Kiefer says they’ve started a product management division, where engineers will be responsible for one product line from inception to marketplace.
Independent sales representatives will work with the product manager to develop markets and new products within that product line. That same product manager also will be an intermediary to the rail side of the company.
He says the idea is to hire people with engineering degrees and backgrounds with an interest in business and marketing — a difficult combination to find.
“You don’t want the kid that graduated at the top of his class,” Kiefer says of their new product managers. “You want that C student who spent his time having a good time but learned engineering.”
And he suspects the hiring will continue, because as long as railcars are moving, Stucki is busy.
During the Great Recession, between 30 and 40 percent of the railcars in America were idle. Kiefer says there are very few cars parked today.
Along with the utilization of existing cars, experts are predicting 83,000 new railcars will be built in 2015. On average, between 40,000 and 45,000 are built.
And this isn’t just good news for Stucki.
Kiefer says he remembers watching a woman interview Warren Buffett on CNBC.
“She said, ‘Warren, if you were out on a desert island and could get one piece of information every day to understand how your businesses were doing, what would you want?’
“He said, ‘I’d want railcar loadings because we know how the economy is moving by how many cars are being loaded every day.’”
- Spread the ownership to better invest your employees.
- Integrating processes is harder than integrating cultures.
- Operations should be structured to fit customer needs.
The Kiefer File:
Name: Bill Kiefer
Title: President and CEO
Company: A. Stucki Co.
Born: Sharon, Pennsylvania
Education: Degree in engineering from Youngstown State University, and an executive MBA from Ohio University.
What was your first job? I was cutting 16 lawns when I was about 14 years old. That was my first job — I had my own lawn service business. I’ve been an entrepreneur since I was a young guy.
I then worked as a night watchman at The Herald, the local newspaper in Sharon. I was the most well read kid in high school. They would turn the heat down in the building, and as the night watchman/janitor, I would walk through the whole building. The warmest room was where the teletypes would come in. So, I would sit there and I would learn all the news. It was a great job.
Where did you learn your management skills? I actually learned most of my management skills working as a stock clerk; I worked my way through college as a stock clerk in a grocery chain. I learned how to manage people and set a vision because I worked for some really great managers and I worked for some really bad managers.
Has your leadership style changed over the years? No, not at all. It really hasn’t, and I think that I’ve influenced my managers to follow suit. The people here that are in my top management possess the same values that I do. We’re very respectful of our people. We really go out of the way to take care of our people.
If you weren’t a CEO, what would you like to do? I’d like to go back to the grocery store. I kid my wife about that all the time.
Actually, I’d probably be an engineer. That’s what I’m trained as and that was obviously my first love. I don’t act like an engineer and I don’t necessarily think like an engineer, but that’s what I’d go back and do.
Or be a race car driver.