Sharon Cannarsa was faced with that situation, but took the plunge and succeeded.
The president and CEO of Systrand Manufacturing Corp. and her husband, Tony, combined his engineering expertise with her administrative skills to form an oil coupling business in 1977.
“The oil business was booming at the time, and we enjoyed running a thriving operation until the bottom fell out of the industry and our company did not survive,” Cannarsa says.
After this experience, a secure job working for someone else would have appealed to most, but not to Cannarsa.
“I need the freedom that being a business owner allows,” she says. “Also, if you tell me something cannot be done, look out. I am going to show you it can.”
Cannarsa’s fighting spirit led her and Tony to begin Systrand, a machine supplier to the automobile industry, in 1982. She explains the business in simple terms: “If it has anything to do with the transmission or engine, we make it.”
With facilities in in Brownstown, Danville, Ill., and Busan, Korea, Systrand employs 330 people, generates annual revenue of $75 million and serves customers including Ford, GM, Chrysler and Volkswagen.
Smart Business spoke with Cannarsa about how she motivates her staff and how she plans to grow the company.
How do you keep your competitive edge?
We keep our finger on the pulse of customer satisfaction constantly. Our buyers are not shy about telling us if we miss the mark, and we encourage their candor. There is always somebody trying to do what we do faster, cheaper and better, so we challenge ourselves to stay on top of our game at all times.
You cannot rest on your laurels and become complacent in this business, or any other, for that matter. Our growth strategy revolves around areas in which we have the competitive advantage, so we are always capitalizing on what we do well rather than going in many different directions.
My sons, Anthony and Michael, serve as VPs. They ... brought fresh and new ideas to the business. We hire people who challenge the status quo and look for better ways to get the job done.
How do you keep your staff motivated?
I am a firm believer in promoting from within. I only go outside the company to hire talent when absolutely necessary. It gives employees good self-worth and commitment to the organization when they can see opportunities to grow.
I strive to give back to the employees as much as possible, in both big and little ways, because both are important. For example, I host special lunches to show my appreciation to staff.
We have newsletters that spotlight birthdays and other special occasions. We have a tradition of an annual holiday party, including half a day off with pay.
How will you continue to grow your business?
My strategy has not been focused on growth only. Manageable and profitable growth is what I strive for at all times. In fact, I am proud of the restraint we have shown in passing on projects that would not be advantageous on a long-term basis.
Our biggest challenge right now is the threat of low-cost global suppliers. Our Korea facility, which has been in operation for six years, was, in part, a response to this threat. We were getting our castings shipped from Korea to Michigan and found we could save significant shipping costs by machining the items in Korea.
This global expansion has proved to be a wise decision, and I would not rule out future decisions along these lines.
There are two areas that interest me in terms of expansion. First, I want to get more involved with our customers on the design aspect of the business. I believe we have much to offer in this area, and our customers have shown interest in this sort of partnership, as well.
Second, I want to increase our efforts manufacturing high-value-added machinery in modular assembly.
How do you keep your life balanced and productive?
I take one day at a time. There is stress in any business, but I have found the best antidote is a positive attitude. Looking on the bright side, keeping your priorities straight and knowing that if today is horrible, tomorrow is bound to be a winner.
Those are the things that keep me balanced and productive. My business is important to me, but family and service to the community can never be neglected.
How to reach: Systrand Manufacturing Corp., (734-479-8100), www.systrand.com