SHELDON—Kate Van Maasdam has been grinding her way up the ladder at her family business since she was 16.
“Started working here when I was in high school because I wanted to learn about the family business and I just never left,” she said.
Freshly 40, Van Maasdam — who goes by Kate Rome professionally — is the president of ROME Grinding Solutions, a Sheldon-based manufacturer that specializes in catering to the food service market.
Van Maasdam and her twin sister Kelley Newgard, who rejoined the firm in July, represent the third generation of family ownership.
Their parents, Mike and Bonnie Weaver, were the second generation of owners and their grandparents, Dan and Delores Boster, were the first.
It was Delores Boster who created the company’s original logo that features a Roman gladiator helmet, a feature that remain incorporated into the modern design.
Van Maasdam has been president of ROME — an acronym that dates back to the 42-year-old company’s origin as a rendering and oil milling equipment shop — since 2014 and has done everything but weld along the way.
“I started off answering the phone, doing some filing — being the grunt, going to get the mail and things like that,” Van Maasdam said.
“When I came on full-time, I started in purchasing, I’ve done multiple years of everything and I used to get so frustrated because my dad was always moving me around.”
Eventually, Van Maasdam understood her dad was grooming her and making sure she had a firm grasp in all areas of the company
“It took me a lot of years to realize that,” she said. “That’s the way to do it, I just didn’t know it at the time.”
ROME has seen some success with Van Maasdam at the helm by doing the opposite of most of its competitors in the industry. Instead of building machinery and parts on demand, ROME keeps those items readily available.
“We put a ton of resources into building up this massive inventory and that was really the smartest thing we could have ever done,” she said.
“These large companies can’t keep that stuff on hand, even the replacement parts. We get a lot of rush business just from being able to have the inventory on hand.”
Another innovation that has helped ROME prosper is its patented RRS system, which was rolled out six years ago.
“We kind of threw our heart and soul into this patented system and product line and just the timing of all that was amazing,” Van Maasdam said. “It is a bone collection and reclaim system.”
In the industry, she said it is always about food safety and creating better products for consumers.
“Food safety is huge, “ Van Maasdam said. “You hear about all these recalls of contaminated products and meat and this system — how do I want to say — it keeps the bone and the fat and the product you don’t want in your burger out.”
The strategies seem to be paying off for ROME.
“We expand on the regular,” Van Maasdam said.
Over the last 15 years, Van Maasdam estimates that ROME has expanded every two years, primarily to increase production space.
The current expansion project is doubling the office space — Van Maasdam and Newgard are sharing an office at the moment — and remodeling some other areas on the campus.
“We just did an expansion that gave us more production room as well as a new parts room and it’s gigantor,” she said.
“With growth comes that change and that need for more square footage and we’ve added, I think, seven new full-time employees within the last six months.”
ROME employs almost 50 people.
Van Maasdam’s success at ROME has not gone unnoticed by her industry peers. She was named to Putman Media’s 2019 class of Influential Women in Manufacturing.
While she does not do it for the recognition, Van Maasdam was honored to be considered for the honor.
“It’s a little overwhelming simply because the majority of the other nominees are from large corporations like Kraft-Heinz and Pepsi; then there’s small-town Iowa girl that just manufactures meat grinders,” Van Maasdam said. “It’s very special.”
More than 120 women from across the manufacturing industry and Van Maasdam was one of 27 selected for the Putman Media accolade by a 15-member panel.
Van Maasdam and the other honorees will be recognized at the 2019 Influential Women in Manufacturing awards luncheon on Oct. 4 in Chicago.
What makes it so special to Van Maasdam is that she has been leading an industrywide effort to increase the amount of women in manufacturing and connect those who are already involved with it.
She has done this through the Food Processing Suppliers Association Women’s Alliance Network. The group’s purpose is to motivate and inspire women to take their careers to the next level through education and networking.
“Trying to have some diversity in an industry that’s run by the middle-aged white guy in a blue suit,” said Van Maasdam, who chairs the group.