CBIA BizCast: Branford’s Autac a Family Affair
For the last 75 years and counting, it’s been all about family at Branford’s Autac, Inc.
“I grew up here, I spent a lot of time here as a child,” said company president and CEO Marie-Louise Burkle.
Her father Robert Burkle started the company in Hamden in 1947 to provide coiled cords for the trucking industry.
He eventually moved the company from Hamden to Branford, and in 1977 Autac began manufacturing its own wire and cords.
“We had another building over in North Branford for a lot of years which was our headquarters and warehouse and I used to crawl to the shelves, and play house, and rearrange the boxes which was not much appreciated by the employees but it certainly was a lot of fun for me,” Marie-Louise Burkle said.
Robert Burkle passed away just before Marie-Louise turned six, and she lost her mother when she was 15.
The company was held in a trust until 1999, when Burkle came back into the fold to carry on her father’s legacy.
“I like to say we still do business here like it’s 1959,” she said.
“It’s a customer service-oriented business—we just happen to give people wire and cable to remember us by.
“My father’s focus was customer service and treating the employees as family. So I was really excited to come back and be able to do that with this business.”
Autac now manufactures custom cords and wire for a variety of businesses and industries around the world.
“Since we do make all of our own wire here from copper up, that allows us also to be able to sell the straight wire,” Burkle said.
“So for a lot of people who are developing prototypes or that sort of thing, who need a small quantity of a specialty product, we can do that for them as well.
“Really trying to give entrepreneurs, inventors, innovators a leg up so that they can grow their businesses, that’s what we take a lot of pride in doing.”
When COVID hit, Burkle said Autac was fortunate to be signed up as an essential tier-one supplier and retain their entire production staff through the pandemic.
“The pandemic brought us more new customers in that two years than we had had in the 10 years prior because people were having a hard time finding businesses that were open and producing and customer friendly,” she said.
Burkle credits the dedication and flexibility of her workforce for keeping their machines running.
“I have such a great workforce when the pandemic first popped up and we weren’t sure if we were going to be able to keep running, nine o’clock at night, my guys met me here and we put tarps over things and got everything set up to shut down if we had to,” she said.
It’s that appreciation that motivates Burkle to help her workers advance in their careers.
“My big thing that I tell my employees all the time is, I’m always going to provide them with opportunities to get better at their job and to increase their skill set,” she said.
“Because one day they may wake up and decide they don’t want to see this face anymore and they can walk away from the job with more skills.”
In the wake of the pandemic, Burkle says there are plenty of opportunities ahead for Autac.
“A lot of people come back to buying products in the United States and understanding how that supports the job market and the economy overall,” she said.
But those opportunities come with some challenges, including navigating supply chain problems and the rising costs for materials.
“We’re working on it,” she said. “It’s getting harder every day.”
“I am very happy we have partnerships with CBIA and ManufactureCT and with the Office of Small Business at the White House that we have places to go to talk about these issues.”
Looking back at the last 75 years, and ahead to the next 75, Burkle said there is a lot to be proud of.
“We do take a lot of pride,” she said. “Your employees become part of your family, your customers become part of your family, if you’re fortunate enough your vendors become part of your family.
“So it’s an easy thing to take pride in. It’s doing things, what I think is, the right way.
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