Melissa D. Heshmat, CFO

Melissa D. Hesmat2010 CFO of the Year – Albany Business Review

Award category:  Small private company
Title:  CFO
Company:  Mohawk Innovative Technology, Inc.

About the company:  Product and R&D company that develops and custom manufactures oil-free bearings and seal technologies.  Applications can be found in gas turbine engines, turbochargers, compressors, etc.
Location:  Albany
No. of employees:  17
’09 revenue:  $2.8 million
’10 revenue (projected):  $2.8 to $3 millinon

Notable:  Was the Detroit Free Press’ first female “newsboy” in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in 1961.  She and husband Hooshang own “a real Lincoln-Log style,” off-the-grid cabin on Mount Haystack in the Adirondack Mountains.  They have three grown children and a grandson.

Being here when the recession ends

By Pam Allen
The Business Review

Melissa Heshmat didn’t set out to pursue a career in finance.  But when her advisers at the University of Vermont pressured her to go on for her Ph.D. and become the youngest female botany professor in the school’s history, Heshmat quit school in her junior year.  “They had never asked me if I wanted to do all that,” she said.  “I couldn’t pass organic chemistry or physics for the life of me, so I knew that I wasn’t Ph.D. material, even if they didn’t.”  She returned to school a few years later, attending Pennsylvania State University and graduating in 1977 with an accounting degree.  She minored in computer science, a course of study that goes hand-in-hand with the work performed at Mohawk Innovative Technology, Inc., where Heshmat is the company’s chief financial officer.  Her husband, Hooshang Heshmat, is its president and CEO.

Mohawk Innovative Technology was founded in 1994 when the economy was in a slump.  Before starting the company, Hooshang Heshmat had been a program manager responsible for bringing in contracts for Mechanical Technology Inc. in Colonie, and business had slowed.  After years of encouragement from Melissa to start his own business, the time was right.  That was in November of 1994.

Melissa wrote the incorporation papers that Thanksgiving and held the company’s first board meeting in the couple’s living room on Dec. 5.  They sold $1,000 in shares, enough to get started and buy a telephone and fax machine.  “I was scared out of my mind,” she said.

Now that the business is established, this recession poses a different set of challenges.  Heshmat has tightened all non-essential spending, and attends more educational and technical conferences to free up technical staff.  “The idea of growing the business in this economy has taken a back seat,”  Heshmat said. “We have to be here when the recession is over.”  She also promotes a culture of “work smarter, not harder” by providing employees with the things they need to better perform their jobs.  Heshmat considers those investment “essential,” as they help lift morale.  “If it was a simple software program, we got it,” she said.  “If it was replacement of their chair, we got it.  If it was curtains for their windows, we got it.”