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The power of teamwork Featured

7:07am EDT July 19, 2002

Joining a small, established manufacturing company can be difficult. Employees often wear many hats, and everyone pitches in to keep the machines running and product flowing out the door.

But when being the new kid is coupled with being the owner, the combination can be harmful if organizational changes mean personal sacrifices for employees.

That's what happened in 1996 when Joseph Cerino bought Har Adhesives, a Twinsburg-based manufacturer of adhesive coatings. The company's three employees were used to the hands-off style of the previous owner, who maintained a small but dedicated customer base that had not grown in five years.

With 20 years of corporate manufacturing under his belt, Cerino was prepared for the challenge, but worried about his ability to develop trust with his employees. He needed the experienced workers more than they needed him, so he was concerned when, in order to expand the business, cost-cutting measures became necessary.

The first came three months after he purchased the company. Cerino found rental space that offered a 75 percent savings over what the company had been paying. But there was a problem -- the move would add an average of 35 minutes to the commutes of some employees who were already driving almost an hour.

Located in downtown Cleveland, the basement facility had less space and little daylight. There was a risk that the move would be counterproductive to growth and morale, and the decision could have lost Cerino his experienced staff.

"When you buy a company, the first thing you need to do is survive," Cerino says.

To keep his employees from running for the door, he approached them with his plan and asked for input. Concerns about the move included safety, expenses and rush hour traffic.

"I sat them down and told them, 'Everything I have is in the company right now, and I have to make it work,'" recalls Cerino.

Explaining the reasons behind the move and believing his employees wanted the same thing he did -- survival, then growth -- Cerino made a promise: As soon as the company could afford it, he would move the offices back closer to their homes.

In the meantime, he and his staff agreed on compromises regarding alternative work hours to avoid peak driving times, company-paid indoor parking for safety and pay premiums to cover the travel difference. Even with those changes, the savings added up to more than 50 percent of what rent costs had been.

"Employees can live with change, even difficult change, when they understand the 'why' behind it," Cerino says.

By last year, Har Adhesives had 11 full-time employees and had achieved 300 percent growth. As promised, Cerino moved the company to Bedford.

This year, he expects sales to double, in part because of a new distributorship program with H B Fuller Adhesives.

Cerino says communication is still an important part of his organization. He strives for a culture of sharing ideas and asking for employee input.

"When an opportunity comes up, employees raise very specific issues that need to be addressed to be successful," he says. "They think specifically, and I try to think strategically. Together, the goal is to fill our customer's needs."

Cerino is proud that he has not lost an employee.

"By maintaining our employee base, we've tapped into all that knowledge and we're taking advantage of years of experience," he says. How to reach: Joe Cerino, Har Adhesives & Coatings, (440) 786-7185

Deborah Garofalo (dgarofalo@sbnnet.com) is associate editor of SBN Magazine.