Racine’s Vince Ruffolo promotes a culture of ownership at Superior
The first thing Vince Ruffolo does when he gets to work in the morning is hit the shop room floor. He doesn’t have to, really, given the fact that he’s president of his Racine-based company, Superior Industrial Coating Inc.
But Ruffolo does not believe in workplace class division. As far as he is concerned, all employees – whether management or floor crew – are vital to a company’s success. He has worked to create a culture in which all employees experience a sense of ownership in Superior, and that culture continues to foster business growth even in tough economic times.
"I wouldn’t ask my employees to do anything I wouldn’t do myself," Ruffolo said. "In order to get your employees to respond to business needs, you need to work shoulder-to-shoulder with them. You need to create an environment you would want to work in."
Superior Industrial Coating was founded in 1958 in Racine. It provides metal coating services to the automotive, electronic and hardware industries and counts Motorola, General Motors, Chrysler and Black and Decker among its customers. Ruffalo bought the company in 1990 in a move to make his entrepreneurial dreams come true.
Prior to joining Superior, Ruffolo had worked for big-name corporations – Nabisco, PepsiCo, Frito-Lay. But southeastern Wisconsin was part of his life; he’s native of the Kenosha area, and his wife is from Racine.
The Ruffolos were tired of moving around the country for Vince’s job, and Vince had always wanted to be an entrepreneur. So he did some research and found Superior.
"I knew the industry was growing and I thought this company would be a good fit for the long haul," Ruffalo said.
When Ruffolo bought the company, it contained 12 employees and was housed in a 30,000-square-foot facility. Today, Superior employs 65 workers and has expanded its facility to more than 80,000 square feet.
The company operates according to the principle of investing for the future. Investments may not produce immediate returns, but business owners must have a vision for what investments will pay off down the road, Ruffolo said.
That philosophy has helped Superior stay afloat against the current of international competition. Superior depends on products made in the United States, but business is being moved overseas to Third World countries where the labor is cheaper. For Superior to compete, Ruffolo invested in diversification, with the goal of making Superior a one-stop shop for its customers.
Since Ruffolo came on board, the company has added an in-house lab, increased the types of coatings it provides and added polishing and grinding services. The way Ruffolo sees it, it’s a better deal for customers to get a variety of services from one place.
Once the investment is made, it again is up to the employees to help make the investment worthwhile.
Ruffolo believes in keeping all employees in the loop of the inner workings of the company. Communication is key. Company-wide meetings are held regularly, and all employees are given radios so that they can communicate with each other throughout departments.
"We’ve been very successful in retaining employees because we’ve built a sense of ownership among them," Ruffolo said. "We want them to participate, know the customers’ demands and expectations, know what is going on in the business, both good and bad."
Employee communication has a party element to it at Superior as well. On employees’ birthdays, work stops for a time, and cake is brought in so that everyone can celebrate.
"It’s about showing that we care and appreciate our people," Ruffalo said.
Ruffolo sums up his philosophy toward employee relations by giving a nod to one of his business role models, Walter Cherry of the Cherry Corp., a Waukegan, Ill., supplier of electronic products to the automotive and computer industries.
"It’s not machines, not technology that makes a company tick. It’s people that make a company tick," Ruffalo said.
Vince Ruffolo, president
Superior Industrial Coating Inc.
Education: Bachelor’s degree, University of Wisconsin-Parkside; completed graduate courses at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Role model: Walter Cherry, Cherry Corp. (Waukegan, Ill.)
Leadership philosophy: "Create an environment for your employees that you would want to work in. Be willing to invest in your business for the long run."
May 30, 2003 Small Business Times, Milwaukee