Partnering for Growth With Gretna Machine Shop

Guidance helps break company into new industrial sector

Benjamin “Benny” Perez emigrated from Colombia to America in the 1960s to provide a better life for his family. When he and his wife Ninfa originally settled in New Orleans within the quaint parish of Gretna, Benny went to work as a machinist for Baker Hughes, an oil services company where Benny encountered his first Okuma CNC lathe. After working for Baker for a few years, managers within the company recognized Benny’s talent and dedication and asked him to move to Houston, Texas, to support the growth of their business in the region. Though honored by the request, Benny had a bigger vision: he wanted to open his own shop.

Benny moved his wife and two young daughters, Nubia and Nancy, to Houston where he opened that shop, which he named Gretna in honor of the family’s first home in America. With Ninfa’s help, Benny started the business in his garage.

One of the couple’s first purchases was an Okuma lathe, a brand that Benny had come to know and trust during his days at Baker Hughes. The business grew in the subsequent decades; the company actually moved twice to larger facilities to accommodate customer demand, ultimately landing in a 50,000-square-foot space.

Forging a New Future

Benny passed away in 2012, leaving the business to his wife and two daughters. While it was a devastating time for the family, the three ladies dedicated themselves to the success of Benny’s legacy and vision. Daughter Nubia said, “It’s a beautiful thing to continue the legacy of the family and the company.”

During their formative years, Nubia and Nancy had frequently visited the shop and witnessed their parents’ passion for growing the business; of course, during childhood they had no idea that they would one day play significant roles within the company. Prior to 2012, both Nubia and Nancy had left home for academic studies, afterward finding jobs in corporate environments. It was these experiences that provided the professional foundation for the sisters to come back to Houston and lead Gretna into the future with their mother.

Evolving the Business and Breaking the Glass Ceiling

Embracing their new challenge, the sisters attended several industry conferences, consulted industry and business leaders, and ultimately looked for opportunities to expand the business beyond its primary oil and gas focus. This proved to be an exciting and challenging time for the women, as they were already a minority in the machine tool industry and now found themselves knocking on doors of large-scale organizations, including NASA.

The sisters found the aerospace industry to be receptive and filled with buyers interested in what mattered most: their company’s unique product and service capabilities. Their exploration ultimately led to the company’s entrance into the aerospace industry. This meant that the business had to be transformed in many ways, including acquisitions of specific certifications (AS-9100) and equipment necessary for producing high-precision machined parts.

To do this, they needed some guidance.

Choosing the Right Machines for Growth

The women turned to Hartwig for guidance on choosing the right machines to support their vision. Hartwig rep Tyler Roe worked closely with them. He started with understanding their unique immediate and long-term needs. Once Tyler learned more about the challenges facing Gretna, he recommended a high-performance Okuma machining center to build upon the capabilities of their existing Okuma machine tools (many of which were decades old). At the time, Gretna employees also recommended Okuma machines since they enjoyed working with Okuma controls.

According to Nubia, “Tyler is not just a typical salesman; he is a valued resource to us. There are no second thoughts when it comes to his recommendations.”

Continuing the Family Legacy

By 2015, Gretna’s all-female leadership team had grown the business exponentially, achieving significant milestones in the process: they moved to a new 50,000-square-foot facility; they earned the AS-9100 certification necessary to supply the aerospace industry; they acquired specialized equipment, which included Okuma’s MILLAC 761V and MB-5000H horizontal machining center for high-precision metal cutting; they purchased a CMM gauging machine; they were awarded a Hubzone certification; and they were recognized as being a wholly woman-owned business operating within an industrial sector.

All of these assets, coupled with what the sisters and their mother calls “their number one asset—their employees,” set the stage for the next chapter of Gretna’s 40-year growth trajectory. Even with their forward-thinking business strategy, the ladies of Gretna Machine Shop are dedicated to honoring Benny’s memory and keeping his heritage alive by asserting the company’s traditional values in everything they do. The Gretna value system, along with hard work, an entrepreneurial spirit, and a little help from Hartwig, have all contributed to the company being the machine shop of choice for many multinational and Fortune 500 companies today.

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