Meet Mindy Nuñez Airhart: Leading the Charge in Louisiana’s Steel Fabrication Scene

CEO of SSE Steel Fabrication Drives Innovation and Diversity in a Male-Dominated Industry

When it comes to finding the authority for steel fabrication in Louisiana, look no further than SSE with CEO Mindy Nuñez Airhart at the helm.

SSE Steel Fabrication (formerly known as Southern Services & Equipment, Inc.) is a versatile, large capacity, full-service facility for steel fabrication, structural steel erection, forming, welding, design and support, product assembly, painting, blasting and finishing, and quality measurement control. The company also offers field welding service of on-site fabrication and emergency repair. It’s not every major company that can boast their CEO and owner is 100% homegrown, but Airhart first began working at the company her parents started in 1996 when she was still in high school.

After college she returned to SSE but did not consider it for a career until after Hurricane Katrina when her family and the company were busy helping rebuild the levee system and other city-wide projects. After that, she never left. But her journey within the company remains impressive.

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She began helping with payroll and administration and then used her communications and media degree from Tulane to help market the company. Then in 2018, she purchased the company from her parents and can now proudly call herself 100% the owner.

That pride does not simply reside in her role as owner as CEO of a major company that processes structural steel according to architectural plans and ships it to job sites across the United States, with customers in the commercial, industrial and government industries. But also, as a woman and minority in a predominantly white male dominated industry.

That does not mean Airhart does it alone. “I rely on men and women from all colors of the rainbow to be successful,” she said. Airhart said there are less men to do the construction jobs needed to keep the country running. She has her eyes on the big picture of what effort it will take to help America’s construction industry thrive. To her that means encouraging more women to enter the field.

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“It is imperative that we encourage our daughters to pursue career paths in the construction industry, whether it be in the trades or in engineering or architecture,” she said.

SSE might have known consistency in its administration and leadership, but the company has not succeeded by staying stagnant. “During the 20 years that I have worked at SSE,” Airhart said, “there has always been change. As entrepreneurs, we are constantly thinking of new ways to grow and innovate and improve.”

She explained that her parents, husband, and herself are all natural risk takers, so they seek out change in order to improve the company. “Not every change or decision that we have made has been a good one, or the right one, but we are blessed to be in business 27 years later,” she said.

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And those risks have paid off in some incredible innovation for the company. SSE has installed the first state-of-the-art robotic CNC plasma machine in south Louisiana, the PythonX Structural Fabrication System, which helped make SSE a leader in the field of structural steel fabrication. The company has made substantial investments in robotic processing equipment, including cobot welding, a robotic structural beam line, an HD oxygen/plasma burn table with articulating robotic arm, and a CNC tube processor, among many others.

As CEO, Airhart provides leadership for all aspects of the company’s operations. Her focus is on long term goals, growth, and profit, but she also places a special emphasis on employee morale and retention, as well as workforce development.

Within this busy schedule, often including fielding daily emails, she makes time to provide support to special projects like SSE’s current physical expansion or their partnership with Louisiana Economic Development (LED.) “I also serve on quite a few boards of directors for local nonprofits/NGOs,” Airhart said, “most of which share my passion for economic development, workforce development, and environmental/coastal issues.”

Airhart clearly has a lot on her daily plate, but when asked what her favorite aspect of working at SSE was, she did not hesitate. “I truly enjoy working with the people in my office every day, and I care deeply about my employees. We have fun in our office, while getting the job done!”

But don’t expect Airhart to get complacent any time soon, she still has many goals she hopes to achieve in life and especially in work. “I want to grow our company revenue quite a bit, and I always want to improve upon our infrastructure. Most of all I want to continue to improve our company culture,” she said. “I want this company to be a place where people are proud to work, and recommend it to their friends and family. I want people to have a career here, not just a job.”

SSE Steel Fabrication is a top company to watch in the Greater New Orleans area for their plans to both innovate and grow from within and outside of company walls. Mindy Nuñez Airhart, a woman with a longstanding history and familial investment, has big ideas for the future of SSE that she plans to steer with a steel grip.

 

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