Debbie Lee, CEO, Tool Gauge, Tacoma
When Pacific Northwest Aerospace Alliance picked Tool Gauge as its company of the year in 2018, it cited “exceptional organizational and managerial characteristics while continually maintaining a strong competitive posture.” The woman behind that description is Debbie Lee, who joined Tool Gauge in 2001 and is today the chief executive of the Tacoma-based producer of metal and plastic parts for the aerospace industry. Lee has her professional plate full these days. In addition to the usual challenges of operating in an industry with demanding customers and dealing with the headaches of finding workers — Tool Gauge has 150 employees — the company has two major projects to work on: gearing up production of parts for the new Boeing 777X and completing a major expansion project.
Tool Gauge is adding 80,000 square feet, mainly in its plastics-production side, and more than $2 million in capital equipment, including cobots, or robots that work alongside humans. The company also plans to hire 100 new employees over the next three years. To help recruitment and retention, Lee has implemented an employee training matrix program that helps workers understand how to advance their careers and become more valuable within the company.