In brief Featured

10:09am EDT July 22, 2002
The accidental CEO

Last fall, Gary Smith was looking for an investor for Signa StorTech Systems Inc., the North Canton company he purchased two years ago.

What he found instead was a job offer-one too good to pass up.

Smith, past chairman of the Canton Regional Chamber of Commerce, this spring was named CEO of High Plains Corp. in Wichita, Kan. The publicly traded $100-million-a-year company is among the nation's largest producers of ethanol.

High Plains' board of directors courted Smith because of his executive and sales management experience in the fields of alternative fuels, automotive engines and industrial manufacturing, says board Chairman Daniel Skolness. Prior to StorTech, Smith served in executive positions with Canton-based Hercules Engine Co., White Engines Inc., Cummins Engine Co. and Hoerner-Waldorf Paper.

As president of Hercules, he successfully directed the company through a transition from focusing solely on the military market into one branching to commercial truck and bus markets for its natural gas engines.

Smith, 55, will retain ownership of Signa along with partner Skip Dragoli. Smith's son, Chad, whose title has changed from director of sales to general manager, now runs the 30-employee specialty fabricator and powder-coating firm.

"Truly I wasn't looking for this," Smith says. He had broached conversations with a couple of the High Plains board members he knew through the industry and his Minnesota roots. One of the board members is a former boss.

"I hoped maybe they would be interested in investing in Signa. Their interest was in getting me involved with High Plains."

The 16-year-old High Plains has seen sales turn flat and hasn't deployed its assets as well as it might, Smith says. "They needed somebody to help them solve some problems. If we turn things, I'll be well rewarded."

Smith and his wife Jan, who adopted Canton as their home in the mid-1980s, will keep a home here and will retain local ties, including returning for Hall of Fame week and continuing a few volunteer efforts.

"I sit here sometimes at night and I miss my friends and I miss the things I built there," Smith says. "If I don't like it at High Plains, I can come back. When you can have the best of both worlds, it's nice."

When the pressure builds, can you stay in 'The Zone?'

The Pro Football Hall of Fame isn't the only Canton-based business with an NFL connection. The Tuscany Institute is a performance consulting company gaining national recognition for its work with football players like the San Francisco '49ers' J.J. Stokes.

Timothy Moore founded the company 11 years ago while living in Michigan. During his tour of duty in Vietnam, Moore became fascinated with the performance of soldiers under the pressure of battle. Some succeeded and some failed. Moore decided to try to answer the question of why.

Moore is a filmmaker by trade, so he is not an expert in either psychology or physiology. But he says he has made a few useful observations by watching and talking to people working under pressure. "The thing that they give up the quickest is their emotional stability," he says. Without that stability, they leave what professional athletes call "The Zone" and they fail.

Moore developed a package of techniques to help his clients regain their emotional stability, to relax so they can focus on doing their best. "It comes down to how we perceive the world. Do you have more energy to go on vacation or to have a root canal?"

Moore has a proprietary sound system called Sensoria, which he is protecting as a trade secret; customized series of movie clips; a book of motivational words, images and resources he calls Tuscany's curriculum; and a 100-question Sensoria Enquiry, which he gives at the beginning of his work with clients.

The description of his consulting techniques is foggy because Moore doesn't share details with people until they are clients and have signed non-disclosure agreements. It's a corporate necessity, he says, but a marketing handicap. His limited circle of clients are professional football players, corporate executives and professional golfers who have all had performance crises that endangered their jobs. He found them through whispered word-of-mouth referrals.

Moore says he has had success with athletes because they understand instantly that being in "The Zone" means having relaxed confidence. He has had a harder time getting his message to executives, because so many believe that they work better when stressed out and meeting others' demands. Moore would like to turn their thinking around. "If you're the leader, you have to make sure that you get what you need," he says.