Lisa Frederick would often fall asleep to the drum of used printing presses vibrating in the garage under her childhood bedroom.
The presses were purchased by her father, James “Jay” Ernette, in 1979 when he started Unity Printing as a hobby. At the time, the garage was lined with shelves, an old pay telephone hung on the wall behind the press and Ernette spent most of his time working as a state police officer.
“It started in one garage bay and grew … to the second garage bay. At that time, the printing presses were in the garages and then our laundry room was our dark room,” said Frederick, 47, recalling fishing through her mother’s clothes drying in the laundry room to reach the camera and negatives.
Today, the company is headquartered on Route 981 in Unity with a second location in downtown Greensburg. Frederick, who worked her way up in the company — which is classified as a woman-run company — and now is president, has led the Unity location through two expansions to house 40 employees and has increased the services offered.
Now, Frederick is slated to receive the ATHENA award, given to those who have achieved professional excellence, contributed to improving the quality of life in the community and actively assisted others in realizing their full leadership potential. The award will be presented during the Westmoreland County Chamber of Commerce’s annual awards luncheon Thursday.
“I was shocked because they told me I was one of the finalists, but I don’t know how many finalists they had. But they go through their process,” she said. “I was really very honored, very humbled. You work all day long on your regular job, and you do your volunteering, your mentoring and trying to help people out and things like that, and you don’t think about it because you don’t do it for an award. That’s not why you do it. You’re doing it to help other people.”
Graduating from Saint Vincent College in 1993 with a degree in business management, Frederick originally thought she wanted to be a banker. But when an opportunity to work in sales at the family company opened up, she jumped at the chance.
Using skills she learned working at the shop growing up, Frederick said, “It was just kind of second nature.”
“In the summers when I was younger, my dad was like, ‘Hey, you can’t sit at home and watch TV all day. You have to come down to work.’ So if I didn’t leave with him at 7 or 7:30 in the morning … he said, ‘You’re going to have to ride your bike down,’ ” she said, adding it “was good because it instills that work ethic.”
Shortly after starting, Frederick was sent to a sales training class hosted by a printing company in Indiana. She began working with clients and moving up in the business. As her dad inched toward retirement, Frederick took bigger roles, including vice president and president.
Since purchasing the company with her husband, Joe, in 2014, Frederick has made acquisitions that moved the business into different specialties, including screen printing, embroidery, trophies, awards and signage.
“It’s exciting, it really is,” Frederick said. “The way I look at it is we’re bringing commerce, we’re bringing jobs to this area — so to Latrobe, Westmoreland County, which is really cool. So we deal with companies all over the country. Some of them are global Fortune 500 companies, which is really cool. And so the fact that work can be done anywhere and they choose us in Latrobe is really, really important.”
Similar to Frederick, her daughter, Ashley, was not planning on getting into the business. But after a beach trip with her grandfather, she decided to give it a shot.
Now, she calls herself a “CEO in training.”
“It’s fabulous,” Frederick said. “If you have kids, it’s like you try to make them better than yourself, which is what I’ve tried to do. It does get emotional. We have a good time, and we love dealing with the corporates. Our customers, they love that it’s mother-daughter, they love that we have a succession plan, that there’s a future, so it really means a lot to them.”
Ashley Frederick, 24, added, “She’s just awesome. Seeing her at these events and seeing her network with people and just all the skills that she has, I just hope I’m half as good as her, and then I’ll be OK.”
The chamber’s award luncheon begins at 11:30 a.m. at the Ramada Hotel and Conference Center. Westmoreland Children First will be named nonprofit of the year; Blue Sky Sign Co., in Greensburg, business of the year; and Jessica Urbanik will be named chamber member of the year.
“When somebody notices (hard work), it’s like, ‘Wow, thank you so much.’ I’m very honored,” Frederick said.