From the editor Featured

10:03am EDT July 22, 2002

"Thanks, but I can do it myself."

OK, admit it - it's an axiom all of us have spouted at one time or another in our professional lives as we fiercely defend our stubborn, blind, entrepreneurial independence. And it's a philosophy many of us have championed since childhood.

Take Nicholas, for instance. My three-year-old son often pulls away from me as I try to dress him. "I can do it myself," he huffs before struggling to dress himself. By the time he's finished, his shirt is on backwards and both legs are jammed into one pant leg.

I'm no better sometimes. Several relatives attending my son's recent birthday party offered to help me assemble his new Big Wheel tricycle. "I can do it myself," I snapped, aggravated, of course, that the toy came in a box with dozens of parts, screws, nuts and bolts. An hour later, I wound up with an assembled front wheel, pedals and handle bars, and the two back wheels beneath a plastic seat. However, because the assembly process was designed to be irreversible, I couldn't attach the two sides. So my son spent the afternoon scooting around on the seat and two wheels. Yes, I nearly ruined the tricycle.

And I did it all by myself.

Sound familiar? Apparently not at Worthington-based Strobel Machine Inc., this month's cover story subject. Like many company owners, Larry Strobel led his machine tooling shop by example. Thanks to a mechanical engineering degree and hands-on experience that went back to his teen-age years, he could machine metal parts with the best of them. And when the company was small and prospering, he could get by with that experience.

But as the company grew, so did the administrative and personnel sides of the business. Then cash flow became an issue. Suddenly, Strobel found himself having to stand back and run his company, but away from the shop floor. He admits he wasn't very good at it, and eventually the numbers reflected that.

At the brink of failure, however, Strobel didn't stick out his chest and declare, "I can do it myself." Many who have done that know where it leads. Instead, he sucked in his pride, swallowed a healthy dose of humility, and admitted he needed help-lots of help. He then sought the advice of a turnaround consultant.

As it turns out, the turnaround specialist taught Strobel a lot. Strobel learned how to handle cash-flow problems. He learned where to effectively cut costs. He even learned how to get more out of the expensive computer-numeric-controlled machine-tooling equipment he had purchased.

In the end, Strobel's heaping serving of humble pie saved the company. Make no mistake-it took courage to avoid the age-old entrepreneurial mantra, "Thanks, but I can do it myself." By showing his weakness, he strengthened his position and now has a profitable company to show for it.

I, on the other hand, had a tricycle in two pieces and a son who wondered why I would give him such a present. Nonetheless, when I tried to get him to quit scooting around on the back half so I could fix the problem, he pulled away. Can you guess what he told me?