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American Metal Ware Refocuses


Foodservice Publishing Co. Inc.
February, 1991 Volume 6. Issue 2

Corporate long-range planning has always seemed to follow a familiar pattern: The CEO presents a five-year plan and expects the employees to implement it without question.

By relying on shortsighted, tried-and-true-plans, the staid corporate culture gets shortchanged during recessionary times. Instead of looking inward at what needs to be changed, management reacts by downsizing through firings and cutting investment.

So how does a CEO get hold of a company and turn it around?

Jerry Reice, president of Northbrook's American Metal Ware Co. Subsidiary of Dover Industries), asked himself that very question.

The 108-year-old company produces a line of high quality and high volume coffee dispensing equipment for the foodservice industry.

Since annual sales at the firm hovered around $24 million, finances were not a problem, but a lack of direction was, according to Reice.

I needed to get everyone to buy into it (my plan). I either had to resort to an autocratic forinator find a way to make us a team."

Enter Tom FitzGerald, president of FitzGerald Associates, a management consulting firm based in Lake Forest, IL.

Reice learned of FitzGerald's planning successes with Swift & Co., Kemper, The Exchange National Bank and numerous other firms, through The Presidents' Association, a Chicago-based business roundtable.

"I called Tom in the spring of 1990," recalled Reice. "He espouses a planning process in which members of management meet off-site to create and develop a business plan divided into three steps:

Diagnostic Map (an in-depth evaluation of the firm's emotional, strategic, operational and financial)

Vision of Business (determine where you want firm to be in three years) and

Action (how to get there).

FitzGerald, a veteran of business consulting, developed the techniques of Entrepreneurial Planning and Transformation during the 1980 - 1982 recession when he was involved in a number of successful turnarounds of large and small companies.

The cost effective plan is within the reach of most companies.

His management system is a process by which managers become empowered and in turn empower and motivate their staffs. It also allows for the upward flow of ideas and he downward flow of support and action, according to Reice. And the process welds management into a cohesive, assertive, proactive team.

Over an four-week span during the summer of'90, FitzGerald gathered American Metal Ware's six-member team at the Harrison Conference Center in Lake Bluff, IL, for four intensive brainstorming, decision making and action-specific sessions at which the principals learned much about their company and each other.

FitzGerald acted as Catalyst, industry expert, team member, Devil's Advocate and goad.

"Looking at yourself in the mirror is hard," stated Reice. "Tom forced us to look at ourselves and our idiosyncrasies. When we saw the differences and understood them, we had a way to talk to each other."

Group participant -Karalynn Mork, marketing manager for American Metal Ware, noted: "We came together as a team. When you see how they [coworkers] react, you know how to work with them and look forward to opportunities."

"In an four-week period we created, not only a complete business plan,

we got a commitment from our people, me and everybody else, that was not just intellectual, but visceral, emotional. And we learned how to operate as a team. Relationships improved 100 percent,"

A very pleased President Reice also remarked. "American Metal Ware undertook this program right in the face of the economic downturn. Not only did our profits increase 10% when the rest of the industry was declining, we also revitalized and refocused our corporate spirit

Over the next two years, I am confidant that we will maintain a better than 3.5 percent annual growth as a result of this program.

In order to succeed in the '90s, big and small companies alike will need to move away from an autocratic approach to a team-directed approach, says Reice.

"Any company would have to benefit from this type of plan. Small companies need it more due to a lack of resources. Large companies need it because they need help in changing the corporate culture", Reice concluded.

FitzGeraid and Reice will address the Northern Illinois Industrial Association on their experience on an April 17 luncheon at Allgauer's in Northbrook.