In December 2010, just as the economy and U.S. manufacturers were showing signs of life, Matthew Turco
, CEO of Freeman Manufacturing & Supply Co., got a phone call.
It was the new Dutch owners of his company’s top competitor in the specialty waxes market, the Kindt-Collins Co. They wanted to sell. Was Turco interested?
It was an opportunity that Turco didn’t see coming. “This company was our long-term rival,” he says.
The acquisition of the nearly century-old firm would double Freeman’s workforce in the manufacturing division, which accounts for 20 percent of its revenue. The other 80 percent comes from supplying materials to machine and tooling shops that serve the auto and aircraft industries, as well as other manufacturers that design, develop and make products in precise sizes and shapes.
Turco, who joined Freeman as an intern in 2000 while working on his MBA, knew he couldn’t pass up the offer. The acquisition would make Freeman dominant in that market and expand the company’s global sales. But it wouldn’t be as simple as just moving employees and boosting production. The transition would involve a hiring spree and a difficult integration of corporate cultures.
“It was an opportunity for a lot of people to show leadership in their departments and realize long-term rewards for that,” Turco says. “The coolest part of it for me was to see those people step up.”
Turco announced the Kindt-Collins acquisition to employees in May 2011. Although many Kindt-Collins employees accepted positions at Freeman, some rejected job offers.
As he had in the past, Turco used temporary staffing companies to fill the remaining production jobs. Potential hires had a 90-day trial period. If their performance was satisfactory and they fit into the company’s culture, they were hired. The Freeman schedule is typically 10 hours a day, four days a week, plus overtime as needed. In the end, finding the right people for the 37 new jobs at the Avon headquarters proved to be a challenge.
“People who have been working here a long time, you find that they take a lot of pride and ownership in what they do,” Turco says. “When somebody comes in and is trying to do the least possible not to get fired, then that person is not going to fit.”
Ian McClaskey, Freeman’s director of specialty products, can attest to the entrepreneurial culture at Freeman. The Ashland native started as a sales trainee after graduating from the University of Akron in 2001. Since then, he has been promoted five times.
“It’s a very cooperative culture here,” McClaskey says. “Everybody works together and pulls their own weight. I think it was a fairly significant shift for [the Kindt-Collins employees], but it was a shift in a good way.”
Kindt-Collins had a more rigid management structure. Employees followed orders and weren’t asked for input, McClaskey says.
“We’re not a top-down organization,” Turco adds. “They had done it that way in the past, but it didn’t work.”
Freeman’s headquarters are an example of the company’s former hierarchical culture. Built in 1997, the building was designed without input from production, distribution or maintenance workers on the floor. Since then, the company has redesigned the facility to run more efficiently.
“We didn’t include the right people in the decision process,” Turco says. “It was a bunch of engineers that came in who didn’t understand, from a day-to-day basis, how this stuff flows.”
Luckily, the 110,000-square-foot building was designed for growth. It’s now at capacity with the new employees, plus Kindt-Collins’ inventory and equipment. Freeman spent more than $160,000 to upgrade computer systems and software, and even more on equipment and production renovations. Turco expects sales from Kindt-Collins products to cover those investments.
“When you have a labor-intensive manufacturing [process], everybody just assumes that it’s going to go to Asia,” Turco says. “This was an opportunity for it not to go to Asia. We thought if we bring it here, then we protect the technology, protect the know-how and provide the jobs here.”