ASPIRE 2017 – Edward F. Crawford

Built to lead

Edward F. Crawford, chairman and CEO at ParkOhio Holdings Corp. and The Crawford Group, is a keynote speaker at ASPIRE 2017.

Edward F. Crawford was a young man working his way through school in the early 1960s when he first put his entrepreneurial skills to the test. He wanted to create a company that would make and sell five-gallon steel pails.

At the time, he was attending night school at John Carroll University and working in sales at Inland Steel.

“I was very young and didn’t have very good accounts, but I started to make some friends with large people that make roof coating for the tops of buildings,” Crawford says. “Strange lot of people. Very tough, hard-nosed people. And they liked me. I was Irish and I was fun.

“So I went to a couple of those customers and I said, ‘Look, if I can put together a steel pail plant, would you buy from me?’ And they said, ‘Of course. Where are you going to get the money?’ I said, ‘Well, I haven’t figured that out yet, but I’m working on it.’”

The early days of Cleveland Steel Container Corp., founded in 1963, were not always easy. Crawford and his business partner, Christopher Page, had to be both tenacious and creative just for the business to function. It took Crawford about a month to convince a couple steel suppliers to get him the raw material needed to make the pails.

“I said, ‘It’s simple, just give me half a truckload of steel on Monday,’” Crawford says. “‘I’ll take it, we’ll convert it into pails. I’ll deliver the pails on Friday. I’ll collect the money and I’ll come back and pay you on Monday and I’ll pay the employees.’ If you don’t have money to start with — it’s not in your family — you’ve got to develop access to it. And we have worked very hard through three careers to continue to expand our access to capital and get the support of people that would invest.”

Those “three careers” have enabled Crawford to become an icon in the Cleveland business community. Page is still CEO at Cleveland Steel Container Corp., leading it to become one of the largest manufacturers of steel pails in the U.S.

In addition to the pail business, Crawford launched The Crawford Group, where he continues to serve as chairman and CEO. And since 1992, he has also served as chairman and CEO at ParkOhio Holdings Corp.

Under his leadership, ParkOhio has grown to more than 35 manufacturing sites and over 55 supply chain logistics facilities in 16 countries throughout North America, South America, Europe and Asia. The company’s stated goal is to reach $2 billion in revenue in 2017.

“We want ParkOhio to be a company that’s going to be in Cleveland for a long time,” Crawford says. “That’s important to us. Fundamentally, the pieces are all connected. We’ve got it to the point it’s sustainable, and Matthew (Crawford) understands, people understand. That’s why we’re able to get credible players, and that’s who we build around. People come here, they expect to stay here. They expect us to go on.”

Matthew, Crawford’s son, has served as president and COO at ParkOhio since 2003.

“He’s ready any time he wants to, you know?” Crawford says, talking about his son’s readiness to step into his father’s role at ParkOhio. “Everyone is trying to figure out where I’m going for my next opportunity. Well, I have a plan. I’m going someplace. I’m not finished. I think we’re in pretty fantastic condition and I want to do something else.”

Whatever he does, it’s a near certainty Crawford will have a plan to make it work and a clear sense of what success for him looks like.

“There are some CEOs, they run from one company to another, and there are some people, they have made a lot more money than I have and been more successful and so forth,” Crawford says. “But we don’t measure things necessarily on money here. There’s a lot more to it.”