Being in a family-owned business can be a natural and fulfilling way to receive guidance in running the company.
Mimi Crawford lauds the help her father Clifford provided to help her navigate the business world. His advice began when Mimi when was a child and continued through to her taking the helm of Crayex Corp. as its CEO several years ago. Clifford Alexander is chairman of Crayex but he is approaching retirement and Mimi now runs the show.
Crayex is headquartered in Piqua, Ohio, a community of about 20,500 in western Ohio. Crayex was founded by Clifford Alexander in 1972 with the help of a Small Business Administration loan as a custom producer of polyethylene shrink, non-shrink and specialty films and bags. It also runs an operation in McDonough, Ga. The firm owns a trucking fleet to meet customer delivery needs. Important markets include food and beverage, medical/pharmaceutical, graphics, laminations, building materials and industrial.
“My father promoted a sense of confidence in me when I was young,” Mimi Crawford recalled in a phone interview. He also instilled in Mimi the value of education and a competitive spirit which she continues with today.
In the early days of his mentorship, Mimi's father taught her “the soft skills of business,” such as integrity and empathy for a customer's needs. She said such skills are the “honey in the hive of business.”
His customer focus and competitiveness were evident early on. Family lore, for example, records the time he personally loaded and drove his fledgling company's box truck to meet a customer's delivery needs.
“I was always fascinated by his business success,” she said.
Clifford Alexander shared much more than the 40 years of his own business experience with Mimi. He also introduced her to his business peers who evolved into a broad base of mentors that helped her make her way in the plastics industry.
Other mentoring sources inspired her and gave her counsel. Teachers at Miami University, her church environment and other formative forces honed her honesty and integrity. An accounting background introduced her to the financial side of business.
Mimi wonders if a larger company not owned by her family could have provided the same level of guidance at a personal level.
“In a family-owned company, the guidance is there every day,” she said.
Another advantage of a family-owned business is that it usually is small and therefore decisions can be made rapidly.
“Small businesses can be very nimble and quick to react to market changes.”
However, a small business can lack funds to bring in outside talent and pay for it. This was particularly acute in the early days of Crayex.
“Fortunately success came rather quickly and a more sustainable atmosphere ensued, but it was very tenuous at the beginning,” she said.
Another early challenge, although not unique to Crayex, was the shocking oil embargo in the 1970s, which fueled a dramatic hike in energy prices and led to shortages of plastic resin.
“Many companies were accepting raw materials in sacks,” Mimi recalled. “Crayex was blessed to have a strong supplier relationship that carried us through those difficult times. Without our friends at USI Chemicals Co., Crayex would not exist today.”
(USI changed identity several times over the years and its surviving polyethylene business is now included in Equistar, a unit of LyondellBasell Industries of Houston, Texas.)
Mimi expects the younger generation will inject a new aura into the business world. They grew up with the internet and can bring fresh ideas to a company that is following ingrained, outdated ways of doing business.
“They are very resourceful and utilize technology in such a huge way. The younger generation thrives on change.”
Like many executives who head households, Mimi says it can be difficult to reach a balance between work and family life.
“It is tough to leave work at the office when the family business is on the line,” she explained. “The emotional responsibility can thrust you out of bounds very quickly. I am fortunate to have an amazing husband who understands the demands of my job and assumes many of the household responsibilities.”
When family discussions about business get heated, Mimi says her mother pulls kin back to reality and reminds them that family peace comes first.
Succession in Crayex management will be handled professionally, with hiring based on skill sets and not on blood lines.
“Fortunately, we have a plan in place and the next family member in line has amazing intellect and talent,” she said.
While the plastics industry changes at a dizzying pace with frequent mergers and acquisitions, Mimi says Crayex is ready to capitalize on its small-company flexibility and responsiveness to keep customers happy. In large measure, the company's future owes much to the guidance passed on from the founder to his daughter.
“My father is a compassionate person and created a business culture that is very unique and hard to explain. I have been told by many of our employees that I am just like my dad. I can't think of a higher compliment,” she said.