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Women in Business

Sheryl (Haushalter) Sopher, BSBA ’92, never expected to work in the family business. In fact, the family business didn’t even exist when she left the nest and embarked on her career. But her life took a circuitous route, eventually drawing her back to northwest Ohio, where she graduated from Ohio Northern and became a key player in her family’s international manufacturing firm.

Sopher is vice president of finance and administration for Robinson Fin Machines Inc., in Kenton, Ohio. Robinson Fin manufactures “fin” – folded metal parts capable of transferring heat to or from gases or liquids that pass through its folds. The company’s fin is on the cutting edge in heat-transfer technology with diverse and impressive applications, including the International Space Station, fighter jets, Pizza Hut ovens, NASCAR race cars, Dell computers, Sea Wolf nuclear class submarines, BMW car seats and much more.

James Robinson invented the fin machine. Sopher’s father, a mechanical engineer, became Robinson’s close friend and collaborator, helping him to improve the machine’s design. When Robinson passed away in 1983, his widow sold the business and patent to Sopher’s parents, Ruth and Fred.

They changed the core business from selling fin machines to manufacturing and selling the fin itself. Fred passed away in 1993, and Ruth assumed control of the company. In the last 20 years, Robinson Fin has experienced steady growth and developed a diversified customer base. A three generation company, Robinson Fin operates with family-oriented work ethics and values. Sopher and her brothers, Mark and David, all joined the company in the early ’90s. Sopher’s daughter, Cassi, joined the firm in 2006.

“We love working together,” says Sopher, commenting on her family’s tight bond.

“We each bring a special area of expertise to the table. It’s a blessing to be able to see my family members every day and work with them to grow our business.”

Sopher’s mother, Ruth, serves as a powerful role model. Ruth had always been company president, but after her husband’s death, she had to guide Robinson Fin through a transition that could have been devastating to the business and its employees.

Ruth didn’t back down, even though there were few women-owned manufacturing companies at the time. Ruth’s skills and determination produced a thriving business to share with her children. Not surprisingly, Sopher scoffs at the idea that manufacturing is a man’s domain. When she encounters a client who doubts her knowledge or authority, she tactfully proves them wrong. “It’s a challenge I enjoy,” she says. “If you know your stuff, you’ll be accepted, regardless of your gender or age.”

Sopher learned her leadership style – servant leader – from her mom. Like Ruth, she tries to help each employee foster their strengths and overcome their shortcomings. “I learned early on that if you support people to do their best, you’ll have a good outcome,” she says. “I just hope my ability to lead and influence is half as successful as my mom’s.”

Although she primarily works with the company’s finances, Sopher strives to be creative, too. “You can never stand still,” she says. “Standing still is the same as going backward