Work in progress Featured

8:00pm EDT October 28, 2006
 Fast growth is an understatement for what is happening at American Aluminum Extrusions of Ohio LLC.

Established in September 2001 with 10 employees, the company posted $1 million in 2001 revenue. Today, it has more than 130 employees, and sales have increased from $12.4 million in 2003 to $30 million last year. President and CEO Darius Szczekocki expects that growth to continue, with 2006 estimates of $43 million.

Canton-based American Aluminum Extrusions of Ohio provides custom and standard extrusion for the transportation, distribution, building, linear motion and electronic original equipment manufacturing markets.

Smart Business spoke with Szczekocki about how he supports his work force while managing rapid growth.

How can other executives grow their companies the way that you’ve grown yours?
A lot of our success is based in our people and our management team. We empower our management team to service the customers and make them part of our overall team. It’s more than just a job to them: They feel like they’re owners of the company, as well, and they’re very engaged in what they do.

How did you give your employees that sense of ownership?
We empower our managers to run their own business within their functional area. We communicate internally where we want the company to go as far as our strategic plans and try to get the buy-in and support from our managers. They’re involved at the higher level of the company, and they take ownership that way.

We filter it through the organization. During companywide meetings, we communicate the message from the higher level management to the rest of the company. We recognize and reward everyone’s hard work though direct compensation and having company picnics, holiday parties, luncheons and giveaways, like hats or T-shirts if we have record months. We do something special to get that team atmosphere going.

We’ve owned this business for five years, and from day one, we tried to instill that culture. As we grew and became profitable, we could do more for our people, and we get the benefits.

It is a circle: We treat our employees with respect, and that’s how we expect our customers to be taken care of. Ultimately, that helps you grow in the marketplace. Happy employees equal happy customers.

What are the principal qualities that executives should look for in the people they hire?
Find the skill set for each job, and make sure that the person has some talent and is capable of learning new and different things.

You want to see people who have grown in positions and have taken on more responsibilities and challenges in their career. You don’t want someone who’s had eight jobs in five years; that’s not a good sign.

We look for people with entrepreneurial spirit who will take more of a risk or chance. They will want to be empowered and think out of the box. It’s not possible to find it in every position — and you may not want that in every position — but in your leadership team and management, you definitely want that.

How does having an empowered management team help you do your job?
I don’t have to worry about the day-to-day for the business because I have the confidence that the daily issues are being addressed. It helps me focus more on the strategic planning and growth of the company if I’m not in the day-to-day battle.

You have to have trust and confidence in your management team. It takes time. You have to develop a track record. We have very open and honest communication, which also helps.

How do you recruit and retain good people?
We take the time to give a potential new hire a plant tour and let them see that we have a pretty challenging work environment — it’s hot and heavy work. We give them the good, the bad and the ugly about the job so they’re not surprised coming to their first day of work.

When we do hire someone, we try to assign them with an experienced operator to train them and help them feel a little more comfortable on the job. It’s a kind of buddy system that’s evolved over time.

It definitely helps reduce your turnover, and it helps improve safety of the work force. We try not to leave people out there by themselves; we support them through the whole training period.

What is the best advice that you’ve ever received about how to grow a company?
Hire the right people and take care of them. They’ll take care of the business, and you will get a return on that investment.

In the long run, it saves you money because people who are productive understand the business and pay for themselves.

HOW TO REACH: American Aluminum Extrusions of Ohio LLC, (330) 458-0300 or www.aaeo.com