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Interviewed by Dustin S. Klein If you take a tour of Life Fitness with Chris Clawson, you may find yourself answering questions that you wouldn’t expect to be asked on a tour of a company that makes exercise equipment. For instance, he’ll probably want to know if you have a favorite wine or if you’ve ever visited a winery. “I say, ‘How many of you think the wine tasted the same after you visited the winery?’” says Clawson, president at Life Fitness. “And they all shake their heads no because it tastes different. You get to meet the vintner, go…
With margin pressures, cost reductions and ongoing economic uncertainty on most corporate agendas, a company’s supply chain has become a key driver of growth. The relationship between the supply chain and senior finance leaders is more important than ever as C-suite executives work to build a cost-effective operating model. Yet, in “Partnering for Performance: CFO and the Supply Chain,” a recent EY survey that looks at the impact on the business when the CFO and chief supply chain officers collaborate, only one-quarter of finance executives describe their relationship with their supply chain counterparts as a true business partnership. Worse, only…
Industrial and DistributionFINALISTWhen Peter C. Anthony took over as president and CEO of UGN, Inc., the first action he took was indicative of his philosophy. He changed the company's term of "employee" to "team member."His philosophy was that everyone at UGN is part of the same family, or team. In a complex manufacturing process such as that at UGN, a manufacturer of high quality interior trim, soundproofing and thermal insulating products for auto manufacturers, every member is vital, and he wanted people to feel that way.Anthony’s commitment to inclusiveness is also demonstrated in the transparency in which he runs the…
Private Equity/Venture Capital BackedWINNERRevolution Dancewear knows the meaning of repeat customer. Since 2008, the company has retained an astounding 86.5 percent of its top 500 customers.That’s a good showing for a business that was started in a basement in 1996. Scott Harris founded the company, now a leading designer and marketer of dancewear, costumes and footwear that sells directly to dance studios in the U.S. and Canada and directly to studios and consumers in Europe.Those impressive facts had their origins with Harris’s experiences as a lifelong entrepreneur. He co-founded a radio station during high school and then a home security…
Industrial and DistributionFINALISTWarren Young decided one day at age 50 to pursue an entrepreneurial path. His career had been full of diverse professional experiences. Over the years, he had learned that he was passionate about fixing problems and building businesses. He set off to look for a company to purchase and grow — and Acme Industries, Inc. came into view.When Young purchased Acme from the founders of the company, he made the tough decision to remove members of management who did not share his vision. He did not stand for management members satisfied with the status quo and stagnant growth.Rather,…
When people consider intellectual property (IP) they most often think patent or copyright, which can be very valuable to a business. But, in fact, one form that’s often overlooked is trade secrets.What constitutes a protectable trade secret varies from state to state, but the gist of what trade-secret law protects is similar in almost every state. A trade secret is any sufficiently valuable, secret information that can be used in the operation of a business to afford an actual or potential economic advantage.“Given this broad definition, it should come as no surprise that a wide variety of things have been…
The term “intellectual property” applies to more than just a copyright. Here are some questions for companies to consider about their IP when security is a concern.Q. What is considered intellectual property but is often overlooked when deciding what to protect?A. When people think of intellectual property, they most often think ’patent’ or ‘copyright.’ There are other forms. One that’s often overlooked is trade secrets.As noted in an influential restatement of the law, a ‘trade secret is any information that can be used in the operation of a business … that is sufficiently valuable and secret to afford an actual…
It was a bitter pill for Robert Pasin to swallow.Radio Flyer Inc. had spent decades producing millions of its iconic red steel wagons for children across the United States. The children who grew up with them had bought them for their children and those kids bought them for their kids. It was a tradition that could go on forever, or at least that’s what the company had let itself believe.But as the 1990s began, a new wagon, one made out of plastic, had begun appearing in stores and was an instant hit with consumers.The part that was most painful to…
Gordon Hunter expected that a few minor problems might arise in Littelfuse Inc.’s effort to move its headquarters in 2008 from a manufacturing facility in Des Plaines to a high-rise near O’Hare International Airport in Chicago.He got a lot more than he bargained for when the global economy went into a recession that fall.The corporate headquarters relocation was a small part of a larger effort to restructure the footprint of the 6,000-employee company, which develops components used in a variety of electrical, industrial and automotive products.The goal was to transform Littelfuse into a business that would be more responsive to…
Tuesday, 04 September 2012 03:30

A model plant in Mexico

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When Mexico makes headlines these days, it’s usually for rare but shocking drug-related violence. Unfortunately, this dark spot has blocked an expanding bright spot that is helping many U.S.-based global manufacturers to stay competitive. A variety of companies have set up plants south of the border and are counting on Mexico’s proximity to the United States, cultural similarities and highly skilled and motivated workforce to fuel growth plans that support domestic job security.According to the manufacturing trade journal IndustryWeek, foreign direct investment in Mexico rose 9.7 percent in 2011 compared with 2010 to reach $19.44 billion. After a 5.5 percent…
Andy Mills was confident that Medline Industries Inc. was ready to go live with its new enterprisewide system. After more than two years of preparation, it was going to make everyone’s life easier by organizing orders, inventory and every other business process in the organization.“Then we hit the switch,” Mills says with a hint of doom in his voice. “The system had been tested, but not with the volume of orders that we had. So although it worked fine when you were throwing a few simple tests in there, it wasn’t stress-tested adequately enough. And it really collapsed the whole…
Saturday, 30 June 2012 20:02

Cary B. Wood, president and CEO, Sparton Corp.

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Turnaround –FinalistCary Wood had been tackling management challenges for more than 20 years when the board of directors of Sparton Corp. asked him to turn around the 109-year-old manufacturing company, which was only a few months away from bankruptcy. While that alone was a massive challenge, adding to the situation was the recent recession, which hit the manufacturing industry hard.Wood, president and CEO, immediately took action and hired a management team composed of executives he had worked with on other challenges. Serious cost-saving moves were made, including reductions in the workforce, closing of facilities and customer disengagement.With a set of…
Turnaround – FinalistIn the midst of the worst housing market depression in recorded history, Michael Werner, president and CEO of Gerber Plumbing Fixtures LLC, has managed to revitalize the Chicago plumbing products manufacturer. Werner has transformed Gerber from a company that was just days away from bankruptcy and liquidation into one of the strongest and most vital suppliers in the plumbing wholesale channel.Beginning in the 1990s, Gerber failed to make changes that would be necessary to survive in a global economy. By 2003, Gerber was facing declining sales, quality and customer fulfillment. The company hadn’t launched a new product in…
Turnaround – Winner John Howard Weber’s entrepreneurial prowess and ability to make tough decisions are credited with turning around Remy International Inc. — a turnaround that saved 6,500 jobs.Joining the Pendleton, Ind.-based company as president and CEO in 2006, he put both his reputation and personal capital on the line to save the heavily indebted manufacturer, remanufacturer and distributor of alternators, starters and hybrid motors. Weber became one of the top 10 shareholders in the company and set about implementing an aggressive restructuring. It was so aggressive, in fact, that the company only spent 56 days in bankruptcy-protected restructuring.Weber replaced…
Saturday, 31 March 2012 21:01

How to avoid business litigation

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There is a time and a place to fight for an important principle. Yet, business litigation is rarely about principle. After all, you are in business to make a profit. Often this is something business owners need to remind themselves of.Monte Mann, partner at Novack and Macey LLP, urges owners to think long and hard about the costs and distractions of business litigation, which can be severe.“As a business litigator who makes a living in the courtroom, it may be surprising to learn that I also spend a great deal of time in the boardroom — working with clients on…
Monday, 26 March 2012 13:31

Doing business in China

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Historically known as a country for low-cost manufacturing and a restricted currency, China now provides a wealth of opportunities for foreign businesses, says Alfred Ho, Vice President and Global Financial Institutions Manager at FirstMerit Bank.However, any business that has ever ventured onto unfamiliar turf understands that turning opportunity into success comes with challenges. Overcoming barriers inherent in such a move requires foresight, planning and, notably, well-informed advisors who already know the terrain.Ho explains that FirstMerit has dedicated itself to helping clients grasp the ins and outs of doing business in China. With an eye to the future, FirstMerit has been…
Wednesday, 29 February 2012 19:01

Beyond the Basics: Making good hires

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Mitch Lowe found himself in an enviable position when Redbox Automated Retail LLC really began to take off. But the popularity also came with a few challenges. Namely, how do you sort through all the people who suddenly want to come and work for you?“You start to have a lot of folks who are trying to get jobs there who are really good at presenting themselves, but are not so good at fitting in with the culture or the style of the company,” says Lowe, president at Redbox.Lowe decided major changes were needed. In the end, he came up with…
Patents, trademarks, copyrights and trade secrets, or intellectual property (IP), have become an increasingly important asset for today’s businesses. In particular, IP provides strategic and financial advantages against competitors in the form of improved business and/or manufacturing processes and new product technology or designs.The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) indicated the number of patents granted in 2011 (247,713) was the largest since 1963, and as of 2011, there were 1.75 million active trademark registrations. Further, the U.S. Copyright Office indicated that between 1790 and 2009, approximately 33.65 million copyrights were registered.“While we have seen the number of patent grants…
As American and world markets remain volatile, many companies are striving to further lean out their operations. Cutting waste out of an organization requires calculated decisions and requires managers to take a hard look at all areas of a company to assess how changes will affect operations.Whether looking to cut costs by improving efficiencies, renegotiating contracts or reducing the work force, it is important for companies to consider the big picture. Managers must also involve those at the highest levels of their company, including board members.“It is essential that directors become more involved in the day-to-day operations of the firm,”…
In light of the slow recovery of the economy, you may not be ready to commit your business to an expansion. But many analysts remain optimistic that the economy will continue to improve.However, a plan to expand and move into new space may be in your organization’s not-too-distant future. That makes now a prime time for evaluating how to proceed when you’re ready to pull the pin, says Gregory T. Warsek, senior vice president/regional manager, Commercial Real Estate Division, Associated Bank.“A primary decision is going to be whether to buy or lease office, retail and/or manufacturing space,” says Warsek. “Financial…
Thursday, 19 January 2012 15:49

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As American and world markets remain volatile, many companies are striving to further lean out their operations. Cutting waste out of an organization requires calculated decisions and requires managers to take a hard look at all areas of a company to assess how changes will affect operations.Whether looking to cut costs by improving efficiencies, renegotiating contracts or reducing the work force, it is important for companies to consider the big picture. Managers must also involve those at the highest levels of their company, including board members.“It is essential that directors become more involved in the day-to-day operations of the firm,”…
Tuesday, 03 January 2012 09:46

Would you be ready if disaster struck your business?

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Are you ready if some unthinkable disaster was to strike your business? What would you do? Who would you call? How would you rise above the pandemonium and be the leader that your company needs in order to make it through this calamity?These are all important questions for any leader to consider, even if they aren’t very pleasant to think about. Your future depends on it, but perhaps more importantly, the future of your business and the livelihood of your employees hinges on how effectively you do prepare for the unexpected.Smart Business spoke with a number of leaders about this…
Tuesday, 29 November 2011 09:50

Volatility everywhere, including the Market Meter

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Volatility has been crazy! The S&P 500 third quarter total return was -13.9% followed by +10.9% for October and now back to declines in November. The Russell 2000 index of smaller stocks returned -21.9% and +15.1% for Oct-Nov. Volatility also reigned in the fundamental world during Q3, as economists cut their +2.5% 2011 U.S. GDP estimates to +1.0% with higher odds of a double-dip recession before reversing to 2H 2011 growth of 2% and higher odds of sustained economic expansion through 2012. One factor in the volatility was the debt ceiling crisis, which was wholly unnecessary but extremely alarming as…
When Robert M. Korzenski took over as president and CEO of Solo Cup Co., the $1.6 billion food service product maker had a bit of a problem.It had been two years since Solo had acquired SF Holdings and its well-known Sweetheart brand of cups, plates and other single-use food service products.“The outlook for that combination was a great opportunity and one that could change the way the market was being serviced by taking two brands and putting them together to ultimately serve a much broader and larger customer base,” Korzenski says.Unfortunately, the integration was not going as well as everyone…
Friday, 30 September 2011 20:01

How Tim Jahnke got Elkay Manufacturing to change its ways

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You can’t blame Tim Jahnke for feeling a bit like the wrong man in the wrong place at the wrong time as the new president and CEO at Elkay Manufacturing Co. He was taking over a construction product manufacturer that had experienced double-digit growth every year from 2001 to 2006.Two million new homes went up in 2006, and it looked like Elkay was positioned for more of the same in the years ahead. Then Jahnke arrived in late 2007 as the company’s new man in charge and everything began to fall apart.It wasn’t Jahnke’s fault. Many factors led to the…
Susan C. Kelley doesn’t want her employees to provide great customer service because she told them to do it. She wants them to do it because they feel and believe that it’s the right thing to do.“In my view, it’s creating a culture where employees want to treat the customer that way,” says Kelley, president of Shell Vacations Hospitality and Shell Vacations Club. Both are part of Shell Vacations LLC, which has more than 1,700 employees.“The only way you’re going to create that culture is face time with your employees and creating an environment where your company is human,” Kelley…
Wednesday, 01 June 2011 16:26

Turning searchers into sales

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For the past few years, Richard Rubin has done his holiday shopping online. The contents of his virtual shopping carts don’t quite match those of the industrial customers he serves as president of Maxi Container, but he sees his personal habits signaling a bigger change. If he’s buying online, what about his customers?“I noticed that more and more of our business was moving to the Web,” Rubin says. “More and more of our customers were communicating to us via e-mail. More and more of our customers wanted us to do electronic data interchange or electronic funds transfer.”This observation came at…