MINSTER – Six local business leaders shared the strategies that have made their companies successful and the failures they’ve learned from during a Minster Civic Association presentation Tuesday evening.
As part of its monthly meeting, Minster Civic Association hosted a panel discussion with Kurt Barhorst, president of Air Handling Equipment, Inc. in Sidney; Doug Borchers, president of Superior Aluminum Products in Russia; Irvin Bowman, president of Wayne Truck & Trailer Ltd. in Sidney; Jeff Meyer, president of Meyer Restoration in Piqua; John Brooks, president and CEO of Buckeye Insurance Group in Piqua; and Matt Hoying, president of Choice One Engineering Corp. in Sidney.
Representatives from business management consulting company Aileron led discussions with business leaders each speaking about one of three subjects – how to build a business that endures, culture and strategic planning.
Barhorst and Borchers said strategies that worked in the past aren’t always sufficient to sustain a business in today’s business climate.
“Our fathers, they believed go to work early, stay late, work hard, make good stuff, and customers will find you,” Borchers said. “And that worked well for many, many years in our company. However, the market’s changed, people’s changed, ways of business changed.”
In business today, Barhorst said a strategic plan with structure and timelines is necessary. However, when Air Handling Equipment first tried to create that structure, it failed because of a lack of accountability.
“First you feel like a failure, right?” Barhorst said. “You go through all the ‘I’m a horrible boss.’”
Once he got more people involved and more buy in, Barhorst started to see more success.
“There’s so much more accountability than we’ve ever had before,” he said.
Borchers agreed that getting more people involved has been crucial to the success of his company and its strategic planning.
“The strategic plan forced us to get more people involved so more of a bottom up type of approach,” he said.
Having employees involved always has been a tenet of Choice One Engineering, Hoying said.
“Every decision that gets made at Choice One has to go through that filter of how it’s going to affect our culture,” he said.
“We want every single employee to feel, act and think like they’re an owner of Choice One. So we give people a lot of autonomy to make decisions, upper level business decisions if you will that I don’t even have any input in.”
When Brooks became president and CEO of Buckeye Insurance Group in 2017, the company’s culture wasn’t good. The business was unprofitable and lacked focus, he said.
“When you’ve been losing – I’m a Browns fan; I’m from Cleveland originally – and so losing breeds a certain culture, and it breeds a culture of complacency,” Brooks said. “It also breeds a culture now of fear because the fear is we’re going to have to make some tough changes in our business.”
To turn around the culture, Buckeye Insurance Group needed more communication and accountability.
“Accountability is not just a way to shoot somebody and put them down,” Brooks said. “It’s actually to understand that hey, we make mistakes. We admit our mistakes quickly, we don’t do them again, and we move on.
“If I had a nickel for every time I said ‘It’s OK’ in the past three years, I’d probably be retired in two years.”
Last year Buckeye Insurance Group turned a profit for the first time in several years, Brooks said. However, the company understands more work is needed to continue the improvement it’s seen.
“That’s the thing with culture, it takes a long time to build, it takes one individual or one event or something to break down what you’ve worked three years to build,” Brooks said.
Hoying also said culture is something that needs to be continually addressed. When Choice One has struggled with culture, it’s because its words and actions didn’t align.
“If we’re saying it, we need to do it,” Hoying said. “If you’re not authentic with it, people are going to catch onto that.”
As he grew his business, Bowman said he felt like a hypocrite when he preached training to his employees but lacked training for his responsibilities.
“I said, ‘I am a hypocrite,’” Bowman said. “Here I am trying to teach a crew of technicians the newer technologies that are out there, keep them abreast of stuff, expecting them to be involved in training and I have no training for what I do. I had no training for running a business.”
Thus, Bowman sought out training and created a strategic plan for Wayne Truck & Trailer.
When creating a strategic plan, Meyer said, he learned his vision and goals needed to be just out of reach.
“If you can reach it easy, it’s too easy,” he said. “You need to set it higher.”
And it’s not just what a company does that matters, Meyer said. It’s also important to decide what not to do.
“My adviser told me six or seven years ago the best thing that you can do every year is make a stop doing list,” Meyer said. “He said strategy is about choosing what not to do.”
For more information about the Minster Civic Association, visit its website at www.minstercivic.com.
Reach this writer at [email protected] or 937-538-4824.