2017 Powered by Women
From reader nominations, DBusiness selected eight professional women who are driving growth in Michigan, the nation, and the world.
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Terri Harwood // Katie Bowman Coleman // Amy B. Robinson // Monica Martinez
Lilly Epstein Stotland // Christine Sitek // Tricia Ruby // Sara Blackmer
Vice President and General Manager • Rave Computer, Sterling Heights
Employees: 34 • Revenue: $20M
When Rave Computer CEO Rick Darter decided it was time to prepare for his retirement, he wasn’t about to hand over the reins of the company to just anyone. He wanted someone with a mind for technology, a heart for people, and a vision for the future of Rave, a technology consultant and computer manufacturer founded in 1988.
If finding all that in the form of one person seems unlikely, it actually wasn’t that difficult. It just required the combination of 18 years serving in the U.S. Air Force and an extensive career dealing with advanced ground vehicle engineering and other defense-oriented activity. In other words, it meant hiring Sara Blackmer.
When Darter came calling, Blackmer, 40, was focused on her role as director of government markets with New Hudson-based Pratt and Miller Engineering — a position she held for five years. With an engineering degree from the University of Michigan, as well as advanced degree work in global supply chain management at Indiana University, Blackmer certainly had the credentials to join Rave.
Credentials are one thing. A lot of people have them. Blackmer says she and Rave chose each other, because the challenge was just right for this point in her career and her life. “Technology is very exciting for me,” she says. “I’m an engineer by education, and all the business I’ve been involved with has had to do with advanced technology in some way.”
That started with Air Force aircraft, and moved into advanced energy and robotics systems — and, eventually, advanced performance ground vehicles. Moving to a leadership position at Rave and its high-end computing systems seemed like a natural next step for Blackmer.
But becoming the company’s president, which is the path she and Darter agreed to when she was hired, would be a new experience for her. The transition should be complete in the near future, and Darter will stay on as CEO following the progression. Blackmer started with Rave Computer as a vice president and general manager.
“My first focus as president, the one I’m already focusing on as general manager, is the fundamentals,” Blackmer says. “I want to make sure I learn the people, the customers, and the policies. It’s a new technology area for me, so I’ve had a lot of learning to do for that. I wanted to make sure I understood where we’re strong and where we have room for growth, and I think I’ve discovered some areas where we can do better.”
Crucial to that effort, Blackmer says, is to protect the company’s culture. Rave has a significant number of company veterans who have been with the firm for more than 20 years, and Blackmer wants to make sure she maintains the strengths that have encouraged people to build careers at Rave. “To chart a course and develop a strategy and execute it, that’s very exciting to me,” she says. “I love to develop and lead teams. It’s been part of my makeup since I was very young, professionally.”
Blackmer joined the Air Force at 22, and remains part of it today as a reservist. Her experience reflects an appreciation of service that she learned from her parents.“My dad was a career Army veteran, so we were an Army family,” Blackmer says. “We learned about service, integrity, and a strong work ethic from my dad. My mom taught me independence, confidence, and respect. Those things helped me drive toward a desire to improve myself and improve my surroundings as far out as I could touch.”
Blackmer’s time in the Air Force helped her to appreciate the defense industry, especially technologies that help support the Armed Forces. Married to her husband, Shane, for 18 years, Blackmer is the mother of three children and is more determined than ever to make sure her career plays the right role in the life of her family. “There’s less stress and a lot of excitement compared with previous career choices,” Blackmer says. "It’s incredibly important to maintain balance in your life, and I want to create an environment where my team can be mentally, emotionally, and spiritually fit.” — Dan Calabrese