The glass Betsy Brady sees is neither half-full nor half-empty; it is brimming with an aromatic nectar.
In addition to being optimistic, Ms. Brady is enthusiastic, energetic, and organized. She has a penchant for mentoring, business savvy, and a down-to-earth attitude. The blend makes for a consensus-builder.
“She has the ability to bring people to the table. And to flush out issues in discussion,” said Mark V'Soske, president of the Toledo Area Chamber of Commerce. “She has the leadership qualities to help people make the right decisions.”
In short, she's the kind of person anybody would want on their team.
Ms. Brady, 55, is the chairwoman of the 4,100-member Toledo Area Chamber of Commerce, the first woman to lead the group in its 107-year history. And that's just one of her many extra-curricular tasks. She also is on the board of Promedica Health Systems and Bostwick-Braun Co., and a Keycorp advisory board member. For the last 30 years she has volunteered for many groups, ranging from the Corporation for Effective Government and United Way to Planned Parenthood and levy campaigns for Sylvania Schools.
Her husband, Tom Brady, calls her the “soul” of Plastic Technologies, Inc., where she is a vice president and he is president.
“Betsy - and she was like this with our children, too - just has an unbelievable sensitivity to and capacity for recognizing, being aware, understanding, and providing the right environment and support for success,” said Mr. Brady. “She represents who we are professionally, socially, and in a human way.”
She handles the finances, administration, personnel, and employee benefits, and has overseen new construction for the Holland firm off Airport Highway. The company has 136 employees, four businesses, and $10 million in annual sales.
“Tom says he does the technical stuff and I do the rest,” she said.
She served on the board of Toledo Community Foundation for nine years, and was president for two. “She's wonderfully creative and always open to new ideas. She's a progressive thinker,” said Pam Howell-Beach, director of the foundation. “She really helped guide the foundation during a time of explosive growth.”
Among her goals as this year's Chamber leader is building a network to develop and support technology companies in Greater Toledo.
“Her energy and her enthusiasm and positiveness infect the people around her and make them better people, too,” said Steve Martindale, chairman of the Kiemle-Hankins Co. and a member of PTI's advisory board. “She is a true Toledo leader of consequence.”
One gets the impression Ms. Brady would rather talk about anything other than herself. In the PTI conference room, she's wearing a navy-blue shirt that sports the company logo over the left pocket, khaki pants, and flats. Her close-cropped blond hair frames expressive eyes and skin that's free from makeup.
Petite and trim, she looks much like she did in the 1967 photo that announced her engagement to Tom Brady. She was Betsy Carson then, an English major at Smith College in Massachusetts when she met Dartmouth college student Tom Brady on a blind date. She didn't know he was from Maumee and had been salutatorian of his Maumee High School class. He didn't know she had been valedictorian of her 1964 class at Ottawa Hills High School.
“One of the great gifts I have been given, and it comes from my parents, is a positive attitude. I like a challenge. And Tom has a positive attitude, too,” she said.
She was one of five children born to Alice and Sam Carson. Her mother was a homemaker and her father was an insurance agent. He later became president of Toledo Trust Co., now part of Keycorp. He describes her strengths as intellect and personality.
“She really is one of the most cheerful people by nature that I know,” said Mr. Carson, who was also president of the Chamber of Commerce. “She has a rather remarkable kind of ability to deal with every kind of situation. And she's one of the most well-organized people I know.”
Betsy and Tom married right after college and moved to Ann Arbor, where she worked as a secretary while he earned a doctoral degree. They returned to Toledo, where he was hired by Owens-Illinois, Inc., and they began raising a family. Their children, Rick, Cindy, and Kathy, are in their 20s.
While the children were young, Ms. Brady volunteered with the Junior League of Toledo, working on projects that included one involving mature women entering the workforce and presenting their volunteer work as credentials.
By 1985, she was Junior League president, and her husband was ready to start his own business. He quit his job as technical director of plastics research for O-I and worked as a consultant to corporations. She kept the books for the fledgling venture and also worked with a family investment company established by her father.
As Mr. Brady grew the business, she gradually assumed more work. “It was just a real steady growth curve; the part-time became full-time,” she said. “And I've always had flexibility, so I could do things at home.”
Both she and her husband enjoy working together. “We're very supportive of each other. We have different skills, and we highly respect each other's skills,” she said.
Adds Mr. Brady: “She is terribly perceptive and strategic. She takes the whole picture and sees where the holes are.”
Together, she says, they create a family culture in the enterprise. Part of PTI's 10-person management team, Ms. Brady believes women in management can bring balance to a company, especially when it comes to the personal needs of employees.
“I sort of bring the mom role to the business,” said Ms. Brady. She may counsel an employee whose child is troubled, rearrange a schedule so a person can coach softball, or assist someone in cutting through the red tape of medical insurance following an illness.
“I can't tell you how many people are thrilled when they come here after working at places where they had no flexibility,” she said. “We try to be very, very respectful of the issues in people's lives - aging parents or sick children. We work with them.”
Marilee Spann, who retired in December as executive to the president at PTI, says of Ms. Brady: “Her business knowledge is amazing - how to make things better financially, administratively, and for people. And she still has time to sit down and talk to employees.”
Despite her cellular-level cheerfulness, Ms. Brady is challenged by problematic situations she's unable to improve, or when she's faced with firing an employee who cannot get the job done.
She loves gardening and would like to do more walking and reading, but those pleasures will have to wait.
“I keep thinking I need to cut back and not be involved in so many things. But the fact is, I love it and feel I can accomplish a lot,” she said. “The biggest challenge is, how do you get everything done you want to get done?”