Edward Crawford’s father passed away when he was young,
and at that point, he didn’t know where life would take him or
what he would do, but he was sure of one thing — he wanted to
“I hadn’t determined how I would be successful or what the
success would mean or how it would ultimately play out,”
He started his first company when he was 21 and had fun with
that, but after 30 years working in the private sector, he decided
he wanted the challenge of growing a public company, so in
1992, he joined Park-Ohio Holdings Corp. as chairman and CEO.
Little did he know that he’d be the one to take the diversified
logistics and manufacturing business from $119 million in revenue his first year to nearly $1.06 billion in 2006.
“It’s been fun,” he says. “It’s been quite a challenge. It is different, and when I think back about all the motivation at the beginning of my life to be an entrepreneur and be successful, nothing
in the tea leaves at that time pointed to the fact that I’d be sitting
here as the chairman of a $1 billion, publicly traded company
with plants all over the world.”
Crawford has learned a few things on the road to success. He
knows how to handle rejection, how to be honest hiring people
and then empowering those people without setting them up to
fail, and if you can master those things, it will serve you well in
successfully leading your own business.
Deal with rejection
Before you can do anything successfully in business, you have
to understand that there are going to be setbacks at certain
points, so you have to learn how to deal with negativity.
“If you can train someone to do anything, you have to
explain to them that every person in life personally and in the
business world, there’s going to be rejection,” Crawford says.
“The more you try to accomplish, the more there’s going to
They key is learning how to accept it and turn it into a positive
“First, you’ve got to realize that most rejection is not really
aimed at you personally,” Crawford says. “When people are
saying things that are, in essence, rejection, in most cases, it’s
not personal — it’s just their reaction to what they’re seeing
… you have to understand that most of these things are things
people believe, but they don’t really know you.”
When you recognize that it’s probably not anything personal
against you, then reframe your thoughts to prepare yourself to
deal with it emotionally.
“It’s a confidence thing,” Crawford says. “You just have to
say, ‘First thing I’m not going to do is when someone says
something negative to me, I’m not going to start moping. I’m
not going to let this knock me down, knock me off my feet. I’m
not going to let that happen. At best, it’s going to be a negative,
but it will not hurt me. Yes, I’ll feel bad about it for a moment, but I won’t let it affect my performance, my goal, where I’m
The next step is then using that rejection and transferring it
into a source of energy.
“There are certain people that are so devastated by rejection that they can’t get their balance for a period of time,”
Crawford says. “Rejection comes mostly when you have time
to handle it, but some rejection comes when you have to
make an instant decision … I have to keep the big picture in
mind — where I’m going, where I’m trying to go, back to that
dream and being successful and executing it.”
If you can take this approach, it helps you stay cool in
stressful situations and allows you to make better decisions
and maintain a long-term view, focusing on knowing that this
too shall pass.
“I refuse to allow a negative moment upset me to the point
where it would affect my judgment and affect my will,”
Crawford says. “I just choose not to let that happen. I think
people, if they face the fact and think about it for a moment,
they can use rejection as a wonderful tool, but it takes some
Be honest when hiring
When Crawford started his first company, he was pretty honest
with the people he was hiring to work for him.
“I don’t have the money to pay you,” he told them. “I’m hiring you and the idea is we’re going to get some steel and
make it into pales, and Friday, we’re going to get paid, and
I’m going to come back and pay you. I hope it works out how
I think it is. This is a terrible building, and it’s hot, but we’re
going to make it out of here. OK?”
Despite the unknowns that faced the company, people respected his honesty and came to work for him anyway.
“Boy, when you’re honest with people, and they find out you’re
going to work as hard as they’re going to work, wonderful things
happen,” Crawford says.
Flash forward 46 years, and that honesty still guides him and
helps him get the best employees to help his company grow.
When Park-Ohio gets down to its final candidates for a certain
position, all of the candidates interview with Crawford, but
instead of getting the standard interview questions, Crawford
instead elects to have a frank discussion with them.
“You’re obviously qualified, so I don’t want to go into this,”
he tells a candidate. “Can I take the time to explain what the
atmosphere is like around here and what I think is important?”
By trusting that the people on your team have found the
most qualified people and not grilling them with more questions, it opens the door to get the right person when you can
get into the nitty-gritty details of expectations, work environment and atmosphere.
“Part of the job isn’t the mechanical aspects of doing the job,”
Crawford says. “It’s will you be happy; will you fit in here?”
Crawford describes to the candidate how he’s looking for
someone who wants to win and can meet the demands of a
growing organization. After describing the work environment
and expectations with the candidate for an hour or two, he
then tells the person to go home and think about it and to call
him the next day.
“That’s the way to do it because that’s the way you get the
players,” Crawford says. “They’re going to say, ‘Oh this is
good,’ or they’re going to go home to either their wife or
boyfriend and say, ‘Wow, now I know why they’re successful
over there. It’s a mentality — talk about will to win! This is all
about winning to these people. It’s fun, it’s a scoreboard, but
I’m not going to be able to succeed there unless I can have this
His approach has paid off because many times candidates
will call him and tell him that they almost talked themselves
into taking the position, but after thinking about what he had
said, they realized it either wasn’t a commitment they were
willing to make or didn’t match with their interests or skills.
“It takes a tremendous amount of effort and emotion to get
people on the team,” Crawford says. “Let’s get people on the
team, so let’s tell them where we’re going and why, so they
could tell us. I could ask you questions for weeks, and I would
still not know … I can take an interview and I can make them
answer the questions so they’ll be successful in the interview,
but why would I do that? I want to tell them exactly what I
think they’re up against and let them decide. A lot of people get
hired because nobody’s willing to make it clear of the expectations, and it’s not fair to the person being interviewed.”
When the leader of one of Crawford’s plants passed away a
few years ago, he wasn’t sure who would replace him, but
when one of his long-time administrative assistants called with
a suggestion, he listened.
She went on to tell him that one of the young bookkeepers at
the plant had been there for six years and wanted the opportunity to run the plant.
“You know she’s talented, so will you consider her?” the
“Of course, I’ll consider her,” Crawford replied.
They had her come up for an interview, and his team convinced him she was the right person for the job. Three years
later, he was going to be in the area of her plant, so he called her
up and asked if they could meet since they hadn’t seen each
other in awhile. While catching up, Crawford asked if he could
come say a few words to the employees of her plant after their
lunch break, but she hesitated.
“Mr. Crawford, when Bill passed away, it’s taken me three
years to build up in everyone’s mind that I really run the company, and I take that very seriously,” she said to him. “I think
I’ve been successful, but if you go back over there, it’s going to
destabilize everything. They’re going to think there’s been a
change. We only have 80 employees or so, but they think I’m the boss, and I’m in charge, and I know everyone, and I know
their families, and I’ll do what you want, but you can see how
I’ve spent a long time making them feel that way.”
“OK, take me back to the plane then,” Crawford responded.
And that’s what Crawford wants because he knows he won’t
get anything from his people if he doesn’t give them something
“You can have a dream — a big dream, a small dream, an offthe-wall dream, but … this can only be accomplished at this
level or any level with the support of other people and how you
treat them and how you frame the model of where you’re going
and what you present to them in return for their commitment,”
he says. “You have to really share something with them or give
them something in a form of leadership that will allow them to
When people feel that ownership, Crawford can rest easy and
not have to micromanage every aspect of the business because
he trusts his people to run their parts as best they can.
“In this company, it’s real, and it’s intense, and there are people out there running these plants that think it’s their business,
and they’re happy with that, and I’m thrilled because I don’t
have to worry about it, and if they need help, they call,” he
Giving people ownership allows them to buy in to his goals
and makes them more excited, which will help them work
harder and make the company more successful.
“This is all about the fun of building something,” Crawford
says. “There is a scoreboard — you have to be measured, but
it’s fun to be in the game, and it’s fun to be in with a lot of people that enjoy every minute of it. They don’t have to be the
quarterback. They can play another position. It’s like having
guards on a football team. Unless the guards are there blocking for the running back, they will not be successful, but they
have to be happy guards.”
Know people’s limits
Crawford once gave a job to someone he had known for a
long time, but after some time, it became evident that he had
to let him go from that position. Later he was having dinner
with his mother and reflecting on the situation in a sort of
befuddlement as to what went wrong, but his mom saw
things much clearer than he did and helped him see the light.
“Ed, you’ve known Chuck your entire life,” she said to him.
“You gave him more responsibility than he could handle. You
gave him a bigger job than he could handle, and you knew he
would fail. Maybe you didn’t think he’d fail, but you knew he
definitely wasn’t qualified. This isn’t his problem — this is
The light bulb went off over Crawford’s head, and he realized that his mother was correct.
“One of the biggest mistakes a leader can make running a
company … is you have to be careful about putting people in
just because you like them, just because they’re fun and putting them in things they can’t do,” he says.
While it’s important to give people responsibility, it’s also
important that you don’t set them up to fail.
“You’ve got to put them in positions where they can win,”
Crawford says. “They have got to learn to win, and after
they learn to win, they can continue to win. You don’t learn
much from failure other than failure. Maybe people think
that’s a good experience, and I’ve had plenty of failures, but
the only thing I learned from failure was I didn’t like it.
There is an experience connected with it, but it’s about
being very objective and trying to figure out and trying to
move people to where they can be successful, and you’re as
good a judge of that as they are.”
Also realize that some failure is part of the learning
process, so you can’t be afraid to give people responsibility
just because they might fail. The key is to minimize their
“Just give them responsibility and let them fail,” Crawford
says. “That’s one good way. Cut the failures down to the
point where it doesn’t hurt the company that much. It’s a
process. There’s always going to be mistakes. We make mistakes. The company makes mistakes. You just have to overcome them.”
Maintaining that outlook has helped Crawford weather
the challenging times and strengthened his relationships
with employees over the years and gives them all hope for
the future of Park-Ohio.
“I think the people and that relationship will allow us to
sustain ourselves for a very, very long period of time,”
Crawford says. “As long as we don’t go away from that, and
we keep building the talent we have in this company, at
every level, the dream will go on because it’s their dream
now. We want everyone to dream.”
HOW TO REACH: Park-Ohio Holdings Corp., (216) 692-7200 or www.pkoh.com