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Lessons from Mom

For The Thielen Family, Manufacturing Remains a Proud Legacy

Barb Dorumsgaard and Cynthia Blue are sisters and co-owners of NTM Inc., a Minneapolis machine shop and grinding house a few blocks east of the Mississippi River. Twenty years ago, their mother Marianne assumed ownership of the company after the sudden passing of her husband—their father—Bob Thielen.

Dorumsgaard said she and her siblings have always been involved in the business to some extent, serving on the board or working in the shop, but it was Mom who picked up the pieces of NTM and held it all together for the family and her employees.

“They were partners in life,” said Dorumsgaard. “She was a homemaker, a mother, an ally, she took care of everything while he grew the business, but she’d never actually worked there before then. It was extremely difficult for her after he died. We're just enormously proud of all that she has done for us.”

Bob Thielen would also be proud. His wife and now his daughters continue to build on what he began, investing in various CNC tool and cutter grinders, lathes, and machining centers. And NTM was recently certified as a woman-owned business by the Washington, DC-based Women’s Business Enterprise National Council, recognition that the two sisters hope will create growth opportunities for this 34-employee shop.

Though his death was tragic, what came after is not surprising. The two women “have manufacturing in their blood.” Their grandfather Claude spent much of his life working at Northern Pump, a name with which most Minneapolis machinists are familiar. Their father worked there as well—during the day while starting his first machine shop at night. He later sold that business and opened NTM, developing several lines of cutting tools and tooling—including the Stubby brand of carbide shank boring bars. The women saw all this from an early age on, so when it was time for their mother to retire, it was only natural that they would alter their own plans and step up to the plate.

“I still remember that last board meeting at the end of 2016,” said Blue. “After my Dad’s shop manager Phil Graber died in 2011, we’d hired a CEO to run the company, but it didn’t work out and we had to make a change. Everyone was sitting there looking at me and Barb, and someone said, ‘Well, one of you has to be the president.’”

The sisters agreed that Dorumsgaard would take over, and Blue, who had just bought a cabin up north in preparation for her own retirement, would become vice-president.

“Even though we’d been around manufacturing our entire lives, it was still a huge step,” Dorumsgaard explained. “At that time, my youngest was a junior in high school, and I was kind of wondering, ‘Well, what am I going to do next?’ So, I started learning everything I could about the business. I held regular meetings with our employees and I started looking at ways to market our capabilities and grow revenue. It’s been difficult at times, but I’ve enjoyed it immensely.”

Blue agrees. She’s set aside her retirement plans to help. “This is where I need to be now,” she said. “We don't know what the future holds, but right now it's very exciting and challenging. Barb has done a great job leading us, but we couldn’t have done it without our employees. The one thing we learned from our Mom is that the most important thing to consider when we make a decision is how it’s going to impact employees. Nobody cares about this place as much as they do, and we in turn need to care for them. That’s what’s important in any business.”