to pick out one single thing. I was really proud when Jackie graduated with her EMBA – I felt like that was a big statement from us about our investment in our people, and I’m proud that we’ve built a strong company that cares about its workers.

What’s your favourite thing about working in the manufacturing industry?

It is so dynamic. Everyday we encounter new things. Because we manufacture for both manufacturers and distributors, we encounter new types of industries and customers, so we really get to see the cutting edge of manufacturing.

What advice would you give to women considering a career in manufacturing?

I would tell them to definitely get into manufacturing because women are desperately needed. We are a very male dominated industry and I think all good companies are realising that they need diversity, which makes it a great time for women to get into manufacturing. Women can bring a whole skillset that is necessary in manufacturing in terms of empathy for how workers feel and more global thinking.

Have you seen much progress in getting more women into the industry?

There hasn’t been tremendous progress in terms of numbers; it is still pretty unusual to see women. However, I think progress has been made in the understanding that more women are needed, so that is why I think it’s a good time for women to get into manufacturing.

There are currently some great women in manufacturing groups, at least on the state level, but everyone has limited time and I think that’s an issue. The women who are in the industry are really over‐committed. Women do tend to step up into these unpaid roles, such as sitting on boards and so on, and then they become really over‐stretched.

What long term effects do you think the Covid-19 pandemic may have on the manufacturing industry in the United States?

I would be surprised not to see a dip in business, but I think that we will rebound by the end of the year. In the US there was a manufacturing recession going on before all this started, but I do not think this is necessarily going to make things worse. I think it’s so much worse for those industries dealing directly with the public, than it is for manufacturers.