Forever wary

At a recent meeting of the board of the Council of Small Business Executives, the directors were asked to report something new about their respective companies.

One by one, they reported promising, positive business developments, including creating new jobs, adding more shifts, opening new locations and launching new products.

  • COSBE Chair Mary Isbister, president of GenMet in Mequon, reported that her company will launch its own new line of enclosures.
  • COSBE Vice Chairman Paul Sweeney said his company, PS Capital Partners LLC, Milwaukee, now owns companies with combined revenues exceeding $200 million.
  • Jeff Tredo, principal at Korb Tredo Architects, Milwaukee, said his firm’s revenues have doubled.
  • Keith Coursin, president of Desert Aire Corp., Germantown, said his company will soon launch its own customer relationship management system.
  • David Griffith, president of Spectrum Capital in Franksville, said his company is expanding into Chicago.
  • Rick Parra, vice president at Pieper Electric Inc., Milwaukee, said his firm is enjoying its best year in six years.
  • Sarit Singhal, president at Superior Support Resources Inc., Milwaukee, said his company’s revenues have grown 30 percent in the past year.
  • Lori Poull, president at Lange Bros. Woodwork Co. Inc., Milwaukee, said her company has had a “great year,” and all of its employees are receiving holiday bonuses.
  • COSBE Vice Chairman Gary Zimmerman, president at Creative Business Interiors Inc., Milwaukee, said, “Business is great. It’s actually fun to be in business again.”
  • Anthony Mallinger, president of Metal-Era Inc., Waukesha, reported that his company has had its “best year” and plans to expand to three shifts, seven days per week.
  • Patricia Mueller, chief executive officer at Idea Factory Inc., Menomonee Falls, projected revenue growth of 15 to 18 percent.
  • Tom Luken, partner-in-charge at Sikich LLP, Brookfield, said, “From an accounting perspective, I’ve never seen our clients have better balance sheets.”
  • Daphne Jones, president at Glorious Malone’s Fine Sausage, Milwaukee, said her firm’s annual revenues grew by more than 12 percent in 2013.

Indeed, according to a new BizTimes survey, more than 86 percent of the COSBE directors are forecasting either a “great” or “good” year for their companies in 2014, and 96 percent of them are projecting increased company revenues in the year ahead. (The full results of the survey will be published in the Economic Trends special report in the Jan. 20 issue of BizTimes Milwaukee.)

With so many positive responses and collective tales of business growth, you might think that the COSBE entrepreneurs believe that the overall economy is strong and the Great Recession is now just a memory.

But you would be wrong. For many business owners, the painful experience of the Great Recession will always remain with them and will keep them forever wary during the rest of their careers. In many ways, the generational hangover from the Great Recession is similar to the long lasting impact of the Great Depression, which helped create the frugal Silent Generation (See sidebar).

“We’re never going to get sucker-punched again,” said Mary Scheibel, immediate past chair of COSBE and principal at Trefoil Group, prompting nods of agreement from other directors across the room.

“I’m one of those who is extremely optimistic for next year and the year after, but when I look around, I don’t see a lot of great things happening. With regard to that sucker-punch comment, we may get sucker-punched again, but we’ll be more ready to take the blow. We’re waiting for that next pop, and I kind of sense that too,” Mallinger said.

“It’s too soon to dance around the party just yet,” Jones said. “It’s going to take some steady being steady. I’m not quite ready to throw caution to the wind or celebrate yet. I think on a big scale, that we all should be of the mindset that we need to be mindful, that things could change.”

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