A walk in the park Featured

7:00pm EDT December 26, 2007

Edward Crawford’s father passed away when he was young,

and at that point, he didn’t know where life would take him or

what he would do, but he was sure of one thing — he wanted to

be successful.

“I hadn’t determined how I would be successful or what the

success would mean or how it would ultimately play out,”

Crawford says.

He started his first company when he was 21 and had fun with

that, but after 30 years working in the private sector, he decided

he wanted the challenge of growing a public company, so in

1992, he joined Park-Ohio Holdings Corp. as chairman and CEO.

Little did he know that he’d be the one to take the diversified

logistics and manufacturing business from $119 million in revenue his first year to nearly $1.06 billion in 2006.

“It’s been fun,” he says. “It’s been quite a challenge. It is different, and when I think back about all the motivation at the beginning of my life to be an entrepreneur and be successful, nothing

in the tea leaves at that time pointed to the fact that I’d be sitting

here as the chairman of a $1 billion, publicly traded company

with plants all over the world.”

Crawford has learned a few things on the road to success. He

knows how to handle rejection, how to be honest hiring people

and then empowering those people without setting them up to

fail, and if you can master those things, it will serve you well in

successfully leading your own business.

Deal with rejection

Before you can do anything successfully in business, you have

to understand that there are going to be setbacks at certain

points, so you have to learn how to deal with negativity.

“If you can train someone to do anything, you have to

explain to them that every person in life personally and in the

business world, there’s going to be rejection,” Crawford says.

“The more you try to accomplish, the more there’s going to

be rejection.”

They key is learning how to accept it and turn it into a positive

energy source.

“First, you’ve got to realize that most rejection is not really

aimed at you personally,” Crawford says. “When people are

saying things that are, in essence, rejection, in most cases, it’s

not personal — it’s just their reaction to what they’re seeing

... you have to understand that most of these things are things

people believe, but they don’t really know you.”

When you recognize that it’s probably not anything personal

against you, then reframe your thoughts to prepare yourself to

deal with it emotionally.

“It’s a confidence thing,” Crawford says. “You just have to

say, ‘First thing I’m not going to do is when someone says

something negative to me, I’m not going to start moping. I’m

not going to let this knock me down, knock me off my feet. I’m

not going to let that happen. At best, it’s going to be a negative,

but it will not hurt me. Yes, I’ll feel bad about it for a moment, but I won’t let it affect my performance, my goal, where I’m


The next step is then using that rejection and transferring it

into a source of energy.

“There are certain people that are so devastated by rejection that they can’t get their balance for a period of time,”

Crawford says. “Rejection comes mostly when you have time

to handle it, but some rejection comes when you have to

make an instant decision ... I have to keep the big picture in

mind — where I’m going, where I’m trying to go, back to that

dream and being successful and executing it.”

If you can take this approach, it helps you stay cool in

stressful situations and allows you to make better decisions

and maintain a long-term view, focusing on knowing that this

too shall pass.

“I refuse to allow a negative moment upset me to the point

where it would affect my judgment and affect my will,”

Crawford says. “I just choose not to let that happen. I think

people, if they face the fact and think about it for a moment,

they can use rejection as a wonderful tool, but it takes some


Be honest when hiring

When Crawford started his first company, he was pretty honest

with the people he was hiring to work for him.

“I don’t have the money to pay you,” he told them. “I’m hiring you and the idea is we’re going to get some steel and

make it into pales, and Friday, we’re going to get paid, and

I’m going to come back and pay you. I hope it works out how

I think it is. This is a terrible building, and it’s hot, but we’re

going to make it out of here. OK?”

Despite the unknowns that faced the company, people respected his honesty and came to work for him anyway.

“Boy, when you’re honest with people, and they find out you’re

going to work as hard as they’re going to work, wonderful things

happen,” Crawford says.

Flash forward 46 years, and that honesty still guides him and

helps him get the best employees to help his company grow.

When Park-Ohio gets down to its final candidates for a certain

position, all of the candidates interview with Crawford, but

instead of getting the standard interview questions, Crawford

instead elects to have a frank discussion with them.

“You’re obviously qualified, so I don’t want to go into this,”

he tells a candidate. “Can I take the time to explain what the

atmosphere is like around here and what I think is important?”

By trusting that the people on your team have found the

most qualified people and not grilling them with more questions, it opens the door to get the right person when you can

get into the nitty-gritty details of expectations, work environment and atmosphere.

“Part of the job isn’t the mechanical aspects of doing the job,”

Crawford says. “It’s will you be happy; will you fit in here?”

Crawford describes to the candidate how he’s looking for

someone who wants to win and can meet the demands of a

growing organization. After describing the work environment

and expectations with the candidate for an hour or two, he

then tells the person to go home and think about it and to call

him the next day.

“That’s the way to do it because that’s the way you get the

players,” Crawford says. “They’re going to say, ‘Oh this is

good,’ or they’re going to go home to either their wife or

boyfriend and say, ‘Wow, now I know why they’re successful

over there. It’s a mentality — talk about will to win! This is all

about winning to these people. It’s fun, it’s a scoreboard, but

I’m not going to be able to succeed there unless I can have this

energy level.’”

His approach has paid off because many times candidates

will call him and tell him that they almost talked themselves

into taking the position, but after thinking about what he had

said, they realized it either wasn’t a commitment they were

willing to make or didn’t match with their interests or skills.

“It takes a tremendous amount of effort and emotion to get

people on the team,” Crawford says. “Let’s get people on the

team, so let’s tell them where we’re going and why, so they

could tell us. I could ask you questions for weeks, and I would

still not know ... I can take an interview and I can make them

answer the questions so they’ll be successful in the interview,

but why would I do that? I want to tell them exactly what I

think they’re up against and let them decide. A lot of people get

hired because nobody’s willing to make it clear of the expectations, and it’s not fair to the person being interviewed.”

Empower employees

When the leader of one of Crawford’s plants passed away a

few years ago, he wasn’t sure who would replace him, but

when one of his long-time administrative assistants called with

a suggestion, he listened.

She went on to tell him that one of the young bookkeepers at

the plant had been there for six years and wanted the opportunity to run the plant.

“You know she’s talented, so will you consider her?” the

assistant asked.

“Of course, I’ll consider her,” Crawford replied.

They had her come up for an interview, and his team convinced him she was the right person for the job. Three years

later, he was going to be in the area of her plant, so he called her

up and asked if they could meet since they hadn’t seen each

other in awhile. While catching up, Crawford asked if he could

come say a few words to the employees of her plant after their

lunch break, but she hesitated.

“Mr. Crawford, when Bill passed away, it’s taken me three

years to build up in everyone’s mind that I really run the company, and I take that very seriously,” she said to him. “I think

I’ve been successful, but if you go back over there, it’s going to

destabilize everything. They’re going to think there’s been a

change. We only have 80 employees or so, but they think I’m the boss, and I’m in charge, and I know everyone, and I know

their families, and I’ll do what you want, but you can see how

I’ve spent a long time making them feel that way.”

“OK, take me back to the plane then,” Crawford responded.

And that’s what Crawford wants because he knows he won’t

get anything from his people if he doesn’t give them something

in return.

“You can have a dream — a big dream, a small dream, an offthe-wall dream, but ... this can only be accomplished at this

level or any level with the support of other people and how you

treat them and how you frame the model of where you’re going

and what you present to them in return for their commitment,”

he says. “You have to really share something with them or give

them something in a form of leadership that will allow them to


When people feel that ownership, Crawford can rest easy and

not have to micromanage every aspect of the business because

he trusts his people to run their parts as best they can.

“In this company, it’s real, and it’s intense, and there are people out there running these plants that think it’s their business,

and they’re happy with that, and I’m thrilled because I don’t

have to worry about it, and if they need help, they call,” he


Giving people ownership allows them to buy in to his goals

and makes them more excited, which will help them work

harder and make the company more successful.

“This is all about the fun of building something,” Crawford

says. “There is a scoreboard — you have to be measured, but

it’s fun to be in the game, and it’s fun to be in with a lot of people that enjoy every minute of it. They don’t have to be the

quarterback. They can play another position. It’s like having

guards on a football team. Unless the guards are there blocking for the running back, they will not be successful, but they

have to be happy guards.”

Know people’s limits

Crawford once gave a job to someone he had known for a

long time, but after some time, it became evident that he had

to let him go from that position. Later he was having dinner

with his mother and reflecting on the situation in a sort of

befuddlement as to what went wrong, but his mom saw

things much clearer than he did and helped him see the light.

“Ed, you’ve known Chuck your entire life,” she said to him.

“You gave him more responsibility than he could handle. You

gave him a bigger job than he could handle, and you knew he

would fail. Maybe you didn’t think he’d fail, but you knew he

definitely wasn’t qualified. This isn’t his problem — this is

your problem.”

The light bulb went off over Crawford’s head, and he realized that his mother was correct.

“One of the biggest mistakes a leader can make running a

company ... is you have to be careful about putting people in

just because you like them, just because they’re fun and putting them in things they can’t do,” he says.

While it’s important to give people responsibility, it’s also

important that you don’t set them up to fail.

“You’ve got to put them in positions where they can win,”

Crawford says. “They have got to learn to win, and after

they learn to win, they can continue to win. You don’t learn

much from failure other than failure. Maybe people think

that’s a good experience, and I’ve had plenty of failures, but

the only thing I learned from failure was I didn’t like it.

There is an experience connected with it, but it’s about

being very objective and trying to figure out and trying to

move people to where they can be successful, and you’re as

good a judge of that as they are.”

Also realize that some failure is part of the learning

process, so you can’t be afraid to give people responsibility

just because they might fail. The key is to minimize their


“Just give them responsibility and let them fail,” Crawford

says. “That’s one good way. Cut the failures down to the

point where it doesn’t hurt the company that much. It’s a

process. There’s always going to be mistakes. We make mistakes. The company makes mistakes. You just have to overcome them.”

Maintaining that outlook has helped Crawford weather

the challenging times and strengthened his relationships

with employees over the years and gives them all hope for

the future of Park-Ohio.

“I think the people and that relationship will allow us to

sustain ourselves for a very, very long period of time,”

Crawford says. “As long as we don’t go away from that, and

we keep building the talent we have in this company, at

every level, the dream will go on because it’s their dream

now. We want everyone to dream.”

HOW TO REACH: Park-Ohio Holdings Corp., (216) 692-7200 or www.pkoh.com