Matthew Figgie

The Figgie family continues to build on its long-standing and significant tradition of charitable works and direct community involvement. As chairman of Clark-Reliance, I have worked to create a culture throughout the business that has instilled the paramount value of giving back. I always try to lead our employees by the simple theme, “We must have a calling greater than ourselves.”

Even as many companies are still trying to recover from a very severe economic downturn, it is imperative to make charitable giving top priority. Not only is it the right and responsible thing to do, but it can be good for your company’s reputation and image, increase customer loyalty and improve your ability to attract and retain employees. In other words, the benefits — tangible and intangible — substantially outweigh any costs or risks.

At Clark-Reliance, we have maintained the strong corporate and individual commitment to charitable work and community involvement. In fact, we believe every company should embrace its philanthropic responsibilities. Make the commitment and deliver on your promises to those you choose to help and support, just as you do to your own customers.

When developing a charitable plan for your organization, consider the following:

Support and impact the city/community you’re in.

Many businesses seek to align their community involvement with their strategic business goals. Look for a charity in your community that you and your employees believe in that will enable you to work with influential people who can help you make a difference.

Look for ways to work in areas that are close to home, close to your business and where your employees live. Supporting a charity that serves employees’ families, friends and neighbors can become a great source of pride for everyone in your organization.

Select a special cause that affects employees and their families.

Having all your employees working together for a special cause that directly affects people they know is one of the best team-building experiences. For example, at Clark-Reliance, we selected the National Kidney Foundation because I received a kidney transplant from an employee, Dave McKee.

Since the company’s involvement with The National Kidney Foundation, we have raised a record amount of funds, made the Cleveland kidney walk the fourth-largest walk in the country and have the largest corporate walk team. Having all of these employees and their families engaged has been a rewarding team-building experience for the company while directly benefiting the National Kidney Foundation.

We also believe in spreading the wealth by helping several organizations at the same time, whether it is fixing up a home or park, serving meals to the elderly, or getting behind a blood drive.

Add your personal touch.

If you choose to support a charity, put your personal mark on it. Make it a little bit bigger and better than before you took on the challenge. This will make your efforts memorable and impactful and shows your commitment to the organization. 

While doing the right thing and helping people in need is reward enough, it doesn’t hurt that these efforts often carry secondary benefits for the organization.

It is good for your employees.

Studies show that engaging employees in corporate giving boosts employee morale and productivity.

Corporate altruism sends a message to employees that the company is a good place to work and treats its people well, which will in turn, enable you to attract and retain better employees, motivate employees and keep them productive. It creates a better work environment, which can significantly improve the company’s bottom line.

It is good exposure.

Publicizing your commitment to a charity helps educate and remind others about the charity. This will inspire others to get involved and create goodwill for employees.  Utilize local media, social media and websites to get the word out.

Clients and customers like to associate themselves with businesses that support worthy causes.

It will provide a good network.

Being involved with a charity is an opportunity to network with like-minded professionals. These people can become future partners, customers, suppliers, confidantes, colleagues, mentors, and so on. And you will always be able to reflect fondly on the good works that you have done together.

Matthew P. Figgie is chairman of Clark-Reliance, a global, multi-divisional manufacturing company with sales in more than 80 countries, serving the power generation petroleum, refining and chemical processing industries. He is also chairman of Figgie Capital and the Figgie Foundation.

Rick Solon is president and CEO of Clark-Reliance and has more than 35 years of experience in manufacturing and operating companies.

In today’s work environment, your employees need to understand how much they are appreciated and how important they are to business success. The right culture can create a great environment for productivity, innovation and commitment. At Clark-Reliance, we have maintained the philosophy that employees are our greatest asset, which has yielded a long-term commitment from employees, with many having life-long careers at the company.

In order to do this successfully, incorporate the following cultural building blocks:

Train employees

Make sure that you offer your employees continuing education and the opportunity to build their skill set.

Lifetime employment is difficult for any company to guarantee but you can help your employees build lifetime employable skills. In order to keep your employee’s skills sharp, it is necessary to motivate them to keep current on education, trends and opportunities. Our community is blessed with many formal academic options. A sound tuition reimbursement program for undergraduate and graduate level degrees combined with professional associations, seminars and online offerings like webinars, creates a great foundation for employee learning. Your on-boarding process for new employees should focus on these formal options as well as the on the job training that your company provides. We established Clark-Reliance University, which is a series of online interactive programs with specific courses ranging from leadership to tooling instruction. Learning and improving have to become a way of life in your company.

Continuously improve

Make technology and employee involvement a priority at your company. With all of the social media, blogs, Internet and changing technology, it is important to make sure that your employees are kept current and given the tools to stay at the forefront of technological offerings. Using technology is important to any business as not only a way of communicating, but as a way for your business to grow and to stay current both domestically and internationally. Younger employees love technology and have an interest in it, so it is wise to embrace it and build it into the everyday practice for your organization.

While technology may spawn ideas, it is important to have an open-door policy and a formal program for employees to approach upper management on ideas to improve the company. Many of our best ideas have been from employees. For example, our current recycling program was from employees. This program now recycles more than 519,000 pounds of material, which generated $79,957 that was applied back to employee activities. We have a program, IDEAS, which formally documents employee suggestions and provides feedback on implementation.

Create a charitable nature

Employees like an environment where they can make a difference. Getting a team behind a charity is a really good way to build camaraderie among employees while helping the community. Blood drives, holiday giving, sustainable programs and environmental causes are all team-building programs that help create a culture of caring and giving. Our main focus over the past two years was the National Kidney Foundation and more than 200 employees walked together and helped make the walk the fourth largest in the country. 

Reward hard work and promote a work-life balance

Showing appreciation for employees is important in employee satisfaction and retention.  Rewards can be shown in many ways: financial, simple praise, or fun programs at work.  Some examples of programs that have been successful for Clark-Reliance are bowling teams, fishing charters, corporate runs, doughnut days, a Halloween party and an outing for families at Cedar Point, but the list certainly does not end there. Any program that shows appreciation and respect for commitment will be well received.

Work-life balance is best created by promoting the “family” environment at work and demonstrating family values through your management’s actions. Working hard but having fun will help make your work environment productive and enjoyable.

Matthew P. Figgie is chairman of Clark-Reliance, a global, multi-divisional manufacturing company with sales in over 80 countries, serving the power generation petroleum, refining and chemical processing industries. He is also chairman of Figgie Capital and the Figgie Foundation.

Rick Solon is president and CEO of Clark-Reliance and has over 35 years of experience in manufacturing and operating companies.

Cultivating Business

Revenue and profit from international sales needs to be part of any strategic growth plan. Growing international sales can be done by developing a distribution model (organic) or through acquisition (inorganic).

As chairman of Clark-Reliance, along with Rick Solon, president and CEO, we have successfully used international sales as part of Clark-Reliance’s overall strategic growth plan.

Develop a distribution model (organic growth)

In order to use organic growth to expand internationally, it is important to seek natural markets for your products beyond the borders of the United States. To do this strategically and successfully, you cannot look at the entire international market, but rather regions or countries that offer a reasonable opportunity for product placement.

For example, if you are looking at one of your first international endeavors, you need to look for opportunities in close proximity to the United States. If you are close to home, you will incur less capital risk and become established more rapidly. Initially, you may want to consider looking at Canada and Mexico. This will allow you to get a flavor for international business, currency exchange rates and overall business risk that will be tolerable for your company.

When entering any new market internationally, there are a few critical first steps:

? Start with a select few countries or one region.

Too many options can cause a loss of force evaluating logistics costs. Import/export duties, laws, regulations and demographics all need to be done thoroughly and can be very time consuming.

? Learn how to do business in that country. 

Seek information from international trade consultants like Chamber of Commerce Trade forums or a specific country’s trade mission and trade shows. A great deal of information and some potentially good contacts can be gathered. The Internet can also be a great way to find organizations that will help you become established properly. Sometimes a local law firm or financial services company can be a great guide. One of the most effective ways to learn is by visiting potential customers and learning what influences their buying decisions. This also will give you an idea of how much support infrastructure you will need to be successful. Make sure you consider time differences, language barriers, foreign exchange issues, letters of credit and local competition.

? Seek adequate representation in these markets.                 

Critically look at distribution channels and determine the best course of action. You can utilize a manufacturer’s agent or a direct sales representative. Using a manufacturer’s agent is generally less expensive (you only pay them if they sell) and is a great way to start building sales. Using a direct sales person is more expensive but may be more effective in technical consultative sales.   Ultimately, a hybrid of both will prove most productive. After getting established, your success rate may warrant a sales office or manufacturing facility in the region to support your efforts.

? Evaluate and prioritize growth markets.

Once you are established in your initial target countries or region, you should look at other countries or regions in the world that have robust markets for your products. In general, the developing countries or non-OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries like in Southeast Asia and the Middle East offer the best short-term growth prospects.

The hybrid approach

A hybrid approach to organic growth is to look at a partnership or joint venture. Properly chosen and implemented, joint ventures can be a great way for your small business to get in on opportunities and profits that otherwise you would miss out on. By teaming with other people or businesses in a joint venture, you can extend your marketing reach, access needed information and resources, build credibility in a particular target market and access new markets that would be inaccessible without the partner. This is a good option to consider before growing inorganically because it requires less risk and generally less capital.

Inorganic growth

Inorganic growth is often a faster way for a company to grow when compared with organic growth. Through acquisition you can align yourself with an established operation and be up and running relatively quickly.

Any acquisition should be a good “fit” with your strategic plan and complement or expand your product line. The acquired company will know competition, customer preferences, buying habits and the general market.

The expertise in a country or region that can be gained through acquisition should not be minimized. Gaining extensive knowledge of customers and markets is expensive and generally takes many years to gather, so the “speed” of an acquisition can be very beneficial. The drawbacks to this approach beyond a significant cash outlay for the acquisition are a longer and more costly period of due diligence, foreign legal issues and the normal complexities of purchasing any company.

Matthew P. Figgie is chairman of Clark-Reliance, a global, multidivisional manufacturing company with sales in more than 80 countries, serving the power generation petroleum, refining and chemical processing industries. He is also chairman of Figgie Capital and the Figgie Foundation.

Rick Solon is president and CEO of Clark-Reliance and has more than 35 years of experience in manufacturing and operating companies.

The development of a strategic business plan requires an analysis of growth through strategic acquisition. Making strategic acquisitions is a fundamental component of a company’s business plan and revenue enhancement.

As chairman of Clark-Reliance, I get together with Rick Solon, president and CEO, and the rest of our leadership team to continue to use strategic acquisitions to grow our 127-year-old company.

Any strategic acquisition strategy should consider the following:

Evaluate companies that have products and services that can expand and diversify your current product line and overall value.

It is important to find companies that not only complement your current product line, but improve and add to the product offering. Identify companies that have products that can diversify your existing product offering but that fit into the bundle of products you are selling to a specific market or market segment. The integration of the existing and acquired product lines creates sales opportunities to all customers of the merged companies.

You should also consider acquisition opportunities that will allow you access to a different industry or industry niche but one that still fits your strategic mission.

Your core customers probably are focused within a few industries. An acquisition can act as the “introduction” for your existing products into an industry or industry segment that you have not been able to penetrate but that has good growth potential. You may need to evaluate your sales channel model, because your existing model may not be effective for the new industry.

There are a few fundamentals as you start an acquisition strategy:

1. Identify and create a list of companies that you want to acquire that can result in a market share increase, product line diversification or industry diversification. Focus on companies that complement the core strategic intentions of your organization. Create a cross-functional acquisition team consisting of members of sales, marketing, operations, finance and business systems to discuss growth and become your due diligence team.

2. If you do not have sufficient internal expertise, identify a consultant with skill and experience in acquisitions who can assist you in this process.

3. Determine the best way to contact the company you are interested in and their preferred way to be approached. Some companies may prefer a letter of introduction, while others would prefer phone contact. Someone on your team may have a relationship or contact that can open the door for discussion.

4. Construct a letter of intent to purchase the company outlining key purchase terms and conditions and an overall timeline to complete the deal.

5. Create a comprehensive due diligence checklist that your team will use to thoroughly examine or audit the potential acquisition.

6. Make sure that the company is truly a good fit as you examine the financials and learn more about the operation, corporate culture and work force.

7. Have a law firm with an expertise in acquisitions put the deal together. They know the details and can guide you through the legalities, administration and what to do when you run into problems, which is inevitable in any transaction of this type.

8. Get your cross functional team very engaged during the due diligence phase. That way, you can begin integrating the two staffs, which will help the company you are acquiring get to know the people and get adjusted to your corporate culture.

While the acquisition process is a long, tough transition for all involved, if the right fit is found between two companies, it can make a world of difference for your company’s growth moving forward.

Matthew P. Figgie is chairman of Clark-Reliance, a global, multidivisional manufacturing company with sales in more than 80 countries, serving the power generation petroleum, refining and chemical processing industries. He is also chairman of Figgie Capital and the Figgie Foundation.

Rick Solon is president and CEO of Clark-Reliance and has more than 35 years of experience in manufacturing and operating companies.

As the leaders of Clark-Reliance, we attribute much our success to first looking inside the company for ways to grow. While things may appear stagnant, there may be some opportunities internally to afford your company the chance to expand and become more profitable.

Despite challenging economic times, it is possible to cultivate your business simply by looking inward. Clark-Reliance, a global leader in the level indication and control, sightflow indication and filtration and separation industries, continues to flourish, and in the past five years, we have experienced 46 percent growth.

We offer a four-tiered approach to growing, simply by evaluating internal operations and looking for creative ways to expand.

Never believe that you are in a mature or nongrowth industry.

If executive staff and employees continue to tell you that you are in a mature or nongrowth industry, politely ignore that advice. There is always room to grow. Your customer base is always evolving and they probably have specific production or process problems that would provide you with sales growth. Also, there may be possibilities to acquire market share from within the industry. 

For example, if a competitor gets acquired, relocates, or goes through a major change, talk to their customers. These types of changes cause quality issues and increased lead times that will often force customers to reevaluate their previous business relationships.  Look at this as your opportunity to engage them, provide solutions and ultimately convert them to your products.

Review your sales channel to maximize your opportunity to sell the most products.

Often, a modification to your sales channel can help stimulate growth. The first step is to look at what geographic areas are important due to high-potential customers and then determine the best sales channel. A precision-based sales approach in specific geographic areas targeting high-potential customers will outperform a blanket sales approach over a larger geographic area. 

For example, we identified the Middle East as an important market due to the potential and concentration of oil and gas customers. In order to gain market share, we hired a regional manager who targeted some customers directly while managing the existing sales representatives. This change allowed us to increase market penetration with a “hybrid” sales channel, leading to significant sales and market share in this region.  

Look at noncore industries and markets and determine if there is an opportunity for product permutation.

Look at market possibilities that have not been part of your core business but have similar technical applications for your products. Slight adjustments to an existing product can allow it to be sold in a completely different industry. Redesigning an existing product may give you the ability to bring “new” products to a noncore market in a short time frame. Also, product permutation cost is generally low so you can grow sales while improving profit through utilization of existing fixed costs.

Utilize the knowledge of your employees and stakeholders to find more opportunities for growth.

As the barometer of product innovation, improvement and market expansion, employees and stakeholders are the key to interacting with customers and can identify needs that you may not realize exist. Make it a standard procedure for employees and stakeholders to ask existing customers for suggestions. 

For example, one of our instrumentation product managers learned of a level control problem being experienced in the flash freezing of food. He opened a dialogue with us about solving this problem that led to a product permutation of an existing magnetic level gage. This allowed us to solve the problem for the food application and we were also able to use the new product in difficult applications with our oil and gas customers. Profitable growth opportunities are presented because of our culture of employee involvement.

We have built a culture that allows our employees and stakeholders to communicate ideas and potential opportunities to us in a frank, open dialogue. Your employees that make up your sales team, inside sales support, engineering and product management, interact with your customers and markets daily. If you couple their ideas with the knowledge of significant stakeholders like your supplier base and sales representatives, you will find many profitable growth opportunities.

Matthew P. Figgie is chairman of Clark-Reliance, a global, multidivisional manufacturing company with sales in more than 80 countries, serving the power generation, petroleum, refining and chemical processing industries. He is also chairman of Figgie Capital and the Figgie Foundation. Figgie is a member of the University Hospitals’ board of directors, corporate co-chairman for the 2013 Five Star Sensation and chairman for the National Kidney Walk.

Rick Solon is president and CEO of Clark-Reliance and has more than 35 years of experience in manufacturing and operating companies. Solon is chairman of the National Kidney Foundation Golf Outing and past chairman of the National Kidney Walk.

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