For CEO of Fast-Growing Rochester Hills Business, the World Awaits
From inside the new headquarters of TTi Global, Lori Blaker talks about her company's global footprint and how her background as a working mom helps drive her work ethic.
Growing up, Rochester Hills businesswoman Lori Blaker wanted to be a photojournalist. Back then, while her parents were managing a business out of their home, the small-town girl imagined herself traveling to faraway places and taking the kind of scenic photos that glossy magazine covers are made of.
"My whole life, all I ever wanted to do was travel around the world," Blaker said.
Those worldly dreams came mostly true.
Today, as president and CEO of TTi Global, Blaker is considered among the most influential businesswomen in the world. And the travel? It's all part of the job title, as she jet-sets across the globe week after week managing her company, which provides staffing, training and outsourcing solutions for automotive and other manufacturing industries on five continents.
"I don't think there's another training company in the world that has our global footprint," said Blaker during a recent press round-table inside the company's new global headquarters on Hamlin Road. TTi moved into the office space in September; it will be formally dedicated during a ribbon-cutting ceremony with local dignitaries on Thursday afternoon.
Filling a need in Afghanistan
TTi Global employs more than 1,700 people in 25 countries. The company has grown 263 percent in the past five years, according to corporate marketing manager Kevin Dever. Appropriately, it was named among the fastest-growing companies in the country last year by Inc.com. TTi's 2012 revenue was $111 million; this year's projection is at $150 million.
The company's global footprint includes, among other countries, Australia, Canada, China, India, Japan, South Africa and, most recently, Afghanistan.
Last year, Blaker was part of a Department of Commerce trade mission to Kabul; TTi was one of only 12 U.S. companies invited to participate. This year, Blaker and TTI are building a workforce training center in the country. TTi will train Afghanistan locals to work in construction or other trades.
"The work we do in Afghanistan is some of the best work we do anywhere," Blaker said, pointing to the 50 percent unemployment rate and lack of job-skills training in the country.
Blaker is a member of the U.S. Afghan Women's Business Council. She also works with an organization called Peace Through Business that mentors young women — some are budding entrepreneurs — from Afghanistan and other developing countries.
"The need is enormous," Blaker said about her ongoing work in Afghanistan.
The family business
Blaker was a student at Utica Eisenhower High School in 1976 when her parents, Shirley & John Brzezinski, founded S&J Tech Data Service Co. in their home. It was a training development company that focused on technical writing.
Blaker was one of her parents' first employees.
The company grew and the Brzezinskis formed a subsidiary, called Technical Training Inc. (TTi); in 1991, her parents semi-retired and Blaker took over as TTi president.
She was forced to grow up fast. John, her dad, was 56 and semi-retired when he died that next year of an aortic aneurysm.
"I was in my mid-30s; I thought I knew everything," Blaker said. "I was a cocky kid, but I got over being petrified and took each day at a time."
'What's wrong with your shoe?'
Blaker's philosophies on business and leadership are simple.
Surround yourself with good people.
Never go into a market unless there's a customer and a project.
And don't take things personally.
"There have been many times where I'll go days and be the only woman in meetings," she said. When she lands overseas, she'll often be met by drivers holding up signs that say "Mr. Blaker."
She's learned to overcome the intimidation.
And then there's Blaker's role as a mom of four boys: it's a role that drives her work ethic.
When her children were young (they're now in their teens, twenties and thirties), Blaker worked two jobs. She remembers being poor — at times not having any heat in the house. Once, when one of her sons was about 5 years old, she remembers noticing that he was walking funny.
"What's wrong with your shoe?" she asked him. He didn't want to answer: he had worn the shoes right down through the sole, but knew his mom couldn't afford a new pair.
"I told myself right then and there I would work as hard as I could," she said with conviction, remembering that moment.
"I don't take anything for granted."
The Rochester-area community will officially welcome the all new TTi Global to the city when the Rochester Regional Chamber of Commerce hosts a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 3:30 p.m. today. Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson and Rochester Hills Mayor Bryan Barnett are scheduled to speak at the event. The company will unveil its new branding campaign — including a new logo and website.
So what's ahead for this year?
More growth: today there are more than 200 job opportunities with the company. In addition, TTi will continue its efforts in Afghanistan and Blaker said they are "poised and ready" to expand into Russia, too.
"From our perspective, we pretty much have the globe covered," she said. "There's no place in the world that we can't touch from one of our offices."