But instead of waiting to be sold to another corporation, Blue Ridge employees, who manufacture paper drink cartons, joined with a New York investment banking firm to buy the company themselves, creating an Employee Stock Ownership Plan.
Without that corporate leadership, however, Blue Ridge was left with a new operating philosophy of employee ownership, something that not everyone at the manufacturer was prepared to tackle.
"We no longer had some of the deep pockets that we had under Champion as far as training and development is concerned," says Chuck Grotsky, Blue Ridge's manager of human resources and organizational development. "Being employee-owned, running quite lean, we needed to look around for other avenues of training and development activity and at the least expensive alternative we could find."
It also looked for somewhere to get training grants to help offset costs of management training that it had previously relied on Champion to deliver.
One of the places Grotsky turned to for help was Lorain County Community College's EnterpriseOhio's SkillsMax Center, which provides assessment, training and certification tools to help employers better place and manage employees. Blue Ridge's main concern, however, was learning to instill a sense of ownership into its 155 workers.
"We wanted to provide some training for our supervisors and managers on, first of all, how to deal more effectively with change, and how to manage more appropriately in a participative employee-owner type of environment," Grotsky says. "That's part of the reason some of the classes were selected, because we want our supervisors to function less traditionally -- [less] the old managing, directing, controlling-type activity -- and become more a mentor-coaching type activity, and be a lot more participative, involved process."
After a training needs assessment and interviews with supervisors and managers, LCCC offered Blue Ridge the "Frontline Leadership" program, which includes 13 modules of classes in topics such as developing job skills, taking corrective action, resolving team conflicts, managing change, interest-based problem solving, managing individual performance, managing team performance and managing change.
Classes were paid for primarily through training grants Blue Ridge and LCCC landed from the state of Ohio.
"We're not quite there yet," says Grotsky. "We're not yet to self-directed work teams, but we want to try and get our people more involved as employee-owners, and that requires doing things differently than you would in a traditional management environment."
Also assisting with Blue Ridge's transition are the Ohio Employee Ownership Center at Kent State University and the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service.
"There are a lot of training initiatives ongoing," Grotsky says. "It's a slow process. This facility has been around since the late 1940s, and some of our people have been here 30 to 40 years, but we're beginning to see some progress." How to reach: Blue Ridge Printing, (440) 235-7200; Lorain County Community College, (800) 995-LCCC