June 4, 2014 at 1:00 am

Andra Rush: Automotive supplier is a Mohawk descendant committed to hiring vets, Detroiters

Michiganian of the Year: Andra Rush
Michiganian of the Year: Andra Rush:

Whether it’s the basketball court or the boardroom, Andra Rush is used to competing with the boys.

As a child, Rush would sneak onto the rosters of all-male basketball, hockey, football and baseball teams by signing up as “Andy” or “A.R.” Years later, she’d fight to convince male counterparts to do business with her fledgling trucking company, which she founded in 1984 after a brief stint as a nurse.

“A lot of people would say, ‘Who owns this business, your dad, your brother, your husband?’” she said. “I’d say, ‘No I do.’ And they’d say, ‘Come back when you grow up.’ ”

It’s safe to say she’s grown up.

The 53-year-old is chairman and CEO of three manufacturing companies that employ 2,700 workers across the U.S. and Canada. They are Wayne-based Rush Trucking Inc., Detroit Manufacturing Systems LLC and Holt-based Dakkota Integrated Systems LLC. DMS says it’s the largest Native American-owned automotive supplier in North America.

The challenges and experiences of being a woman in male-dominated circles have helped shape Rush and made her who she is.

“I think it’s still nontraditional to have women in manufacturing or in the auto industry,” she said. “I don’t feel women and minorities still have that equal playing field, but I think that field is less unbalanced.”

In 2012, she was appointed to the U.S. Manufacturing Council, a committee that advises the U.S. Secretary of Commerce on manufacturing matters. In January, 2014 she was a guest of Michelle Obama at the State of the Union address for her work at hiring veterans and Detroit residents.

She’s made a concerted effort to hire Detroiters; about two-thirds of the DMS workforce live in the city and about 10 percent are veterans.

Rush’s commitment to Detroit — the DMS headquarters is based on the city’s northwest side — comes from her love of her heritage. She’s a Native American, a descendant of the Mohawk Tribe, and said she often felt compelled after seeing poverty and lack of job opportunities for Native Americans on their reservation.

“If there’s not an avenue to have meaningful work or provide for your family, I think it makes it hard to live up to your potential,” she said. “When there’s that (problem) around you, you start to get hopeless and your social values start to slip.”

She has noticed the same problems in Detroit, she said.

“I remember stories of how vibrant Detroit was ... it’s slowly coming back here,” she said. “There’s so many leaders before me that have done phenomenal things. If I can be a part of that mosaic; that little chip that comes in from the northwest side ... this city is going to be awesome in five years.”

(313) 222-2401

Andra Rush / Daniel Mears / The Detroit News