It’s not just about growing lemons anymore at Limoneira Co. – Harold Edwards has bigger plans in mind

Harold Edwards, president and CEO, Limoneira Inc.

Harold Edwards, president and CEO, Limoneira Co.

It’s a fairly common approach when taking on a new job to talk to those people who have been there for a while to learn what the company is all about. Harold Edwards tried this approach at Limoneira Co., and he didn’t like what he was learning.

“To be pretty direct, a lot of complacency and apathy had crept their way into the organization,” says Edwards, president and CEO at the Santa Paula, Calif.-based grower and provider of lemons. “We literally had situations where the people who had worked for the company for the longest period of time were probably doing the least amount of work.”

As Edwards looked at the financial numbers, he could see that the company wasn’t really on the upswing. But it was the attitude of senior leaders at Limoneira that concerned him even more.

“Most evident when I showed up was just a lot of senior-level managers and people who had been with the organization for a long time were not only not aligned with the objectives of the organization but also were very clearly and very evidently complacent about their day-to-day duties and responsibilities,” Edwards says.

The work culture and environment had become a big problem. Edwards needed to act swiftly to get things turned around at the company, which employs 226 people and has been producing lemons since 1893.

“The area where a lot of companies go wrong is they don’t stay current with their dynamic environment and they don’t consistently go through and define those objectives and focus on the alignment or realignment of those objectives every year as the environment continues to change,” Edwards says. “That’s where many companies fall down.”

Edwards hoped his plan would keep that from happening at Limoneira.

Laying out a new course

The changes on the leadership team were first up for Edwards. They were not easy moves to make.

“There were some pretty strong and big power struggles that had bred themselves within the organization,” Edwards says.

“One of my first orders of business as I was building my senior management team was to attempt to eliminate those power struggles. I wanted to get everybody’s full commitment to the vision of the organization and the new, very decentralized structure that we were putting in place to foster better teamwork.”

Edwards made it clear that he wanted to identify new growth opportunities and assess what was working and what wasn’t working to help Limoneira function to its full potential.

“We never had the vision that maybe the way to manage the company in a better way would be to really focus in on the growth of the business,” Edwards says. “And by growth, I mean really make it our business to transition from our focus from just being a producer into becoming a supplier of lemons.

“Surround ourselves and our assets not only with our own fruit but eventually with the fruit of other growers that would allow us to take advantage of our strong brand reputation in the marketplace.”

Those who weren’t committed to pursuing this new path didn’t stick around long, which turned out to be a good thing.

“In a way, it was very emancipating and helpful for the overall organization because as some of those people who were hanging onto their turf exited, you could almost hear the overall organization breathe a big sigh of relief,” Edwards says. “It was viewed as very empowering for many of the other people who were in essence held down or oppressed by some of these former managers.”

To those who feared they might be ousted by this new leader, Edwards worked hard to get them to see that he wasn’t there to conquer Limoneira. He was there to give people the freedom to help the company grow.

“My style is not to micromanage anybody on my team,” Edwards says. “It’s really just to position myself as an enabler and a supporter and to try to see that each one of these individuals is able to have success with the objectives that they’ve laid down for themselves and their teams.”

Building communication channels

The next step for Edwards at Limoneira was not a painful one, but it was a big challenge. His goal was to have his managerial team identify the top five objectives for the entire organization.

“They weren’t financial goals,” Edwards says. “They were more specific strategic objectives. Once they were created, we methodically went through each person in the senior management team, down through the management team, down through every salaried employee and then down through the rank-and-file employees.

“When the exercise was complete, the goal was everybody in the company had their own top five objectives that if they were successful accomplishing, the organization would have the best chance of achieving its top five objectives.”

It’s obviously a lot more challenging in practice than it is on paper. You have to accept that while there may be some hiccups along the way in developing all these objectives, they will lead you to a better outcome if you stay disciplined with the process.

“It really takes a commitment,” Edwards says. “Not all organizations are able to embrace that. There is a downside to innovation. There’s a downside to being really entrepreneurial and, in this case, intrepreneurial. It can be very disruptive. But if you’re willing to embrace some choppiness and disruption to do things better, it will work.”

With everyone committed to pursuing new growth opportunities, Edwards says the past five years have provided a consistent flow of new ideas from employees who previously weren’t involved in such talks.

“We have laid down very specific and very measurable growth targets that have really helped us smooth out the cyclicality and volatility of our business,” Edwards says.

“It’s also gotten all the employees who are involved in this part of our business very specifically focused on what their role and responsibility is. We can determine if we were successful or not. That is a specific objective that really has helped us transition the company and helped us grow.”

Edwards says it’s a message he repeats over and over again that great ideas at Limoneira do not have to begin in his office.

“Encourage people to think outside the box and come up with ideas about how to streamline efficiencies and how to get things done in a more efficient way,” he says. “Don’t just assume or accept that there is only one way to do things.”

Stick to it

When you think you’ve finally driven home the idea that you want employees to feel empowered to share their ideas, you need to resist the urge to stop talking about it.

“Part of the performance management program has a quarterly evaluation process that makes each employee better connected with a greater sense of consistent purpose with his or her manager,” Edwards says. “That allows them to do a better job of determining when an employee is getting it done and when they aren’t.”

Most employees want to make their supervisors and managers proud and want to do their part to help the business. But you have to maintain the dialogue and keep talking about it to make it work.

“The skill of the manager is to make sure that the things that aren’t going to be good objectives and goals, that those aren’t implemented,” Edwards says. “The ones that will really drive the organization forward are used.”

The discipline is not just a means to keep employees on task. It’s to help keep you and your management team on task as well.

“It’s very easy to see if we didn’t stay vigilant and diligent on quarterly evaluation and the communication of those evaluations, that it could very easily become just another thing that the organization was doing and the whole purpose would really be lost,” Edwards says.

One of the final pieces of the transformation at Limoneira has been to make sure the board of directors and company leaders understand the difference between management and governance.

“Part of the board’s responsibility in good governance is to help define and lay out good strategy for the organization as it moves forward,” Edwards says. “What had happened was the board had begun to get involved in personnel decisions. It had actually started micromanaging certain managerial posts sort of at the expense of the authority of the CEO of the company.”

Edwards shared his thoughts that the board needed to focus on strategy and let leaders like himself deal with day-to-day operations.

“By getting the board back to being a part of the governance structure and the management team really focusing in on the management of the company and keeping those roles and responsibilities separate and distinct and very disciplined, we’ve allowed both to operate at excellent levels that have really pushed the company forward,” Edwards says.

The result is a business that has grown consistently, with revenue leaping from $52.5 million in 2011 to $65.8 million in 2012.

“It’s much clearer the level of collaboration and teamwork that is necessary in order for all the employees to be successful,” Edwards says. “It’s forced people to play their roles and responsibilities more in concert as a team rather than as individuals. It’s that new alignment and fostering of teamwork that really set the company in motion.”

How to reach: Limoneira Co., (805) 525-5541 or www.limoneira.com

 

The Edwards File

Name: Harold Edwards

Title: President and CEO

Company: Limoneira Co.

Born: San Francisco

Education: Undergraduate degree in international affairs, Lewis and Clark College, Portland, Ore.; MBA in global management, Thunderbird School of Global Management, Glendale, Ariz.

What was your very first job?

Working on a ranch in Santa Paula. It was physical labor. I was hewing weeds, chopping suckers off trees or laying down mulch and fertilizer. I’m five generations deep in one of six families that represent the largest shareholders of this company. I grew up on one of the ranches that is one of different 15 ranches that the company manages.

What do you enjoy about the work?

I’ve sort of committed myself to making the world my canvas and taking opportunities to be living in a global world that produces and distributes product all over the world. The part of my job that gives me the greatest level of satisfaction is to, in a very small way, play a part in feeding the hungry world.

Why do Europeans consume so many more lemons than the United States?

You correlate it with obesity and the quality of our diets here versus the diets in other parts of the world. Then you look at life expectancy and health and you start to see some trends that are very compelling. If we were just to reach parity with Europe in terms of their lemon consumption, we don’t grow enough lemons here in the United States to accomplish that today. So we spend a lot of time trying to convince people to use lemons in their everyday lives here in the United States. So far we’re starting to see the results of a lot of these efforts take place.

 

Takeaways:

Be clear about your intentions.

Build channels to communicate.

Stay disciplined with your plan.

Jay Colker: How to help your employees help you grow your business

Jay Colker, core faculty, Adler School of Professional Psychology

Jay Colker, core faculty, Adler School of Professional Psychology

Most leaders understand that it’s critically important to collaborate regularly on initiatives with their employees, but are they getting all they can out of these interactions?

What leaders may be missing is a new paradigm for employee engagement and competitive advantage.

Many of them are working from an old style of management in which business decisions are made at the top and leaders follow a hierarchy of authority. Senior executives must still set strategy and manage for results, but they can likely achieve better outcomes by letting go.

Authors Craig Schreiber and Kathleen M. Carley explain that adapting a participative-style leadership environment allows people and the business to co-evolve into higher levels, enhancing personal responsibility, accountability, collaboration, innovation and business outcomes.

To do this, leaders need to empower employees to collectively make decisions that drive results and train employees to work in this model.

Empower employees

Employees on the front line are often in the best position to see trends and market opportunities.

Leaders can help drive businesses in new directions and enhance their bottom line by giving lower-level managers and line employees the support and encouragement to assume a much higher level of accountability and responsibility.

Information creation and sharing based on trust are critical components of innovation, according to author R.E. Miles. As they feel more engaged, employees are also more motivated to contribute and add value.

To achieve this, leaders must create an environment where risk within certain boundaries is rewarded so that employees feel comfortable enough to act on their abilities and instincts.

Leaders can support employees by encouraging ideas to grow and flourish among employees rather than through the manager. This will allow employees to identify and pursue opportunities that benefit the company.

Provide training

The most important — and often most challenging — aspect of leadership is constant follow-through. It is important to discuss leadership techniques with employees and provide training.

Talking through leadership strategies with employees calibrates the group to be more in alignment. It also increases follow-through from employees who feel a part of the process.

Leaders can do this by:

■  Discussing best practices among participants

■  Identifying leadership needs

■  Generating solutions that fit with the needs of the group

■  Sharing best practices of employee collaboration throughout the company

■  Recognizing work among employees and outcomes

For example, a bank executive wanted leadership training for her front-line managers. Her goal was for them to be able to work out problems and challenges independently or as a leadership group without constantly seeking guidance.

For 10 weeks, we challenged the managers to take more risk and encouraged them to make more decisions at their level. Through group coaching meetings, the employees helped each other consider best alternatives and the executive learned how to manage by letting go. The managers reported feeling more encouraged and engaged, which considerably enhanced results. ●

Jay Colker, DM, MBA, MA is core faculty for the master’s in counseling and organizational psychology program at the Adler School of Professional Psychology. Colker also maintains a human capital consulting practice and may be reached at [email protected] or at (312) 213-3421.

 

 

Josh Harmsen – How private equity can support growth, not just provide liquidity

Josh Harmsen

Josh Harmsen, principal, Solis Capital Partners

I was recently having lunch with a private company CEO and the topic of private equity came up. When asked if he had ever considered seeking a private equity partner to fund and support his planned growth initiatives, his answer was expectedly, “No, we don’t want to sell the business yet. We want to focus on growing the business.”

While I can certainly appreciate his perspective, that opinion is consistent among many business owners and leaders. Namely, that private equity is primarily a liquidity mechanism, not a preferred tool to fund and support company growth. Moreover, many business leaders often see their growth plans as incompatible with private equity, which they associate with high leverage and limited financial flexibility.

This perspective of incompatibility was also on display during the recent presidential election. Private equity firms were broadly characterized as opportunistic value extractors, rather than enablers of company growth and job creation.

While the purpose of this article isn’t to defend private equity (there certainly are some firms worthy of this negative characterization), significant evidence exists to suggest that, in general, private-equity-backed companies experience proportionally greater growth. This is particularly true for small-to-medium-sized businesses.

Private capital a key to growth

According to studies performed by GrowthEconomy.org between 1995 and 2009, U.S. private-capital-backed business grew jobs by 81.5 percent and revenue by 132.8 percent, compared to 11.7 percent and 28.0 percent, respectively, for all other companies.

In California, over the same period, the story was even more favorable to private equity.  Private-capital-backed businesses grew jobs and revenues by 123.1 percent and 155.2 percent respectively, compared to 11.3 percent and 26.4 percent for all other California businesses.

While each situation is unique, there are many reasons why private-equity-backed companies experience greater growth.

Access to capital

With the continued tightness in the credit market for small-to-medium-sized businesses, private equity can be a source of capital to support growth initiatives.

Additionally, private equity firms often have preferred relationships with lenders, giving businesses more access to attractive and flexible debt financing where appropriate. With greater access to capital, companies can more quickly, nimbly and opportunistically implement growth initiatives.

Strategic guidance and ongoing operational support

A private equity partner can provide much-needed strategic and operational resources to support the company’s growth initiatives and ongoing operations. This often leads to more thorough and refined growth strategies, as well as more effective plan execution and implementation.

Private equity firms often have large networks of industry experts and experienced operators that they can bring to bear to support company growth and operations.

Increased capacity for acquisitions

Private-equity-backed companies are significantly more acquisitive than other private businesses. Acquisitions can be an attractive source of growth, allowing companies to increase their customer footprint, expand geographically, create greater scale and enhance capabilities in a relatively short time frame.

However, successfully identifying, executing and integrating acquisitions can be very difficult. Many business leaders don’t have the time or experience to effectively pursue acquisitions. Private equity firms generally have expertise executing acquisition strategies and can be valuable partners in supporting companies as they identify, negotiate, execute and integrate acquisitions.

Private equity can be a compatible and effective tool to support and achieve company growth — not simply a mechanism to achieve liquidity. While private equity is not appropriate in every situation, and not all private equity firms are growth-oriented, business owners and leaders should carefully consider a private equity partnership when evaluating their ongoing growth initiatives and funding options.

Josh Harmsen is a principal at Solis Capital Partners (www.soliscapital.com) a private equity firm in Newport Beach, Calif. Solis focuses on disciplined investment in lower middle-market companies. Harmsen was previously with Morgan Stanley & Co. and holds an MBA from Harvard Business School.

Jim Treliving led Boston’s Restaurant through a period of super-tight lending by creating his own financing division

Jim Treliving, chairman and CEO, Boston’s Restaurant & Sports Bar

Jim Treliving, chairman and CEO, Boston’s Restaurant & Sports B

Six years ago, Jim Treliving started to see troubling signals in his business. The restaurant franchising boom that had been rolling since the end of the 2001 recession was starting to slow because money was getting tight and financing for franchisees was drying up. Thus, the robust growth that Treliving’s company, Boston’s Restaurant & Sports Bar, had enjoyed for the previous half-dozen years was starting to slacken. c

“The main challenge I’ve had to deal with these last few years has been with the financial portion of our business,” says Treliving, whose company today operates 400 franchises in the United States, Canada and Mexico and generates systemwide sales of more than $1 billion. “The financing situation has really changed a lot since 2006 or so. Up until then, the franchisees we dealt with had lots of avenues to get financing for their business.”

The easy-money trend in restaurant franchising started to tail off in 2006 and 2007, and then it began dropping at an even faster rate in 2008 during the most recent recession.

“The financing really dried up,” he says.

Treliving started as a franchisee with Canada-based Boston Pizza in British Columbia in 1968 and eventually bought out the entire Boston’s restaurant chain in 1983.

“This has really affected just about everybody in most small-business market sectors. Small-business growth in the United States has really been negatively impacted by the inability to find sources of financing.”

Nowhere has that trend been felt more acutely than in the restaurant-chain business.

“It has taken a toll on us, especially when it comes to trying to attract new franchisees into the business,” Treliving says. “New franchisees generally need to have a down payment of 20 to 35 percent of the cash available to go into business. Nowadays, even [potential franchisees] who do have that amount on hand are having trouble getting banks and other financial institutions to do any kind of work with them in the sense of taking a chance on them.”

Today’s persistently low interest rates make it hard on those who want to start businesses because finance companies are less inclined to take chances on small businesses when their potential returns are so low.

“Most of the banks we’ve talked to in the U.S. — even though they’re in a situation where their balance sheets are OK — they’re not lending money for small businesses,” Treliving says. “And it’s not just the banks; it’s all types of financial institutions. Obviously, any type of lender is going to require a return on its money, and if you’re buying the money at a bank at 2 percent and you’re lending it out at 3 or 4 or even 5 percent, you’re not going to make a lot of money on it. That’s why they’re not taking many chances on people who want to start small businesses.

“It’s funny; these days a lot of people in this business are saying, ‘The good thing is we’ve got these low interest rates — and the bad thing is we’ve got these low interest rates.’ It’s really a tough problem.”

Give partners slack

The financing problems that Boston’s and other small and midsized restaurant companies have been facing isn’t limited to just attracting new franchisees. It’s also affecting the ability of the company’s existing franchisees that want to expand their businesses by opening new restaurants within their territories.

“A lot of our franchisees bought territorial pieces,” Treliving says. “We entered into agreements with them back when we sold them their first store that they would open a certain number of additional restaurants in their territory over a certain period of years. We mutually agreed, and an important part of that agreement was that we had to make sure that they’re on solid financial footing before moving to the next level.

“Unfortunately we’ve had a fair amount of franchisees that, even though they have a good solid track record, when they’ve reached the date when they’re supposed to build that next store in their territory, they couldn’t get the financing they needed to do it.”

Boston’s approach in these situations has generally been to give its existing franchisees more time to strengthen their market footing so they would eventually be able to obtain financing to build the additional stores in their territories.

“The plan was that they agreed to build a certain number of stores in their territory in a certain period of time, and if they didn’t — if they failed to do that — then they would lose their territory, and they would lose the money they had paid in upfront fees to hold their territory,” Treliving says.

“We began to see with many of them that we’d have to wait a little while, until the money [for financing] started to loosen up again. We saw that we would need to reset those dates so our franchisees would have more time to build those new stores and not lose their territories. We basically had to rectify the dates so we wouldn’t go offside with our franchisees.”

“So this financing situation has really slowed down the growth of everybody — not just new franchisees, but old franchisees as well.”

Find other sources

Even though the lending picture hasn’t been good from traditional sources of financing for restaurant franchises — i.e., banks and large finance companies such as GE Capital and others — Boston’s and other restaurant chains have had a degree of success finding financing for some of their franchisees via nontraditional sources such as private equity firms.

“A lot of people are going out and finding independent money on the side,” Treliving says. “So we started looking as well for some of these new sources that would deal with us. For many years, we had been dealing with a couple of major companies for financing, but now one of them had pulled out of the business completely, and the other one had quit lending new money for restaurant franchises.

“So we had to look for other avenues, whether it was banks or individuals or private equity that had been sitting on the sidelines and were now saying, you know, ‘Maybe we should jump into this business.’”

With some legwork, Boston’s was able to uncover some of these smaller, off-the-beaten-path financing sources. In so doing, the company was able to keep growing, albeit at a slower pace, even during the four-year downturn when traditional financing was very tight for the restaurant business.

“We had to go and look for some of those individuals and private firms,” Treliving says. “Most of them are regional. People are more likely to lend money to nearby sources, wherever they happen to be, because they can drive by and see the property, so they know where the money’s being spent and how it’s being spent. If you look at 90 percent of the restaurant chains around the country, everybody was going through the same thing. They were knocking on doors everywhere.”

Do it yourself

Lending from the traditional sources has started to loosen up a bit over the past year, but Boston’s has decided it isn’t going to rely so heavily on those traditional sources anymore. The company has decided to take a big step forward and create its own financing division to help its franchisees grow.

“We’re putting a package together right now to do that,” Treliving says. “We’re well on our way to develop our own financing. The first thing we’re going to do is go and help our existing franchisees that want to expand but can’t get the capital they need to do it. We’ll be willing to lend them money, because we’ve seen what they’ve been capable of doing over the last five or 10 years. They’ll be our first customers.

“The next ones will be potential new franchisees that we think have a great opportunity to get into the business now. We’ve been starting to receive a fair amount of inquiries about this, now that things have started to loosen up a little bit financewise.”

Asked what he has learned and what advice he would give other executives facing similar problems with tight lending inhibiting their growth, Treliving says he suggests that you choose your dance partners very carefully.

“I’ve talked to other CEOs in various businesses, and it’s really all about quality now — the quality of who you’re going to do business with,” he says. “The quality of franchisees you’re getting is what you should be looking at now — the strength of the person going in. It’s not just simply about grabbing anybody that’s got a warm body and going into business with them anymore.”

Treliving says that containing costs and reinvesting in quality service are more important now than ever, and not just in the restaurant-chain sector or the food-service sector but in all service-oriented businesses.

“You really need to be watching your costs right now,” he says. “It’s an absolute necessity. And your service has to be absolutely top-notch all the way through your operation. You can’t get away with anything less than that. If you’re willing to do these things, this can really be a great time to get into a business and have success with it.”

How to reach: Boston’s Restaurant & Sports Bar, (972) 484-9022 or www.bostonsgourmet.com

The Treliving File

Jim Treliving
Chairman and CEO
Boston’s Restaurant & Sports Bar

Born: Virden, Manitoba

What was your first job, and what business lessons did you learn from it that you use today?

I delivered groceries for a family that owned a small grocery store, and I think the biggest thing I learned was persistence — the stick-with-it sort of thing. The place where I delivered groceries —  it was very important that they be delivered on time. You had to come there clean and ready to go to work. And you had to provide great service. That was extremely important, the service aspect of it — being on time and getting the groceries out to people right away. Those things stuck in my mind when I went into the restaurant business.

Do you have a main business philosophy that you use to guide you?

I believe very much in dealing with people on a face-to-face basis. And I want to do business with people that I can have fun with — people that enjoy the same things I do.

What trait do you think is most important for a business executive to have in order to be a successful leader?

You have to have honesty and integrity. You have to be honest with your people, and honest with the franchisees you’re dealing with. Of course it’s inevitable that you’re going to have problems with your franchisees from time to time. But you sit down and discuss it with them so that you understand their side and they understand your side. And then you both make a decision on what you’re going to do, and you go forward with it together, as a team.

What’s the best advice anyone ever gave you?

My dad gave me a couple of good pieces of advice a long time ago: Always leave a little something on the table for somebody else, and always work hard and do the things that you want to do, that you enjoy doing.

Scott Dockter reversed PBD Worldwide’s slide by diversifying its base

Scott Dockter, president and CEO, PBD Worldwide

Four years ago, PBD Worldwide was on a roll, tearing through its eighth consecutive year of hand-over-fist growth. Then, in the second half of 2008, a hard one-two combination knocked down the Atlanta-based storage and distribution company.

The first blow that staggered PBD was the recession. The broad downturn rocked all the market sectors in which the company does business, forcing customers of all stripes to pull on their reins and cut their budgets.

Second, and more ominously, PBD’s core business — distributing books and other printed educational material — began to shrink noticeably. Customers that had been dipping their toe into digital media started jumping in with both feet. The shift cut into PBD’s core revenue dramatically.

“In 2008, we had our best year ever,” says Scott Dockter, president and CEO. “We’d had eight straight years of double-digit growth. A phenomenal amount of new clients had come on board. Our Chicago distribution center had opened the year before, and it was growing fast. We had a lot of good things going on.”

PBD’s leaders were aware that the print-based book business’s best days were behind it and that digital media was the wave of the future. But they weren’t as prepared as they wish they’d been for the speed and impact with which that wave would hit.

“The thing that had been lurking before the economy took its turn was that our company was very dependent on books — in particular educational material — to achieve that growth,” Dockter says. “There were a couple of groups who were starting to talk about moving to a digital opportunity, and they were looking to change their program.”

PBD had originally stood for Professional Book Distributors. The company changed the name in the late ’90s because it was starting to diversify its product.

“But we hadn’t really diversified all that much,” Dockter says. “Then, in late 2008, we started to see our core business effectively disappear due to some changes some of our clients were making in their business models.”

Those changes involved a couple of shifts that were happening simultaneously: Schools were buying fewer books, and some of PBD’s major clients were being acquired by companies with new and different ways of looking at the business.

PBD had a division, the Georgia Schoolbook Depository, which shipped books to schools mainly in the state of Georgia for grades K through 12.

“We also had a nice contract going with Harcourt — we were doing all their distribution throughout the Southeast,” Dockter says. “Then a couple of things happened. No. 1, Harcourt was purchased by Houghton Mifflin, and No. 2, schools quit buying books. Their budgets effectively changed overnight. A lot of this was economy-driven.”

Suddenly, PBD was facing some core changes that, while it had been aware they were coming, it was not fully prepared.

“Frankly, when you’re going through a long period of double-digit growth, you think you’ve got it all figured out, and you don’t worry so much about what may be coming,” he says.

The long string of robust growth turned to double-digit contraction in the blink of an eye. Between 2008 and 2009, PBD’s revenue dropped 10 percent. It was time for the company to get serious about diversifying its business base.

Broaden the base

By 2008, PBD had built itself into a $50 million-a-year business with five distribution centers around the country. At its peak, the company employed more than 500 people. PBD attained this growth mainly by distributing books and other printed material using a traditional distribution model: pick, pack and ship.

But with the sharp business downturn that PBD experienced between 2008 and 2009, Dockter and his leadership team realized that the company needed to branch into new areas to broaden its base — to put its eggs into more baskets so it wouldn’t be as vulnerable to market downturns in the future.

After looking at what they do well, Dockter and his team talked about applying those revelations to other related businesses.

“We said, ‘We’re good at inventorying items. We’re good at taking orders. We’re good at building e-commerce. We’re good at integrating all of that. So what else can we distribute?’” he says. “It sounds simple, but when you’ve been doing books for 30-plus years, you’re pretty much siloed in. Prospects are out there thinking, ‘Well, they’re really good at book distribution, but I can’t see my product in there.’”

One of the first areas that PBD expanded into was distributing protective cases for handheld electronic devices.

“We got a new client that was really growing their business,” Dockter says. “They had a product that was related to iPhones and BlackBerrys. That was a great diversification for us. It gave us a chance to show outside groups that we could distribute practically anything — anything that could go in a box — that became our mantra.”

PBD’s new philosophy also encompassed a move into an area that — in light of the overall trend of print dying off and digital media booming — seems counterintuitive: printing and mailing acknowledgments of donations for nonprofit organizations.

“We have a lot of not-for-profit clients, and when they receive donations, the IRS requires that they send out a printed acknowledgment,” Dockter says. “There were a lot of printing companies going out of business, so we saw this as an opportunity. It was a chance for us to basically extend our markets within our current client base.”

It was a wise move. PBD’s printing and mailing service, bolstered by the 2012 acquisition of a similar company that was looking to get out of the business, has grown exponentially since PBD began offering the service in 2008.

“It was a natural fit for us,” Dockter says. “We just had to get the right equipment and the right people in place that knew what they were doing. And lo and behold, [last] year, we had a company that went out of business that we absorbed. So now the revenue we’re getting from that part of our business is 300 times what it was in ’08-’09 when we started it.”

PBD has diversified into other areas as well. Among the operations that are bringing in substantial new revenue are electronic distribution, consumer products, gift catalog items and logo promotional items, such as clothing and pins to be distributed at conferences.

“We’re excited about all of these new lines, because they all have a tremendous amount of capacity to grow,” Dockter says. “Plus it gives us more sales points, both within the current organizations that we work with and with prospects.”

Expand offerings

As the economy has fitfully rebounded from the recession, all of this diversification and spreading into new markets has begun to pay off for PBD, according to Dockter.

“The economy has gotten a little bit better, and as a result, some of our sales are coming back naturally,” he says. “Our clients are putting more money into their marketing and into new product.

“These newer services we’ve expanded into have really helped us to right our revenue ship. We now have a better array of services to offer and a wider range of products. That’s allowing us to win new business at a better clip. And it’s helping offset the decline in what was our traditional core business — pick, pack and ship fulfillment.”

Dockter says he’s learned a lot from guiding PBD through this ordeal, and he and the company will be better prepared the next time they face a similar set of circumstances.

“One of the key things I learned, from a leadership standpoint, is that you can’t let yourself get too comfortable when things are going well,” he says. “You have to always be challenging yourself and your team with some what-ifs.

“When we were flying high, we weren’t challenging ourselves as hard, because we felt great about what we were doing. But there were some signs that we missed. So even when things are going well, you have to make sure you’re challenging yourself on things that might not go well going forward. Sometimes it’s hard to force yourself to think in that mode when you’re hitting on all cylinders.”

Dockter also says he believes that when PBD runs into a similar challenge in the future, he and his team will recognize the signs of impending change and react more quickly to counteract them.

“Of course, as a leader, you want to show confidence — you want to exude confidence — but you’ve got to be careful not to lose sight of the changes that can happen,” he says. “We knew certain things could happen, but we didn’t want to admit it while everything was going well.

“And, of course, the most important thing is when you do get to that place — when those changes are starting to happen — how do you react? You’ve got a couple different ways you can do that. I think we were slow. You’ve got to be fast. That doesn’t necessarily mean working harder. It means putting your strategy in place as quickly as possible, and then executing it, decisively.” ●

How to reach: PBD Worldwide, (770) 442-8633 or www.pbd.com

The Dockter File

Scott Dockter
President and CEO
PBD Worldwide

Born: Chicago

Education: Bachelor’s degree in economics, University of Virginia

 

Looking back over your years in school, can you pinpoint a business leadership lesson you learned that you use today?

I played tennis at the University of Virginia. A big part of doing that was creating leadership within my team, especially in the small-team environment. And the work balance was important from a time-management standpoint.

What was first job, and what important business lessons did you learn from it?

I had two jobs that were tied together — delivering newspapers and cutting lawns. The premise was to be able to earn my own money that I could spend the way I wanted to, and to do it without anybody telling me what to do. I learned a lot about responsibility from doing this. And I learned that figuring out how to create an avenue to make money can be a lot of fun.

Do you have a main business philosophy that you use to guide you?

Communicate as often as possible in a face-to-face mode with both your clients and your employees. Our company has a no-email policy on Fridays. We’ve had it for six years. The idea is to communicate at the highest level and to build relationships in order to get things done. When you communicate in that mode, you tend to create partnerships and true teamwork. That’s something we feel strongly about.

What trait do you think is most important for an executive to have in order to be a successful leader?

You need to be trustworthy. Your customers need to trust you, and your employees need to trust you. It comes down to this: Do you look them straight in the eye? And do they look back at you straight in the eye? When you’re able to create that bond, that means you’re truly a trusted partner and leader.

How two friends turned their love of transportation into a successful business enterprise

Artur Wagrodzki, president, Artur Express Inc.

Tomasz Tokarczyk, president, Artur Express Inc.

Artur Wagrodzki and Tomasz Tokarczyk were surprised at what they found upon arriving in the United States from their native Poland. They were just teenagers, but they still had an image of what America was like, and Brooklyn wasn’t really matching up with what they had envisioned it to be.

“I thought it was going to be palm trees everywhere,” Tokarczyk says. “In Brooklyn, you have concrete going all over. That was my first impression.”

The childhood friends and future presidents of Artur Express Inc. grew up as neighbors and eventually went to work for a limousine company in the New York City borough. It was there that they found their love for the transportation industry.

“It was a black car service and they took bankers and people like that around the city,” Wagrodzki says. “We worked in different departments, but we basically were dispatching drivers, picking up phone calls and doing customer service. In some respects, it was a little bit similar to what we do now. We just move freight instead of people.”

The numbers show Artur Express Inc. does a very good job moving that freight. The transportation and logistics company was founded in 1998 and grew to $28.1 million in 2008 revenue. Revenue reached $54.9 million in 2011.

“When we started this business, we were really young,” says Tokarczyk, who serves as president along with Wagrodzki of the 50-employee company. “So maybe that gave us a big advantage. We took it upon ourselves to build the business, and we just did what we felt was right. We ran with it and did everything in our power to make it work and help the company grow.”

The business partners have led with a mix of instinct and collaboration. They don’t worry so much about what the leadership textbooks say you’re supposed to do. But they understand the importance of building a strong culture where employees are committed to doing their job to the best of their ability in order to satisfy the customer.

“A lot of the loads that we haul are for very important customers and it’s very time-sensitive,” Wagrodzki says. “You can give a driver the wrong ZIP code and he’s going to end up in a different state. It’s that crucial. So we need very accurate data and we need everybody to do their job.”

Here’s a look at how Wagrodzki and Tokarczyk work together to lead Artur Express and make sure their employees know exactly what needs to be done to keep the company on top of its game.

Share your responsibilities

One of the biggest changes at Artur Express in recent years has been the influx of technology into every aspect of the company’s business. Whether it’s tracking loads or the drivers who deliver them, technology has led to a different way of doing things in the company and throughout the entire transportation industry.

“The main key for our operation is to develop and use all the different technology that is out there to be able to perform and control the different problems that we have and give that information to the customer,” Wagrodzki says.

Everybody can benefit from technology, of course, but you’ve got to know how it can help you. To just implement something because everybody else is doing it or because it’s shiny and new is asking for trouble.

Wagrodzki says they are careful to incorporate technology that helps them and helps their customers. They have the advantage of having been with the company since the beginning.

“We’ve worked hands-on in the business from day one and we know the ins and outs of it,” Wagrodzki says. “We know exactly what we do on paper and then we just convert all those different ideas to our computer system. It’s not just bells and whistles. It’s something we can really use.”

That conversion process is handled by an IT department that is usually pretty tuned into what Wagrodzki and Tokarczyk are looking for. That type of connection is obviously important.

“All they need is an idea of what we want,” Wagrodzki says. “It takes a while to put it together, but once it’s in place, it becomes a very easy process that you can access any time, which helps gets us get the information to the people it needs to go to.”

It’s those connections that you have with your IT team and with your employees that make or break the integration of things such as technological tools to help you track volume and the status of deliveries.

If you’re not speaking the same language, you’re not going to get what you want or what your company needs.

So Wagrodzki and Tokarczyk make sure they are accessible.

“Employees know if they have an idea, they don’t have to put it out to us or management in some fancy form,” Tokarczyk says. “They can just shoot us a quick email and we react instantly. Every idea they send to us, we try to make it better. Some of the good things we’ve done, that’s how they have been developed.”

It’s that partnership that makes the difference between a business that can grow and one that is limited by the capacity of the entrepreneur. Wagrodzki says he and his partner knew enough to hand off some of their work as they grew to allow the company to gain more customers and take on more work.

“When we started the company, we did it all from accounting to billing to dispatching,” Wagrodzki says. “You name it, we did it. It’s helping us now to be able to meet up with the managers, meet up with the staff and give good pointers on how we used to do it. Maybe it was on a smaller scale, but the factors are still the same.

“If you have 50 trucks or 500 trucks, you have to apply those same rules. We try to treat our employees and our independent contractors on a very personal level. That definitely helps.”

Keep looking for talent

Hiring is always a challenge for any business because you just never know exactly what you’re going to get, Wagrodzki says.

“You’re going to take a gamble when you hire somebody,” Wagrodzki says. “They try to be perfect in the interview and you follow the rules and follow your steps of having them interview with multiple people. I would say 85 percent of the people we hire turn out pretty good.”

But it’s that other 15 percent that can cause a problem. It’s why Artur Express is always in recruiting mode to some degree. With the growth that the company has been experiencing, Tokarczyk says they can afford to bring in talent that has untapped potential.

“We try to find people who can grow with us and are motivated,” Tokarczyk says. “They do have management potential, but maybe that potential needs to be discovered a year or two years from now.”

If you’re looking for more experience in your new hires, it pays to keep tabs on others in your industry. In these difficult economic times, there are often companies that don’t make it or have to let people go whom they otherwise would prefer to keep.

“Sometimes we’re able to get those good people from different companies that were bought out or are no longer in business, “Tokarczyk says. “These people have been there for 15 or 20 years and they’re looking for another strong company where they can set their roots for a while. That’s how we were able to get a lot of the good people that we have.”

Whatever way you go, when you do bring someone in, give strong consideration to having more than one person interview the candidate if you don’t already do that. It will give you a variety of perspective that can help guide your decision.

“We try to have them interview with at least three or four different people,” Tokarczyk says. “This way, we have an idea where they would best fit in the company.”

One thing that Tokarczyk always asks candidates when he interviews them is why they like transportation.

“You can get all kinds of answers,” Tokarczyk says. “Sometimes, you get an answer like, ‘Hey, my father used to drive and he took me on a trip.’ Some of the customer service girls that we hire, those were the answers we got. So there’s always an aspect of transportation in our employees’ lives, one way or the other. That’s always good to hear. You have to be in it to love it.”

Manage your relationships

Artur Express relies on about 400 independent contractors to deliver freight for clients rather than its own employees.

“They are our partners in this business,” Wagrodzki says. “It’s a 50/50 responsibility. If they don’t make the delivery or if they don’t deliver on time, we’re not going to be able to use them again with this customer. They know it’s a one-time shot.”

One of the things Wagrodzki looks at to determine whether the company is doing well or trending in the wrong direction is the fleet of independent contractors.

“There are always guys who come and leave,” he says. “That’s normal. But once you see that nobody has left for a month or two, you can feel good that the company is doing well. We are providing the service that our customers need.

“You might have other times where something is not working and all of those independent contractors are leaving. Now there is something you need to react to.”

In an attempt to be proactive about relations with the contractors, Artur Express has created a team of people who check in regularly to address questions and concerns before they become a big problem.

“They are constantly on the phone with those contractors asking questions,” Wagrodzki says. “What are we doing wrong? What can we do better for you? That’s a key in this business. We match up contractors and customers, and we manage the process of them picking up the load on time and delivering it on time. Once we have those two parties happy, we’re happy.”

The recession has provided a bit of a challenge in this area as Artur Express has worked hard to help both parties understand what the other is dealing with.

“In some cases, customers don’t want to pay too much and drivers want a lot,” Wagrodzki says. “You have to talk to drivers. ‘Hey, this is the industry right now, this is the market.’ And if the market goes up, you have to go to customers and say, ‘We bid this business for the last two years, but we need an increase now.’ Most of the time they do understand because we move a lot of freight and we know from one customer to another there’s not that big of a difference.”

The key is approaching all relationships with a good attitude and not being afraid of a little conflict that is always going to come up from time to time.

“We never look for a perfect project or for a bulletproof opportunity,” Tokarczyk says. “We’re always looking to take some type of risk. But we’ve learned over the years that you can sit on the sidelines and play it safe or you can play the game. If you play it right, you usually end up on the good side.” <<

How to reach: Artur Express Inc., (800) 487-4339 or

www.arturexpress.com

 

The Tokarczyk and Wagrodzki Files

Tomasz Tokarczyk, president, Artur Express Inc.

Born: Kamienna Góra, Poland

Artur Wagrodzki, president, Artur Express Inc.

Born: Zielona Góra, Poland

Wagrodzki on managing through the recession: If we had to give customers little breaks on the business, we did it. We were able to convince our drivers that we will have the business, and it will be steady. We were lucky enough to make sure our business was diversified. We were working with retail, home goods and a lot of food companies.

Wagrodzki on word-of-mouth recruiting: We were able to hire more independent contractors because the contractors that we had, they talk a lot out on the road. Word-of-mouth is a big deal for transportation. The drivers drive and they talk and if you have good customers and you pay the drivers on time, they can’t ask for more. They just want to join your team and haul your freight.

Wagrodzki on bonuses: We have all different bonus programs set up for our employees and they are revenue-driven bonuses. Retention is a big factor in our business, so we have customized bonus programs for dispatchers and for load planners and all different types of tiers in our operation. Our employees feel that they own a piece of this company. If the company succeeds, we’re going to succeed as well.

Takeaways:

Let your people help you run your business.

Don’t ever stop looking for talent.

Make managing relationships a constant priority.

How Bob Bellack’s relentless pursuit of progress drives his team at Newegg North America

Bob Bellack, CEO, Newegg North America

Bob Bellack got an early start in the entrepreneurial game. Selling golf balls and lemonade, mowing lawns, cleaning gutters and washing windows were just a few of the jobs Bellack took on before he had even turned 10.

“Anything I could do to make a buck,” Bellack says with an air of confidence. “I was driven by the need to do things independently and have money of my own to get what I wanted when I wanted it.”

Flash-forward to 2012 and you’ll find that Bellack, now all grown up, is still in a hurry to achieve success as quickly as he can make it happen. He’s the CEO of Newegg North America, an e-retailer with an offering of more than 3 million products and roughly $2.5 billion in annual sales.

Those are great numbers, but Bellack says they won’t cut it in tomorrow’s world. He explains that as the market continues to evolve, so must the products available for purchase at Newegg.

“We have to be faster, smarter and more nimble in what we do,” Bellack says. “Not in everything but in what we do. Newegg did a great job getting to where it is today. But where it is today isn’t where we need to be. We need to keep changing the business. There’s a lot of change that’s going to happen in the next 12 to 24 months.”

You won’t find pingpong tables, brightly colored walls or slides for employees to swiftly glide from the second floor to the first floor at Newegg. Bellack says it’s a different approach than that of other companies in the tech industry, but it’s one that suits him best.

“When people come here, they have to be people who don’t look to see what it is,” Bellack says. “They see what it could be. That’s the biggest challenge is finding people who have that vision. What we’re doing is we’re going to change and evolve Newegg to another stage in its life. To do that, you have to have those people.”

 

Aim high

It’s not that Bellack is trying to be coy about his company’s future when he says prospective employees need to visualize it for themselves. It’s more like he views the future as a picture that hasn’t been painted yet.

And if you’re not confident enough, or brave enough, to come along for the ride and help him paint that picture, Bellack says you’re not going to be a good fit at Newegg.

“Innovation is not going to come from me,” Bellack says. “It’s going to come from them seeing opportunities to do a job better or see what somebody else in their realm is doing and make change and drive change.

“It’s not going to be from me telling them to do it. If that’s the culture you have, you cannot be competitive. Amazon has 50,000 employees around the country trying to figure out how to be better than everybody else. If you think I’m smart enough to beat 50,000 people, that’s absurd.

“We have to build a really strong group of people who are creative, independent thinkers and risk takers who are willing to take risks and change things.”

The big question is how do you find those talented people, and then once you find them, how do you get them to mesh all of their talents together for the betterment of your organization?

“I do a lot of interviews,” Bellack says. “I talk to three or four people a week and then sometimes more. When you reach a certain point of your career, a large part of what you do is recruiting and finding new people and finding new skills. You learn things from people who you interview and people you talk to. That’s one way you stay current with what’s going on.”

Talking to people is only scratching the surface of what you need to do, of course. Anybody can find people and engage in conversation, but that alone is not enough to bring you the talent you need.

The key is your ability to set your ego aside and not set barriers as to who you’re willing to talk to or consider bringing into your business.

“Don’t be afraid to hire experts or to hire people who know a lot more than you do,” Bellack says. “Shoot for as high as you can get. If you don’t, the last thing you ever want to be in any leadership role is the smartest guy in the room.”

If you have a problem hiring people who are smarter than you, you have to ask yourself what your goal really is with your business. Is it to achieve personal glory? Or is it to build a successful business?

“It’s not about people or personalities,” Bellack says. “It’s making sure people understand it’s really about the ideas and the business. It should never be personal. It should be very focused on what is our business objective. Our business objective is to make the place better.”

Give someone a sense that they can be part of a big success story and achieve growth on a personal level and they’re more likely to buy in, even if you don’t yet have a clear sense of where it’s going. They’ll see it the same way you do, as a challenge and an opportunity.

“The person you hire has certain expectations,” Bellack says. “Pay is one of them. That’s kind of the ante to be in the game.

“What they really want is to work with smart people that they are going to learn from. They want to do things that are unique, different, cutting edge and innovative. They want to be able to have a career path or development path, maybe in the company, maybe out of the company.

“But at the end of the day, they want to be at a place where they like to get up and go to work every day.”

 

Focus on the big picture

When Bellack talks to people about coming to work at Newegg, he engages in every conversation with the hope of learning something from it. If he’s lucky, it will be something that he can apply to his plan for growth at Newegg.

“I’m looking for someone not just to say, ‘I had $1 million to spend on marketing, I bought search keywords on Google and my click-through rate is ABC,’” Bellack says. “What I want to know is they actually had a bunch of different ideas on how to bring customers in and they executed those plans in a unique way, one that I hadn’t thought of before.”

Bellack is particularly interested in where people have gone who have worked either for or with the people he is interviewing.

“Tell me where the people are who worked for you,” Bellack says. “Where did they go? What jobs did they take? Have they been successful in their career? One of the guys answered, ‘Well, I’m not sure what they’ve gone on to.’ That was about over and we were about done.

“That tells you the kind of people that they bring in. The people I’ve brought in to work for me, a lot of them, I wish I had taken the jobs they took. They did far better than I did in many cases. But I’m happy for them. I think people should pick people who are smarter than they are and have the confidence they can hire good, smart people.”

In Bellack’s mind, it needs to be all about the business. If everyone is focused on the business and on making it better, all the other things will come. The personal growth, the personal rewards and the opportunity for everyone to experience a lot of success — it will all be there if everyone has the same goals in mind.

“I want to hear good ideas,” Bellack says. “I want to hear that they have recruited and developed good people and I want to know that they have concrete things they have accomplished.

“I want to know that they could work together with others to accomplish a goal. Personally, there is no incentive or benefit to me for self-promotion among the people who work for me. The only way I win is if this company creates more value.”

 

Put it all together

The final piece is to take those ideas and talents and potential and put it all together to build a better business. It’s not always easy as even people who work well with others and enjoy collaboration have days when they don’t agree with their colleagues.

“When you start bringing in a lot of people who have strong views and vision, I think the biggest challenge becomes what the alchemy is when you put them all together,” Bellack says.

“Part of my job is to try to make sure what we make here is constructive and that people work together. The people who were here before and the new people, what I don’t want is conflict and confusion. I want people who are creative, and I want people to debate and challenge things. But at the end of the day, you need people who can work together constructively.”

One of the most important things you need to do when you’re building a team is to set expectations. If you’re a business that is still shaping its future, that’s fine. But you and your people still need a road map of how you’re going to do it.

“If you set the ground rules and you tell people how to behave and you set the culture where people behave in that way, generally it works,” Bellack says. “I can’t say it always works. But I believe most people want to do a good job. They just want to know what the rules are and how best to work in an environment.”

Bellack takes personal pride in helping the people he hires become successful. In the same way he looks for stories from interviewees about people they have developed, he wants to have stories he can share about talented people he helped grow and succeed.

“My role is to make sure the people I bring in are as successful as they can be,” Bellack says. “What we need to do is make sure we identify employees with unique skills and capabilities and make sure we set a climate and environment where they can be successful.

“Sometimes they can’t do other things, but they can do one thing really well. Part of management is figuring out where those people are and finding the right spot where they can excel and make the company successful.”

As Newegg continues to grow and rack up more awards for its ability to meet and exceed consumer expectations, Bellack says he’ll continue to try to do it even better.

“You should never stop asking the question, ‘Are we doing the right thing?’” Bellack says. “At the end of the day, that drives you to continuously get better.”

While Bellack pursues growth relentlessly, he doesn’t let himself get overwhelmed by all the moving parts that make up Newegg.

“I cannot worry about whether someone in Shanghai or New Jersey is doing the right thing,” Bellack says. “I will never know that. I can never know that and it’s somebody else’s job to know that. But if they understand how they link back and how the goals and metrics are tied back, then we shouldn’t worry.” <<

 

How to reach: Newegg North America, (800) 390-1119
or www.newegg.com

 

The Bellack File

 

Bob Bellack

CEO

Newegg North America

 

Born: Chicago

 

Education: Bachelor’s degree in accounting, DePaul University, Chicago. MBA, Kellogg School of Management — Northwestern University, Evanston, Ill.

 

Who has had the biggest influence on your life?

My father. He was an entrepreneur, a musician and a music publisher. He did all kinds of things. He was basically a very successful guy doing lots and lots of things. He fostered a climate of independence and entrepreneurialism in our family.

 

What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

My father told me to not be afraid to make mistakes. He told me when I played percussion, I had the cymbals, and he said, ‘Don’t be afraid to hit them hard.’ Let me tell you, when you have those cymbals, if you’re not on the right time, you’re going to be singled out as the guy making the mistakes. But that’s true of anything. You learn every time you do something.

 

What one person would you like to meet now or have met from the past?

Steve Jobs was a very interesting guy. He is somebody who went through a lot of pain. He had some unbelievable successes, but he is somebody who was criticized and challenged. He made the world’s most valuable company. He went from Michael Dell telling him to give the money back to making the world’s most successful, valuable company. It’s more his spirit, his ability to be successful despite a lot of challenges. Some were self-inflicted; some were not. It would be interesting to hear his innermost thoughts about how he felt at different points in that experience.

 

Takeaways:

Know the kind of people you want to hire.

Look for people who have helped others succeed.

Set the expectations for what you want to achieve.

The Honor Roll

MANUFACTURING

ACS Industries Inc.
Joe Zeno

ACS Industries Inc. is a manufacturer and seller of construction equipment attachments and replacement parts. The company strives to not only create but also maintain high-paying manufacturing jobs to boost the local economy. To this end, the company doubled its staff size from 2007 to 2011.

 

Amish Mills/Daniels Amish Collection

Christopher J. Karman

Wooden household furniture manufacturer Amish Mills/Daniels Amish Collection has focused on expanding its product line to combat the decline of the company’s original market, curios. With the input of customers helping to fuel new, innovative designs, the company has seen national success — with sales increased 167 percent and its staff grown 300 percent from 2007 to 2011.

 

Little Guy Worldwide LLC

Joe Kicos

Little Guy Worldwide LLC is a leading teardrop camper trailer manufacturer and seller. The company resurrected the retro teardrop design — an economical, practical and aerodynamic trailer that can be pulled by any vehicle with a hitch. Production has increased with demand — sales jumping 143 percent from 2009 to 2011. The company tripled its staff in that time.

 

Marik Spring Inc.

Greg Bedrick

Marik Spring Inc. is a manufacturer of springs, wire forms and metal stampings. The company pledges to exceed customer expectations, and does so through consistent quality, engineering experience and on-time delivery at competitive prices. Because of its continued growth, Marik had to relocate from its original 13,000-square-foot building to a 26,500-square-foot building in 2005.

 

Network Polymers Inc.

Alan Woll

Plastic resin manufacturer and distributor Network Polymers Inc. provides raw material to numerous manufacturers in Northeast Ohio, while creating manufacturing and high-paying research and development jobs in the Akron area. Its 12 percent staff increase from 2007 to 2011 was made possible by a $16 million sales increase during that time.

 

Ohio Hickory Harvest Brand Products Inc.

Darlene, Joseph and Michael Swiatkowski

Ohio Hickory Harvest Brand Products Inc. has grown from a small mail order company selling smoked beef sausage and cheeses to a multifacility company also selling dried fruits, nuts and candies and providing bulk grocery items to local stores. Growth continues, due in large part to equipment investments. Sales jumped $6.4 million while staff increased 138 percent from 2007 to 2011.

 

OrDerv Foods Inc.

Keith A. Kropp

OrDerv Foods Inc., a manufacturer of sauerkraut balls, has expanded its product line to include appetizers, such as Wonton Poppers, Fried Pickles, Reuben Bites, Fried Banana Peppers and a new line of Olivations, since Kropp purchased the business in 2005. OrDerv also creates custom design products for area restaurants and food manufacturers. Sales increased 81 percent while staff jumped 133 percent from 2007 to 2011.

 

Portage Precision Polymers

Doug Hartley

Rubber compound and rubber-based products manufacturer Portage Precision Polymers continues to operate at capacity, prompting the need for further expansion. The growing company has invested in a new mixing lineup, as well as in new computer systems, forecasting, models and extensive staff training. PPP grew their staff 27 percent from 2007 to 2011.

 

Shearer’s Foods Inc.

Robert J. Shearer

Shearer’s Foods Inc. is the manufacturer and distributor of Shearer’s award-winning snacks, as well as select private label products. In response to rising market demands and new product development opportunities, Shearer’s built its Millennium Manufacturing Facility — the first LEED Platinum snack-food manufacturing plant in the world. Shearer’s sales increased by $279 million — 220 percent — from 2007 to 2011, and it hired 1,194 new employees.

 

Ten Point Crossbow Technologies

Rick Bednar

Ten Point Crossbow Technologies is a manufacturer, wholesaler and retailer of a full line of crossbows and accessories. The company engineers and designs its products in-house, ensuring superior quality. This prompted a 117 percent increase in sales from 2007 to 2011, enabling the company to grow its staff 88 percent.

 

 

TECHNOLOGY

 

AtNet Plus Inc.

Jim Laber and Jay Mellon

IT support company AtNet Plus offers managed services, Web development, backup solutions, hosting and co-location services. Experiencing significant growth, the company saw a sales increase of 90 percent from 2007 to 2011. Over that same time period, the company has put more Northeast Ohio residents to work, increasing its staff by 21 percent.

 

Cletronics Inc.

David Sands

Manufacturer of custom wound components, Cletronics Inc., began a major push in 2007 to increase in size by further penetrating customers’ transformer requirements. The results over the next four years was the doubling of the company’s sales revenue and a 58 percent increase in staff. To reward this growth, Cletronics has built a new 12,000-square-foot manufacturing facility.

 

Corporate Technologies Group Inc.

Jeff Sumner and Brett Harney

Corporate Technologies Group Inc., a voice and data technology company, has fostered growth by focusing on redesigning its website to meet new marketing goals, as well as keeping up with the changing demands of new technology. Efforts have led to a 31 percent sales increase and a 20 percent staff increase from 2007 to 2011.

 

Etactics Inc.

Michael P. Teutsch

Etactics Inc. is a cost-effective EDI and print services company that enhances the accuracy and delivery of many time-sensitive documents, especially invoices. These services improve the cash flow for more than 2,000 clients. Etactics has seen a 55 percent increase in sales — totaling $4.3 million — and a staff increase of 75 percent from 2007 to 2011.

 

Knotice

Brian Deagan

Knotice delivers direct digital marketing software solutions. Its Concentri product was the first online communication product to integrate content targeting for websites, mobile marketing, email marketing, targeted display advertising and analytics in a single software solution. Knotice grew sales a whopping 467 percent — $9.8 million — from 2007 to 2011 and increased its staff by 267 percent — 64 people.

 

PartsSource Inc.

A. Ray Dalton

PartsSource Inc. has expanded on its role as a provider of medical replacement parts. As of 2006, the company also offers software solutions related to the management and acquisition of parts, cutting costs and improving efficiencies for clients. This new component contributed to a $39 million sales boost from 2007 to 2011, prompting the hiring of 57 additional employees.

 

Summit Data Communications

Ron Seide

Summit Data Communications provides industrial-grade and medical-grade wireless modules. The company’s tough Wi-Fi products ensure secure and reliable wireless connectivity for devices such as data collection terminals and medical equipment that operate in challenging environments, such as factories, warehouses and hospitals. This quality resulted in a 144 percent increase in sales from 2007 to 2011, totaling more than $10 million.

 

SERVICE

 

Americas International Inc.
Wayne Stair

Americas International Inc., a wholesale distributor of rubber and rubber chemicals, has expanded beyond its Akron roots to include regional sales offices in Atlanta, Chicago and Los Angeles, with a network of warehouse operations that ensure accurate and on-time deliveries. Its efforts have grown the company’s sales 312 percent from 2007 to 2011 — an impressive $40.4 million.

 

Appalachian Outfitters/Appalachian Outdoors LLC

Michael Leffler

Appalachian Outfitters/Appalachian Outdoors LLC is an outdoor specialty store. Longtime, outdoor-experienced employees ensure customers not only receive the best products for their needs, experience levels and budgets but also understand the best way to use them. The company’s sales have increased 25 percent over a four-year period ending in 2011.
AssuraMed (f.k.a. Edgepark Medical Supplies)

Michael Petras Jr.

Edgepark Medical Supplies, parent company AssuraMed, has continued to evolve over the years, starting out as a corner pharmacy in 1928. Eventually focusing solely on the mail-order business of medical supplies, the company has since expanded to locales across the nation. From 2007 to 2011, the company saw a $285.5 million increase in sales and added 344 new employees.

 

Carrara Cos.

Justin Sucato

Restoration, construction and cleaning company, Carrara Cos., has built its impressive growth on three core strengths: building a culture around company values, recruiting and developing true leaders and providing industry-best customer service. The company saw an impressive sales increase of 127 percent, totaling $4.2 million, from 2007 to 2011, and grew its staff by 136 percent.

 

Chemspec Ltd.

Dave Moreland

Chemspec Ltd. is a distributor of chemical products and additives to the rubber, plastic and polymer industry. The company’s success stems from the use of state-of-the-art facilities with extensive quality programs — success seen in its $8.8 million increase in sales from 2007 to 2011, coupled with 120 percent staff growth.

 

Cohen & Co. Ltd.

J. Michael Kolk

Cohen & Co. Ltd. provides entrepreneurs and privately held companies with a range of accounting, tax and business advisory services. By helping area businesses remain profitable, the company has been able to grow in return — increasing sales by $8 million and adding 14 new employees over a four-year period ending in 2011.

 

Epiphany Management Group LLC

Suranjan Shome

Epiphany Management Group LLC aims to transform and improve K-12 education through collaborations with progressively minded school leaders and industry innovators. EMG works in areas such as technology management and improvement, efficiency improvements and cost reduction, and marketing, branding and development. The company’s efforts resulted in a 331 percent increase from 2007 to 2011.

 

Ferry Industries Inc.

Harry Covington

Ferry Industries Inc. manufactures rotational molding machines, high-intensity mixers, powder handling systems and precision cutting machines. The company manufactures in-house using Process Logic Controllers, advanced industrial computers and innovative engineering to improve its products’ processing capabilities, benefiting customers. The company’s sales jumped $5.7 million from 2009 to 2011.

 

Great Lakes Fasteners Inc.

Kevin R. Weidinger

Great Lakes Fasteners Inc. is a supplier of standard, metric and military specification fasteners to Midwest manufacturers and has recently entered the maintenance and repair segment. The company recently undertook an aggressive acquisition strategy and invested in sales people and marketing tools, doubling its staff from 2007 to 2011.

 

Group Management Services

Mike Kahoe

Group Management Services is a professional organization providing payroll, benefits, risk management and human resources services. GMS has grown by providing clients with superior service and cost savings, leading to a customer retention rate of more than 90 percent. The company increased sales by $10.6 million during a four-year period ending in 2011, and added 26 employees.

 

HMT Dermatology Associates Inc.

Helen M. Torok

HMT Dermatology Associates Inc. has focused on service-related innovation, expansion and strategic planning to grow business operations and services during the past nine years. Two key services added are Mohs Skin Cancer Surgery and on-site pathology services. As a result of the company’s efforts, revenue increased by $3.13 million from 2007 to 2011.

 

Illumetek Corp.

Jim Pulk

Lighting management company Illumetek Corp. specializes in retro-fitting commercial building lighting systems. This industry can save facilities more than 40 percent on utility bills and also helps companies reduce their carbon footprint — all without reducing lighting quality. Illumetek’s sales grew by $4.3 million during a four-year period ending in 2011.

 

InfoCision Management Corp.

Carl Albright

InfoCision Management Corp. is a leading inbound and outbound call center provider and direct marketing partner, specializing in customer acquisition, care, retention and fundraising. The successful growth of the company — with sales boosted $19 million from 2007 to 2011 — enabled InfoCision to provide more than 1,000 new jobs during that time period.

 

J. Rayl Transport

Jeremy Rayl

J. Rayl Transport, a full-service transportation company, continues to grow beyond its original Akron headquarters, with recently opened terminals in Ohio, Virginia and Texas. The company caters to customers via its ability to provide several logistics options for a variety of commodities. It grew sales 180 percent — $27.9 million — from 2007 to 2011, adding 135 employees.

 

Jarrett Logistics Systems Inc.

W. Michael Jarrett

Jarrett Logistics Systems Inc. provides supply chain management services, including transportation management, freight bill auditing and payment, premium freight management, claims processing and custom reporting. Clients have more control over their supply chain thanks to JLS’s centralized routing center — saving them money and increasing efficiencies. The company saw a $6.9 million sales increase from 2007 to 2011.

 

Knox Marketing

Randy Godding

Knox Marketing is passionate about delivering quick, cost-effective solutions to customers, focusing on conducting thorough research, writing strategic marketing and communication plans, and producing appropriate creative executions. The advertising agency has taken a particular interest in health care, boosting the company’s growth. Knox Marketing grew sales $1.8 million over a two-year period.

 

Laudan Properties LLC

Kevin R. Weidinger and Nico Cottone

Regional mortgage field services company Laudan Properties LLC operates in a growing service area stretching from Michigan to Florida and expanding west. The company maintains a competitive advantage thought a vast network of licensed contractors. Its growth is reflected in its 2008 to 2011 sales and staff increases: 480 percent and 400 percent, respectively.

 

Lighting Services Inc.

Kurt Allerman

Lighting Services Inc. offers full lighting retrofit installations, interior and exterior service and a variety of scheduled maintenance programs. The company helps clients cut energy costs and provide a positive, productive work environment through high-quality but cost-effective lighting. It saw an 204 percent sales increase — $4.9 million — from 2007 to 2011, and grew its staff 48 percent.

 

Linnea’s Candy Supplies Inc.

Chris Romocean

Linnea’s Candy Supplies Inc., first started as a retail operation, has grown and evolved into a business-to-business candy supply wholesaler. It has expanded beyond its current Ohio headquarters and warehouse to include a West Coast warehouse in California. The popularity of Linnea’s products is seen in its 2007 to 2011 sales increase of $6.1 million — a 119 percent leap.

 

National Interstate Insurance Co.

Dave Michelson

National Interstate Insurance Co. is a leading provider of transportation and specialized insurance products. It continues to expand its portfolio and increase market penetration, and recently completed its first major acquisition. The company also developed a risk management program to help customers become safer operators. Its efforts led to a $180 million increase in sales from 2007 to 2011.

 

Ohio Tool Systems

Jack Grace

Ohio Tool Systems is one of the leading industrial tool and material handling distributors in the Midwest. The company’s success stems from its commitment to customer service and satisfaction in all nine sales locations and five factory-authorized repair and warranty service centers. Ohio Tool Systems grew sales by $10.5 million throughout a four-year period ending in 2011.

 

Outtech Inc.

Jay Scholes

Outtech Inc. manufactures and sells hunting and outdoor products and equipment. Its professional sales and marketing associates are dedicated to providing clients with excellent service while contributing to the success of the manufacturers it represents. The growing company hired 20 new employees from 2007 to 2011 and expanded its headquarters in 2008.

 

PackShip USA

W. Michael Jarrett

PackShip USA provides packaging and shipping services for large, high-value merchandise and logistics management services for mid-market businesses. The company stays up-to-date with the latest technology and methods to ensure delivery of top-notch service. PackShip saw a 21 percent increase in sales, as well as a 71 percent increase in staff, over a four-year period ending in 2011.

 

Payroll4Construction.com

Mike Ode

Payroll service provider Payroll4Construction.com caters to the distinct needs of contractors, making processing complex construction payroll easier. The company ensures a comprehensive service package by incorporating cutting-edge software tools, such as the recent addition of remote timecard entry application Foundation mobile.  The company grew a staggering 918 percent from 2007 to 2011, and increased its staff by 367 percent.

 

ProSource Solutions LLC

Lowell T. Messner

ProPource Solutions LLC is a five-time Microsoft Gold Certified Partner specializing in Microsoft-based software engineering and IT consulting. ProSource combines technology expertise, business knowledge and diverse experience in solution development to deliver creative and effective solutions to its clients. The company increased sales 320 percent from 2009 to 2011 and tripled its staff.

 

QualCare LLC d.b.a. Home Instead Senior Care

Therese Glorioso

QualCare LLC, doing business as Home Instead Senior Care, provides home health care and elderly home care for seniors, with services such as Alzheimer’s and dementia support, respite care and companionship. The trust established helps families to eliminate worry, reduce stress and re-establish personal freedom. QualCare grew sales 517 percent, and its staff 746 percent, from 2007 to 2011.

 

Rezkem Chemicals

Eric H. Gorze

Hydrocarbon resins importer and distributor Rezkem Chemicals has experienced tremendous growth by focusing on adding new domestic and international customers, providing excellent customer service and managing product volatility. The company also rebranded last year, incorporating a new logo and website. It saw a sales increase of 381 percent during a four-year period ending in 2011.

 

SS&G

Mark Goldfarb and Robert Littman

Regional accounting and business advisory firm SS&G provides assurance, tax, consulting, investment and retirement plan services. The financial guidance SS&G provides has helped customers continue the success of their businesses through an economic downturn. These efforts have been favorable in return, with a $16.6 million increase in sales from 2007 to 2011 and the addition of 126 employees.

 

SS&G Healthcare Services LLC

Thomas Ferkovic

SS&G Healthcare Services LLC specializes in medical billing and accounts receivable, independent physician and dental practice management, clinical research and financial and operational consulting. The company takes a hands-on approach, with experienced professionals holding a range of advanced degrees and certifications. This staff grew 51 percent from 2007 to 2011, during which time sales increased by $5.5 million.

 

Sequoia Financial Group LLC

Thomas A. Haught

Financial advisory company Sequoia Financial Group LLC offers comprehensive wealth management services. Its salaried, non-commission staff of professionals focuses entirely on what works best for the customer. As a result of the firm’s success, Sequoia has expanded in both existing and new markets, experiencing a $1.05 million sales boost and 15 percent employee growth from 2007 to 2011.

 

Slate Rock Safety LLC

Heidi Sweeney

Slate Rock Safety LLC, a retailer and wholesaler of safety apparel, was recently named among the 500 fastest growing businesses in America by Inc. magazine. The company strives to automate and streamline technology and processes for maximum efficiency, while employees provide excellent service and establish lasting relationships with clients. Company sales grew 26,700 percent from 2007 to 2011, with a 1,000 percent staff increase.

 

Spectrum Surgical Instruments Corp.

Rick Schultz and Rick Costello

Spectrum Surgical Instruments Corp. sells and repairs surgical instrumentation that contributes to safer patient outcomes. But the company promotes proper care and handling of surgical instruments beyond selling products, through published articles, lectures, consulting, Instrument University and educational seminars. Spectrum more than doubled its staff as well as sales, with a $17.1 million increase in revenue from 2007 to 2011.

 

Summa Western Reserve Hospital

Robert Kent

Summa Western Reserve Hospital’s commitment to high-quality health care, cutting-edge technology and patient-centric service bolsters its reputation as one of the nation’s leading health care systems. The hospital grew sales 135 percent — totaling more than $63 million — from 2009 to 2011.
Tegrit Group

Mike Spickard

Tegrit Group is a national leader in actuarial consulting, administration and technology solutions for public and private retirement plan sponsors. The company continues to grow due to its commitment to state-of-the art solutions and maintaining a knowledgeable staff. Tegrit Group added 86 employees 2007 to 2011, and increased sales by 146 percent, totaling $7.6 million.

 

Trillium Creek Boutique LLC

Heather Funk

Trillium Creek Boutique LLC offers cosmetic consultations and sells a wide variety of skincare products, makeup and gifts. Steady growth has been achieved through product and service innovations, such as its skin typing software system that matches Trillium Creek Dermatology patients with the best skin care products for their type. The boutique increased sales 24 percent from 2007 to 2011.

 

White Space Creative

Keeven White

Strategic integrated marketing communications agency White Space Creative helps businesses and organizations motivate others into action. The company’s creative, high-energy efforts have fostered continuous growth, making it a recipient of multiple Northeast Ohio Success and Leading Edge business distinctions. White Space Creative increased its staff by 4 percent from 2007 to 2011 to support its efforts.

People planners

Mike Spickard, CEO and managing director, Actuarial Consulting, Tegrit Group

Service, Employee Growth

As a company whose business is all about helping people, Tegrit Group recognizes the importance of having a people savvy staff. It’s why the national leader in actuarial consulting, retirement plan services and technology solutions has continued to grow its talented team of service professionals along with its customer portfolio.

With roots going back to 1983, Tegrit Group is the culmination of four different companies — Summit Retirement Plan Services, Tegrit Technologies, Tegrit Administrators and Advisors Pension Services — that have merged together with a common goal: to empower organizations through state-of-the-art retirement planning services and solutions. The company’s expanded capabilities have allowed Tegrit Group to provide an umbrella of services for employers and expand its reach in the industry over the years.

Tegrit Group CEO Mike Spickard, who also serves as managing director of the company’s Actuarial Consulting unit, knows that Tegrit’s recent growth would not have been possible without its expert and multidimensional staff. Spickard himself is a great example, as an enrolled actuary, a certified pension consultant and a member of the American Society of Pension Actuaries. These are the people responsible for helping the company’s clients continue to achieve security, reliability and scalable performance through their retirement planning.

As Tegrit Group has continued to grow its talented team of employees, the company’s sales growth has followed suit. Since 2007, the organization has added more than 86 new employees to its staff, bringing its head count to 150 in 2012. In that same time frame, it has also successfully accelerated sales growth by $7.6 million. Today, Tegrit Group is able to deliver its competitive retirement planning services to serve more than 2,000 employers in five locations across multiple states.

To make sure it can continue to build a pipeline for new talent, Tegrit Group has also partnered with the University of Akron for a second year to provide internship opportunities in its Actuarial Services, Benefits Administration and Defined Contribution departments. Three interns from the company’s 2011 internship program joined the Tegrit Group as full-time employees in 2012.

How to reach: Tegrit Group, (330) 644-2044 or www.tegritgroup.com

 

 

 

Perfection in every bag

Robert Shearer, chairman and CEO, Shearer’s Foods Inc.

Manufacturing, Best Story

“Shearer perfection in every bag” isn’t just a clever motto — it’s the only way Shearer’s Foods Inc. knows how to produce its snack products. Over the past five years that level of perfection has led the manufacturer of snack foods to double its production, sales, facilities, product offerings and associates.

In 2010, Shearer’s acquired Snack Alliance Inc., one of the fastest-growing branded, contract pack and private label snack producers in North America, positioning the company to service private label and contract manufacturing partners on a national level with five manufacturing locations.

Under the leadership of Chairman and CEO Robert Shearer, growth in the business will also continue — due in large part to a new Millennium Manufacturing Facility that was completed in April 2011. The facility is the first LEED-Platinum-certified snack-food manufacturing plant in the world. It was constructed in response to market demands and for new product development opportunities, such as kettle-cooked potato chips.

As the company has grown its facilities and its products, it has also had to bring on more employees to keep up with that growth. Shearer’s now employs 1,900 people, compared to 1,600 employees two years ago, and is still hiring.

Whether it’s Shearer’s employees, products or facilities, it all comes back to having perfection in every bag. Shearer’s has gathered many awards for growth, leadership, manufacturing excellence, sustainability, world-class customer service, new products, human resource practices and community service. The company addresses environmental responsibility through its Energy Management Program, an initiative to create great snacks while helping to preserve natural resources for future generations. It also looks after the welfare of its employees just as much as it places attention on its products. Today, Shearers has on-site clinics and does health screenings to measure employee’s blood pressure, glucose, cholesterol and BMI levels, which are all tied to health incentives.

How to Reach: Shearer’s Foods Inc., (330) 767-3426 or www.shearers.com