Manoj Bhargava’s experience didn’t come from a college degree. It came from life. Moving from India to the U.S. at 14, he worked various odd jobs — from demolition to taxicab driver — before returning to India in his 20s to pursue spiritual education. After 12 years, he brought his vast life experience back to the U.S. to successfully grow and sell his family’s business in the plastic industry.
He retired upon completing the sale in 2006, but his break only lasted two months. Unable to stay out of the entrepreneurial realm long, Bhargava dove into a new project, setting out to make what would become the leading liquid energy shot: 5-hour Energy.
Bhargava is now founder and CEO of Farmington Hills, Mich.-based Innovative Ventures LLC and Living Essentials LLC. Living Essentials, the company that produces 5-hour Energy, has seen rapid growth since 2004. But the success of the energy drink wasn’t immediate.
The company had a challenge in introducing a product that many distributors couldn’t categorize at the time. The Living Essentials team successfully introduced it by convincing convenience stores to place the product near the checkout aisle or cash register, as opposed to in a beverage cooler. This helped establish a new product category.
Living Essentials has built a strong brand, maintaining 90 percent market share. It serves as a title sponsor of NASCAR’s Sprint Cup series racer Clint Bowyer, professional golfer Jim Furyk and Kenda Racing.
The company has also partnered with AARP and has expanded its channels, such as specialty retail and hardware. Its revenue has grown by 20 percent in the last year, and its staff has reached 400 employees.
HOW TO REACH: Living Essentials LLC, www.5hourenergy.com
John Sztykiel, CEO of Spartan Motors, focuses his leadership of the company on understanding consumers’ wants and expectations.Spartan Motors makes chassis, vehicles, bodies and parts for emergency rescue, recreational vehicle and specialty vehicle markets, and the company’s leaders consider Spartan more than just a niche manufacturer in the automotive business.
The message Sztykiel projects throughout the company is that Spartan’s workers should not be satis?ed with making a superior product but should strive to go above and beyond that by continually making the product safer, more customer-friendly, lighter, more fuel-ef?cient and more sustainable. Spartan Motors’ management team shares Sztykiel’s vision and energy and directs the company in the same manner.
A recent challenge Spartan Motors dealt with involved diversifying its product mix. As a result of the past decade’s wars and military actions in the Middle East, a majority of the company’s work has come from government contracts. The percentage of government work peaked at 88 percent in 2008. Recognizing the need to diversify its mix, Spartan Motors has lowered its percentage of government work to about 50 percent.
The company has extended its expertise in chassis design beyond military vehicles and now puts that know-how to work in emergency response vehicles, RVs and commercial vans.
Re?ecting Sztykiel’s belief in the importance of helping employees achieve balance between work and family time, some employees work four 10-hour days a week. The company is looking to implement the policy for the rest of the company. Recognizing that many employees have two-income households, Sztykiel says he believes that a four-day workweek will make the company’s workers more productive and focused.
HOW TO REACH: Spartan Motors Inc., www.spartanmotors.com
The unexpected death of DeWys Manufacturing Inc. founder Mark DeWys in January 1999 was a critical time for the metal fabricating company. On top of Mark’s untimely death, the economy crash of that same year put added pressure on the business. Mark designated his brother and business partner Jonathan DeWys to continue to lead the business moving forward.
With the loss of its founder and the economic crash causing the company to lose its largest customer and 30 percent of its overall business, President Jon DeWys had to design a strategic plan to diversify the company’s customer base. On top of that, the bene?ciaries of Mark DeWys’ estate decided to sell the company. Jon DeWys and C.T. Martin led a stock buyout, which helped create stability within the business.
Both the stock buyout and the strategy to diversify customers have helped the company get through tough times and have led to record sales and pro?ts during recent years. DeWys’ driven determination to ensure the company would survive and prosper for generations to come has gotten the company through challenging personal and economic turbulence.
Recently, DeWys Manufacturing has rebranded itself from a sheet metal fabrication company to a complete circle of companies under the DeWys Manufacturing banner providing customers with a one-stop shop for all their metal needs. This innovative expansion of services is driven by a strategic plan that enables DeWys to rally behind a clearly de?ned set of goals and objectives that have culminated in the 35th anniversary of the company in 2012.
DeWys continuously brings new technology into the company and has enabled the business to be on the cutting edge of the metal fabricating industry. This dedication to the betterment of the business is what has kept it growing and delivering quality work for 35 years.
HOW TO REACH: DeWys Manufacturing Inc., www.dewysmfg.com
Founded by Wilbert Williams in 2001, Williams- Bayer Industries Inc. is an automotive supplier that makes CNC bent tubing, catalytic converter shells, metal stampings, component assemblies, suspension bushings, and stamped, staked and welded assemblies. Williams, who was born in Jamaica and earned a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Michigan, worked for Chrysler for 16 years before forming Williams-Bayer.
Williams-Bayer Industries survived the recession and the resulting downturn in the automotive market in 2009 and 2010 largely due to the rarity of suppliers offering a 6-inch CNC tube bender with integral cutoff and because of the company’s ability to differentiate itself from its competition and maintain a strong customer focus.
Williams-Bayer Industries has about 50 employees, and Williams says he views them as members of his extended family. In addition to providing its workers with medical insurance, competitive wages, pro?t-sharing plans and tuition reimbursement for courses relevant to the business, the company also shows concern for employees by taking various special measures. These include adjusting its standard workweek to four 10-hour days to help minimize the impact of rising gas prices on workers.
Williams believes his company’s sustained growth and pro?tability depends on three variables: continuing to do what it does well within its core competencies, complementing those processes with similar high-margin processes and divesting from processes that have low margins.
Williams-Bayer Industries also plans to grow by acquiring friendly competitors with strategic and complementary product lines. The company intends to acquire ?rms that have different customer bases to help broaden its reach into nonautomotive sectors, thereby diversifying and insulating itself from future downturns in the automotive industry.
HOW TO REACH: Williams-Bayer Industries Inc., www.williamsbayer.com
Since founding Primera Plastics Inc. 18 years ago, Noel Cuellar has led his team of injection molders through times of expansion and recession with a focus on the company’s people. The consideration that Cuellar shows for his employees has fostered a corporate atmosphere built on the success of the individuals who work for the company.
Cuellar’s upbeat demeanor and candor have created a casual managerial culture at Primera Plastics. He frequently visits with ?oor workers to talk with them about their lives and their future plans. The company’s facility is clean, neat and orderly, resembling an of?ce campus more than a production site.
Primera Plastics stays competitive in the commodity molding industry through accurate color matching, attention to detail and high-quality products. In reaction to customer demand, Cuellar has invested in pigment blending machines to give the company a competitive advantage. The mixing technology has won Primera Plastics business through referrals. The company is planning for the future by doing research into plastic moldings capable of replicating the density and sound of metal and understanding biodegradable materials. Primera Plastics has implemented a problemsolving process that involves conducting standing meetings each morning to create 24-hour action plans. Employees are empowered to resolve problems as they arise, and the resultant learning contributes to employee training and growth.
Cuellar realized early on that “buying jobs” was not a sustainable way to run his business. Therefore, Primera Plastics emphasizes securing customers as part of an organic growth process. The company does not advertise its services as a proprietary molder. Its expansion occurs as a result of the consistent quality of its products and services, which prompts frequent customer referrals.
HOW TO REACH: Primera Plastics Inc., www.primera-inc.com
When Sheila Kaye Rossmann purchased Paramount Precision Products Inc. with her four former partners in 1999, the company was in ?nancial duress, operating with a split focus and in need of a clear vision. Since taking full ownership of the business, Rossmann has never been deterred but met these challenges to grow the manufacturing company with a simple vision and the leadership motto of “relentless pursuit of the next level.” As CEO of Paramount, Rossmann focuses her team on the ultimate goal of being a go-to company that can “machine anything” for customers. But to achieve this goal, she’s had to ?nd ways to support the critical business operations needed to meet the demands of customers.
By seeking out critical funding through capital and bank loans, Rossmann has ensured that Paramount is able to operate at full capacity around the clock. The ability to remain dependable during the economic recession — a period with rampant factory closings and labor shortages — has been critical in growing Paramount’s reputation as a business committed to customer service and support. This reputation, in turn, has helped the business increase customer retention and secure in new contracts for long-term success.
Although Paramount operates locally in Metro Detroit, several major customers have approached Rossmann about expanding operations to meet increasing demand. But even as she negotiates this next stage of external growth — moving production to a national and international level — Rossmann continues to cultivate growth internally through innovation. She encourages her growing staff to embrace risks when it comes to helping customers, whether it’s taking on dif?cult projects or customer challenges that other companies might cast off.
HOW TO REACH: Paramount Precision Products Inc., www.paramountprecisionproducts.com
Douglas J. Grimm was stepping into a chaotic situation in 2008, but you wouldn’t have known it by his approach. He was leading a business that had just gone through bankruptcy and was in the process of merging with two other companies who were in the same dire situation. On top of that, the global recession was taking hold and it appeared to many as if the sky really was falling.
But Grimm didn’t see it that way. He calmly set about integrating Citation Corp. with Grede Foundries Inc. and Blackhawk Foundry to form a new company called Grede Holdings LLC. Grimm went to work lining up integration teams and scheduling town-hall meetings at each plant to communicate directly with all 2,900 employees who were going to be affected. There was no panic, even though the future did not look bright at all. New vehicle sales were plunging to 30-year lows and the manufacturer of gray and ductile iron castings desperately needed that to change.
But once again, Grimm was the calm in the storm. The chairman, president and CEO encouraged input from everyone and his goal was to identify best practices at every level of the organization. He talked to everybody on a regular basis and met with customers, too. Decisions would now be based on data and thoughtful dialogue and they would be tracked to make sure they were the right decisions. If they weren’t, they were analyzed to ensure that the same mistake wouldn’t be made again.
These steps got everyone moving in the same direction and created a company that was both efficient and productive. The result is a successful business that is always looking to improve.
HOW TO REACH: Grede Holdings LLC, www.grede.com
Charles Elliot founded his own company in 1991 — basically by selling a wheelchair out of the trunk of his station wagon. From there, he operated as its sole employee in a Detroit-warehouse, doing everything from unloading trucks to product sales and customer service.
The president and CEO of Lake Court Medical Supplies Inc. has since grown the Roseville, Mich.based company to four warehouse facilities located in Michigan, Illinois, Indiana and Florida. Lake Court Medical Supplies has 19 trucks running and a staff of 60 spread across these locations.
Elliot’s success stems from hard work, determination and a vision to differentiate from competitors through top-notch, cost-effective service. The distributor supplies a large selection of competitively priced products, making purchasing easy for consumers. The company can consolidate purchase orders across this wide selection of products and vendors and deliver same or next day. Service doesn’t end with the delivery — the company offers marketing assistance and product training, as well. By offering quality, expedient delivery of products, Lake Court Medical Supplies saves its clients money by eliminating the need to overstock their warehouses. The company acts like the warehouse, delivering what clients need when they need it.
The company continues to expand its sales focus, incorporating a multitude of retail sales items to supplement the prescription-based products already stocked. Constant re-evaluation of products, vendors, territories and the marketplace keeps Lake Court Medical Supplies in the know on industry changes and resulting client needs.
The company also supports clients by giving to various associated charities, such as the Beaumont Foundation, The Ford Cancer Center and Kosair Children’s Hospital Foundation.
HOW TO REACH: Lake Court Medical Supplies Inc., www.lakecourt.com
Upon graduating from the University of Toledo in 2002, Jameel Burkett took his bachelor’s degree in business administration to Burkett Restaurant Equipment, the business his father had built. At the time, it was nothing more than a local restaurant dealer.
But Burkett believed he could take the business and transform it into a nationally recognized restaurant equipment distributor. Determined to make his dream a reality, Burkett identi?ed the importance of understanding the intricacies of the business and elected to spend time working in various roles throughout the business.
He spent time in the warehouse managing inventory, as well as time with the Web design team and the sales staff. With a thorough knowledge of the business, he was named president in 2011.
Burkett made signi?cant investments in his employees and, more speci?cally, his management team. He wanted Burkett Restaurant Equipment to become a place where talented young professionals could envision a rewarding career, not just a job. Burkett takes pride in understanding the strengths and weaknesses of himself as well as others, so he has strived to build a management team in which the members would complement each other.
He hired strategic managers from the automotive industry to enhance the company’s capabilities in warehouse distribution, acquisitions and marketing. Building expertise in those areas has proved critical as the company faced the challenges of the recession, along with the loss of a major customer.
Faced with the decision to either cut costs and lay low until the economy improved or invest more in key areas, Burkett chose the latter, tripling his workforce and investing in new technology that has helped the company achieve new heights.
HOW TO REACH: Burkett Restaurant Equipment, www.basequipment.com
John Eldred’s entrepreneurial story begins more than 30 years ago, when he decided to open his ?rst business — a video rental store in Toledo, Ohio, called Sights & Sounds. While building his company, Eldred looked for opportunities in other niches and industry segments that required media, including videotapes. This led him to launch a side business, Midwest Tape Exchange, to distribute new and used VHS tapes to other video stores as well as convenience and grocery stores.
As he learned the ins and outs of media distribution, Eldred noticed that there was a key segment that was being underserved in its supply of media: public libraries. And when video giant Blockbuster bought out Sights & Sounds in 1997, he had the opportunity to shift all of his focus to meet the demand for his side venture. Renaming the business Midwest Tape, he implemented a strategy to expand wholesale operations by concentrating on providing tapes for libraries with media.
As demand for digital content increases, Eldred makes sure MWT is always taking steps to meet new customer demand and ?gure out how the next product can be more innovative than the last. Key steps include expanding the company’s IT team to develop a new platform for distributing digital media to libraries as well as eliminating outdated media to make room for new product offerings.
Under Eldred’s leadership as president and owner, MWT also moved its operations to a 15,000-square-foot facility. With more space in which to grow, the company did exactly that, adding new employees as well as music CDs and audiobooks to its VHS and DVD product lines. Striving for long-term relationships, Eldred has successfully retained and grown relationships with all of MWT’s 500 original customers.
HOW TO REACH: Midwest Tape LLC, www.midwesttapes.com