Lake City, Pa. — Cary Quigley remembers the humble beginnings at Sterling Technologies Inc.
The company had three or four employees and one machine. Every contract was like gold.
“Geez, I remember getting excited over an $8,000 job,” Quigley said. “When you have no customers, any piece of business gets exciting. Certainly, now we get excited over the million-dollar contracts. But I still get excited over any order. That's never changed.”
That's the mindset of a man who has held every job at Sterling since CEO Greg Cronkhite hired him in 1999 just one year after Cronkhite founded the plastics rotational molder.
Quigley, 43, rose to president two and a half years ago. Under Cronkhite and Quigley, Sterling has grown to $10 million in annual sales. This shop on the shores of Lake Erie in western Pennsylvania employs 142, including seasonal workers.
On a cold day in late January, inventory is nearly bursting in the company's 96,000-square-foot manufacturing facility. Rain barrels and composters are stacked everywhere. The 25-foot ceilings barely contain products that will be shipped to a diverse group of big box retailers in two to four weeks.
Business is strong. In fact, Sterling has grown at least 12 percent per year for the last four years. Sterling is also debt free. One reason for the success is the company's financial communication with employees. Quigley and Cronkhite share monthly, quarterly and annual results — both good and bad — with their management team and line workers. In fact, each shift knows if they were profitable when they clock out.
“The shift supervisor can be halfway through a shift and say, ‘Boy, we need to pick it up or we are not going to make any money today,'” Quigley said.
Cronkhite, 53, dreamed about implementing this open-book philosophy when he ran Gemini Plastics in Florida in the 1990s.
Quigley remains modest when asked what Sterling does better than the competition. Instead, his focus is on what his team does well.
“People come in with a drawing on a
napkin and we can manage the whole product right through to full-blown warehousing and distribution,” he said, noting that most customers are within a 500-mile radius of Lake City.
Quigley and Cronkhite get along well. Cronkhite likens Quigley to his younger brother. They hunt together, sometimes on Cronkhite's 2,500-acre property in South Dakota. In Lake City, Quigley handles the day-to-day business, digs into the P&L statements. Cronkhite is the macro-economics guy, worried about the Affordable Care Act and long-term planning.
They refer to themselves as sales guys. But they are customer — and employee — centered.
Quigley says personnel is what keeps him up at night.
“The biggest thing for me is the people. Not just the management group, but at all levels. Getting the right people in here, keeping the right people and growing the right people,” he said.
Shifts at Sterling run all day, every day. Heavy day shifts might see 50 workers. Night shifts might mean 20 employees.
“We're pulling people from outside,” Quigley said. “We've got targeted people we're trying to collect. We've got people we're trying to grow with different courses, classes. We try to do as much training as possible to bring those people up to speed.”
What's he most proud of?
“Seeing some of the people grow. That's been fulfilling. Seeing them develop and mature into positions where they start to take over command of departments. That's very fulfilling.”