Small Biz: Two Woman-Owned Businesses Grow Jobs Thanks to Nokia

June 14, 2016

Betty Manetta started Argent Associates in 1998 because she saw a gap for the telecom industry and the women and minority business communities.

“As a Hispanic woman business owner, I felt I could not only bring value but diversity along,” said Manetta, who is the company’s president and CEO.

Of course, she also brought more than two decades of experience in the telecom industry, dating back to the “Ma Bell” days. She started Argent as a supply chain logistics company but, having seen that sector morph during her previous career, made sure her company changed with the demands of customers like Finnish network technology giant Nokia.

“We continued to grow and evolve as the industry changed,” Manetta said. “Now we’re transitioning one more time, looking at virtualizing networks; the whole Internet of Things.”

Headquartered in Plano, Texas, outside of Dallas, Argent was actually founded in New Jersey. The company still maintains a presence in the Garden State, as well as facilities in Atlanta and San Francisco, which allows them to support their customers and minimize their cost.

“I think Nokia, like a lot of other companies, realized the impact of having a local infrastructure,” said Manetta. “Having companies that support you that are nimble, that can pivot and grow with you as you grow.

“And I think Nokia understood the value of having small minority- and women-owned businesses that are able to expand and contract with the needs of the industry,” she said.

One of the segments in which Argent is focusing on with Nokia is small cell, which creates denser networks.

“Because of the growth in the mobility sector, that hogs bandwidth – it eats up a lot of data, voice, and so forth,” said Manetta. “What carriers are doing is instead of having big cell sites, they’re densifying. You follow where the traffic is coming from.”

Argent has participated in Nokia’s small cell training that will help them be prepared to support the deployment of this technology.

“While it’s still in its infancy… I think it’s going to be an area we’re [going to be] able to excel in, especially in areas where Nokia has base stations and a major presence,” said Manetta.

Another woman-run Texas company in Nokia’s supply chain is KARLEE, located in Garland. CEO and Chairman JoAnn Brumit said it’s a classic American, started-in-the-garage story, founded by a machinist named Lee Brumit.

When JoAnn first got involved with the business in 1982, she was working for another company – a metal fabricator – and she had a different last name. But after helping establish accounting functions for KARLEE, Lee Brumit offered her half-ownership if she’d stay and run the business. And a year later, he proposed marriage.

Today KARLEE is a generational company – one of their sons is president – and JoAnn Brumit has shepherded it through growth to more than 260 employees. They came to be a Nokia supplier when Nokia bought Alcatel-Lucent, which was already a KARLEE customer. Today, they do a great deal of sheet metal fabrication and integration testing for Nokia – things that were nowhere on the radar when Lee Brumit started his shop.

“They really took us down that path, taught us and got the processes in place, allowing us to become a full-blown integrator for them,” JoAnn Brumit said. “They actually took us over to Nokia in Europe. They educated us on how to build that product, and we built all of it here in the United States.”

KARLEE’s products aren’t ones you’ll see unless you work behind the scenes in the telecom industry, but they can be found all over the globe, wherever Nokia is doing business. One of their growth areas now is Mexico and Central America, where the growth in cellular and data networks is just staring to climb.

“It’s nice that Nokia and some of the big global companies want to make that investment over here,” Brumit said. “They see the importance of being invested across the globe, and to be able to support North America with North American suppliers.”

Argent has experienced success as they have continuously evolved the business. Manetta started the company with just $100,000 in an industry she acknowledges has often been “volatile.” But in their second year revenues rose to $70 million, and last year they closed at $250 million and had 105 employees.

“Nokia has been a true partner,” she said. “During times when things weren’t great, they continually found opportunities. Everything we do is truly adding value to their supply chain, and they understand the importance of working with diversity.”