Some CEOs get their start in business by working their way up from the bottom. Some are groomed for executive success by a mentor or, in the case of a family-owned business, by relatives. There are many different roads to success.
Jeff Kuhman launched his plastics career by flinging a discus through a neighbor's window.
Well, the Glycon Corp. CEO says, there's a little more to the story than that.
Among his many sports activities as a youth, Kuhman threw the discus for his high school in Toledo, Ohio. As he was practicing in his front yard one day, “I uncork one — I think it was the longest I've ever thrown one — and it ends up across the street, hits a driveway, bounces up and goes through a neighbor's window.”
As with most kids, Kuhman's first instinct was to run. But he resisted and made the long slog to the neighbor's door to turn himself in.
They talked for awhile and Kuhman was surprised when the neighbor — perhaps impressed by his honesty or his athletic ability — said, “I'll make you a deal. If you'll come and meet with me and my boss, I'll pay for the window.”
His boss, it turned out, was Harry Bolwell, an executive (and eventual chairman and CEO) of Midland-Ross Corp. That meeting led to Kuhman's first job in plastics: a lab assistant and sales trainee at the company's Waldron-Hartig division.
Bolwell was an alumnus of the University of Vermont and had played football there. Kuhman ended up not only attending the university and becoming a star tight end, he met his wife, Joanne, there. After graduating with a degree in economics, Kuhman was drafted by the Denver Broncos in 1968.
“So it was a good break when my discus went through that window,” Kuhman said in a recent phone interview. “I wouldn't change a thing.”
Kuhman left the Broncos in 1970. In 1974, he joined machinery maker Uniloy, which at that time was a division of Hoover Ball & Bearing. While he was there, in 1976, he began purchasing feed screws from Toronto under the name “JC Sales Co.,” supplying both Robert Barr Inc. and Hayssen Mfg. Co.
Two years later he was ready to strike out on his own, changing the company's name to Great Lakes Feedscrews Inc. He parted on such good terms with Uniloy that the firm became one of his first customers.
“Uniloy cooperated fully. I was able to supply Uniloy from day one,” he said.
Kuhman changed the Tecumseh, Mich., company's name again in 1997, to Glycon. Today Glycon designs, manufactures and produces feed screws, barrels, feed housings and non-return valves for extrusion, blow molding and injection molding. Glycon also serves the packaging and automotive markets as well as OEMs.
Its largest customer is Lifetime Products Inc., a Clearfield, Utah, a maker of outdoor products like tables and chairs, disaster housing, kayaks and canoes. Lifetime makes its own manufacturing equipment, but sources all the key components from Glycon.
The company has annual sales between $7 million and $8 million. Kuhman's son, Jon, is vice president of engineering.
Jeff Kuhman, 69, said he probably will become less active in managing day-to-day operations eventually, “but I still love what I am doing.”
A lot will depend on the success of Glycon's new electronic technology for measuring screw and barrel wear. The patent-pending system is called EMT.
“It is very promising at this point and we expect to begin testing in our lab before year end. I plan to take a very active role in the marketing and promotion of that product,” he said.
Being from Ohio, Kuhman is a Cleveland Indians and Ohio State University fan now “living defensively” in Michigan. But he diplomatically said he admires many of the sports teams Michigan has to offer, and said he has become very involved in his community.
He was named Small Business Person of the Year for Lenawee County in 1997, and received the Lenawee County Outstanding Citizen Award in 1999. Also in the late 1990s, he chaired the Citizens Facilities Advisory Council I and II, passing a $61 million bond issue to build a new high school and revamp the local middle and elementary schools. It was the first bond issue for Tecumseh Public Schools passed in more than 80 years, he said.
The Kuhmans lived in the same home in Tecumseh for almost 40 years — until it burned down in February 2014.
“We were in Florida, and the dog was boarded — we were thankful nobody was in it,” he said. Fire officials blamed the incident on a faulty humidifier that has since been recalled. Kuhman had the remaining foundation of the home torn out and rebuilt on the same site. He and his wife were only able to move back in a few months ago.
Kuhman said that when he does retire, he hopes to be remembered as the leader of an exemplary, innovative company, as well as someone who “provided an environment where employees can contribute and prosper.”