FWBP Top 100: Debbie Cooley, Top Private CEO

Debbie Cooley (Photo by Amber Shumake)

Debbie Cooley has never been afraid of a challenge.

Her willingness to take a risk and her resourcefulness helped turn a meager $10,000 personal savings account into a thriving business with revenue of about $16 million.

It wasn’t easy and Cooley recognized that her risk of failure outweighed her chance of success. But as a single mother hoping to create a better life for herself and her daughter, she was willing to try.

This year’s Top 100 honoree as Top Private CEO founded M-Pak in her garage in 1999. The industrial packaging company and supplier of tactical gear has a customer base that includes federal, state and local government agencies as well as private sector businesses. Other customers include the armed forces, aerospace firms and major retailers.

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“The company packs and ships everything from coffee beans to drone aircraft for the U.S. military,” she told the Fort Worth Business Press. “We like to do the unusual, the adventurous customized solutions.”

Cooley was born and raised in Dallas and attended Tyler Junior College and the University of Texas at Austin.  She played sports in college and had planned to become a physical education teacher.

Her plans changed in 1974, when she was offered a job in outside sales with a major industrial packaging supplier. But the honor of being the first woman to work in outside sales was quickly overshadowed by the realization that her male colleagues were earning almost twice what she was.

“I worked at a $93 million company where my salary was $43,500 while the entire male sales team had starting salaries of $100,000,” she recalled. “There was absolutely no difference in our job descriptions or duties.”

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Fed up with being underpaid and undervalued, Cooley realized that the path to success would be through determination and gumption.

So in 1999, she parlayed her experience in industrial packaging sales into her own business.

Cooley’s daughter, Anna Boulware, joined M-Pak in 2001 and works alongside her mother as vice president of sales.

When her daughter enrolled at Texas Christian University, Cooley moved to the Fort Worth area to be close by.

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M-Pak is no longer located in Cooley’s garage, and her customers include Lockheed Martin and federal agencies such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The company now has several locations nationwide.

The company expanded in 2012 with a line of tactical gear, clothing and equipment for law enforcement officers, first responders and emergency medical service professionals.

Despite M-Pak’s success, challenges are a never-ending part of doing business.

“I’m continuing to have to keep telling myself everything is going to be okay,” she said.

Besides her job, Cooley is deeply committed to community service and is deeply committed to helping underserved communities in Fort Worth, particularly the Como neighborhood. She also serves on the board of CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates of Tarrant County), an organization that supports abused and neglected children, and is a mentor for the Neeley School of  Business at TCU.