Highlighting Inspiring Women: She continues a manufacturing tradition

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M's Machine President Casey Drahn (left) and vice president Candace Drahn

Throughout March, which is Women’s History Month, the North Iowa Times will publish a series of articles highlighting local women. Whether through their careers, hobbies, volunteer efforts or unique personalities, these women have become an inspiration to others. Here is our first article, featuring Casey and Candace Drahn, from M's Machine.

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times

Monona-based M’s Machine & Mfg. Co., Inc.,  has been one of the area’s leading manufacturers since 1981, when Paul Murphy and Chet Allen opened the company to provide high-quality machining services. Today, M’s is responsible for milling and turning metal and plastic parts for some of the Midwest’s leading agricultural, automotive, industrial and medical manufacturers.

At the helm now are president Casey Drahn and vice president Candace Drahn, making M’s Machine one of the region’s few female-led manufacturing companies.

Although trailblazers in their own rights, the two are simply following a path forged by Virginia Drahn nearly 30 years ago.

A farm wife-turned-secretary, Virginia purchased the company in 1989.

“She was close to 60, so older when she decided to take it on,” said Candace, “but she was determined to learn what she needed to learn.”

Under Virginia’s leadership, M’s Machine expanded to 10,000 square feet in 1992.

“She started in a small building and grew from there,” Candace shared. “She also got [M’s Machine] into John Deere,” growing the business in yet another way.

In order to support continued growth, M’s underwent additional expansions in 2000 and 2006, and is now 27,000 square feet.

 Casey, Virginia’s granddaughter, and Candace, who’s married to Casey’s brother Cory, took over the company in 2008. 

“[Virginia] was bound and determined to keep it woman-owned,” Candace said.

Casey was no stranger to the business, having worked part-time in machining when she was in high school, then moving into the office in human resources and scheduling roles. She currently handles a lot of the production, or “floor stuff,” as Candace calls it. When M’s is short-staffed, Casey can even be found running some of the machines herself. That insight and hands-on experience is valuable, Casey noted.

“You learn something new every day,” she said. “You find out what employees would like to learn to keep moving forward.”

That includes discovering what tooling might be necessary to help employees best perform their duties.

“We have goals,” Candace said, explaining that they once focused only on sales goals and profit margins. “Now, it’s what equipment can we bring in here. There’s constantly-evolving technology in the industry. There are so many opportunities out there. You really have to weed through them to find what’s best for your company.”

Candace has a background in accounting and focuses more on the sales and marketing side of M’s Machine, bringing business into the shop.

As women in a more male-dominated field, she said she and Casey sometimes have to be “a little edgy.” 

“You don’t always feel like you’re being taken seriously,” she admitted. “Some [men] treat you like you don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Over the years, however, those perceptions have slowly shifted, said Candace. The two have witnessed the rise of more women-led manufacturing companies, as well as women taking on new roles within the industry.

M’s Machine has taken a leading role in the area in welcoming local students to learn more about career opportunities in manufacturing, hoping to stanch the shortage of skilled workers in the industry.

“We’re trying to open kids’ eyes,” Candace said. “Not all kids go to a four-year college. There are viable jobs out there [in manufacturing].”

While many of the students who visit are male, Candace said she and Casey have seen increased interest from female students.

“A third of the manufacturing workforce is women,” she commented. “These jobs can be for women, too.”

Candace encourages girls who enjoy working with their hands to consider the field.

“Even if you don’t want to run the equipment, there are still areas in quality control, scheduling and shipping and receiving,” she said. “There’s no reason a woman can’t do it.”

That’s a mantra Casey and Candace learned from Virginia.

“We don’t do everything the same,” Candace said, “but she taught us a lot.”

“She gave us a lot to look up to,” added Casey, “to follow her lead.”

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