Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:27 pm
RAMAC distributes three business awards
By Kay Falk, for SBT
Racine Area Manufacturers and Commerce names John Erskine Jr. Small Business Person of the Year and launches two new awards
John Erskine Jr. will be honored as the Racine area small business person of the year in an upcoming recognition breakfast that will also present two new business awards for the area.
Erskine will be feted at a Nov. 18, 7:30 a.m. breakfast at the Racine Marriott as part of the annual business awards program of Racine Area Manufacturers and Commerce (RAMC) and Johnson Bank.
RAMAC will also honor Jay Christie, Racine Zoo executive director, as the young professional of the year and LehmanUSA as the technology business of the year.
Erskine, a Racine native, is the president of Racine Federated Inc. (RFI). His father and partner George Miller founded the company in 1970 when they purchased a construction hydraulic-tool line from Racine Hydraulics.
Today, RFI manufactures and distributes two primary product groups: hydraulic flow meters (new ones are external to pipes or tubes, not invasive) and concrete vibrators that help concrete spread, mix and settle more quickly to speed finishing in highway and airport construction.
Staying power, financial performance and innovation are key award criteria. RFI meets all three. In one five-year period, the company doubled in size from $12 million to $25 million. At other times, sales growth has been slower, reflecting a generally sluggish economy. Today, sales are about $28 million.
"While our financial path has had its peaks and valleys like other small business with an industrial customer base, we’re committed to doing business in Racine," Erskine says. "It’s a great small town near larger cities and has always provided an excellent group of skilled employees. They’re the heart of our business and why we remain here, continuing to innovate and grow.
"CEOs and others in top management at small businesses wear many hats," he comments regarding leadership. "To be successful, you have to know when it’s time to stop trying to do it all and bring in key people. Once you find such people — either growing them from within or hiring from the outside, let those good people do what you’ve hired them to do. By letting go of the reins, you improve your chance of long-term growth and success."
He attributes RFI’s growth to a combination of strategic acquisitions, innovation fostered by sharing performance incentives and getting his good people rallied behind five-year long-range plans. Since the beginning with about 10 employees, RFI now has 130 on its roll. Nearly 100 are in Racine, with others in small offices in Texas, Rhode Island and upstate New York, and those who are regional salespeople.
Community contributions were also important in the award selection process. A full 99% of RFI’s annual charitable giving goes back to the Racine area. Personally, Erskine is active in the Racine United Way campaign. He acts as its current chair, encourages the firm’s employees to give generously to remain a top per-capita giver, and enables others in the company to participate in its loaned executive program. Erskine also encourages other RFI personnel to be involved, provide leadership to community-based organizations and volunteer in other ways, too.
Christie named Young Professional of the Year
Two new RAMAC awards recognize young professionals and companies that invest in and use technology to their advantage.
Winner of the Young Professional of the Year is Jay Christie, executive director of the Racine Zoo. Born in Utica, N.Y., and raised in Toronto, Ontario, Christie earned a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and a master’s in administration before coming to Racine 5-1/2 years ago.
"I like everything about working and living in Racine," Christie says.
He’s been especially impressed with the downtown improvements and the recent Party on the Pavement celebrating the completion of road construction and other downtown projects.
"I find myself spending more and more time downtown because it’s a fun place to be now."
He also thoroughly enjoys his job. "If I won the lottery, I’d keep coming to work," he laughs. "I get a great deal of satisfaction helping people develop a harmonious and sustainable relationship with nature right here in Racine County and around the world. Even on days off, I find myself visiting the other great zoos in the area."
Christie also enjoys rock climbing and scuba diving when the opportunities arise.
He considers leadership the ability to take responsibility for one’s actions.
"As I tell the members of my remarkable staff, everyone can exercise leadership, no matter what position he or she has," he said.
Christie supervises 21 full-time employees and many volunteers and seasonal workers.
"I know that young professionals and others can make this community as vibrant, enriching and empowered as we want, if each of us merely shows up, reaches out and digs in to shape our collective future," Christie says.
LemanUSA earns Technology Business of the Year award
An international freight forwarding firm with a full range of warehousing and distribution services isn’t normally considered a hi-tech company. Yet LemanUSA’s use of technology to improve business systems and customer service is worthy of honor, according to the Racine Technology Organization (RTO), a subset of RAMAC with 31 members.
Two RTO members and LemanUSA service providers nominated the company, which has been part of the Racine landscape since 1971. It’s the growing US headquarters for its Danish parent company, Leman International System Transport A/S and part of the Ziegler Group of companies, headquartered in Brussels, Belgium.
"Ten years ago when I joined LemanUSA in Racine, we had two locations, here and in Windsor Locks, Conn.," recalls Uwe Kuttig, manager of sales, marketing and information technology. "Within the past four years we’ve opened offices in four key areas — in Chicago, Los Angeles, Atlanta and New York."
This rapid expansion and increased business was great for the bottom line, but not so wonderful from an IT perspective. "Each office had is own local-area network," Kuttig explains. "We had no direct data interchange and had to rely on printed reports after the fact. Branch managers had to spend time on IT work when we’d rather have them expand and serve our global customer base."
Working with RTC Technologies and Cyberlink, LemanUSA created a solution. "They shared expertise and advice, allowing us to develop a wide-area network and custom business application software centralized in Racine," Kuttig says. "This enables all branches to access real-time information, saves money, and eliminates delays and many paper reports. Management also has access to information when it’s needed. Plus, we can add new offices without a significant infrastructure cost."
The solution includes:
"Because we’re constantly filing documents online with U.S. Customs, it was mission critical to create a solution with constant connectivity, and one that was cost-effective as well," Kuttig says.
Nov. 14, 2003 Small Business Times, Milwaukee