By the book

A good piece of literature can change a person’s outlook. In Jeff Kristofeld’s case, a book changed the way he did his job.

When Kristofeld came to Ericson Manufacturing Co., a safety electrical specialty products company, as its controller, the business was just breaking even and sometimes losing money. President and third-generation owner John “Jay” Ericson Jr. knew it had to make tremendous changes in order to become profitable.

Kristofeld had begun his analysis of the company, when his wife gave him the book, “Jack: Straight From the Gut,” by Jack Welch, former chairman and CEO of General Electric. Welch’s business philosophy hit home, and Kristofeld says Welch mentored him through the words in his book.

Welch emphasizes being passionate about change, being open to ideas and listening to employees. He also encourages business leaders to ask tough questions about their company’s future — even if the answers are hard to hear.

Welch placed high demands on his management team, and Kristofeld advised Ericson to expect more from his managers and raise the bar on performance.

“The managers of the company changed from an uninvolved management style to a quality-driven approach where they involved employees in improving processes within their departments,” Kristofeld says. “We challenged the management team and questioned existing procedures.”

Other changes included departmental reorganization, software system upgrades and the hiring of an information technology administrator.

“Keep in mind it took at least a year to assess everything,” he says. “This change didn’t happen overnight.”

Ericson’s management met regularly and established quarterly employee meetings to report progress, developments and investments in plant equipment.

The company’s marketing department generated weekly fax blasts to its customers and independent sales reps about new products and developments. Management also kept in contact with reps using interactive, real-time Web meetings.

To engage customers and keep up with industry trends, Ericson’s sales managers attended regional and national electrical trade organization conferences.

Last year, the company began to pursue ISO 9001 2000 Quality Management System certification. It also purchased a customized mobile sales truck that travels the country and features samples of Ericson’s product lines.

“Everyone is impressed that we’ve invested in that type of sales tool,” Kristofeld says. “It was worth the investment.”

Company transformations require a team effort. When Kristofeld arrived at Ericson, it didn’t have a professional human resource leader. So it recruited Terry Gerred-Ditchcreek, who had 25 years experience in benefits, wage administration, leadership training and development. She improved employee safety programs and updated the company’s performance appraisal process so employees now receive management feedback and are compensated based on performance.

Kristofeld credits Jay Ericson with having the ability to adapt and be open to change.

“Jay knew that to take the company to the next level, he had to change the way he managed the company,” he says. “He’s allowed me to take risks and implement changes.”

Kristofeld says Ericson Manufacturing has achieved profitability not seen in 10 years, and working toward ISO certification is just the start — Jay Ericson is negotiating with Willoughby to acquire land to double plant capacity by the end of 2005.

“What I’ve learned from this experience is that we’re only at the end of the beginning because change is constant,” Kristofeld says. HOW TO REACH: Ericson Manufacturing Co., (800) 374-2766,; “Jack: Straight From the Gut,”

At the bargaining table

A new survey shows company cars and country club memberships are showing up in fewer employment offers today. When asked which benefits they were least likely to offer in the current business environment, 29 percent of CFOs cited executive perks, while 17 percent said stock options.

The survey was developed by Robert Half Management Resources and includes responses from 1,400 CFOs from a stratified random sample of U.S. companies with more than 20 employees. Robert Half Executive Director Paul McDonald shares the five most common mistakes job candidates make when negotiating job offers and tips for avoiding them.

* Not knowing what you want. Job candidates need to have a clear idea of what are must-haves – a minimum base salary, for example – and what they’re willing to sacrifice, such as NBA tickets.

* Failing to do your homework. Applicants should go into negotiations having thoroughly researched the market, including salary and benefits for similar positions. Many organizations, from recruiting firms to professional and trade associations, publish compensation data annually.

* Playing hardball. Being inflexible during negotiations or issuing an ultimatum puts the hiring manager on the defensive.

* Being shortsighted. Before turning down an offer, evaluate the long-term rewards of the position, such as career advancement or company growth potential. Once you’ve proven yourself in the role, you’ll have greater leverage in future negotiations.

* Not calculating the total costs. Make sure you can afford to accept the position. If relocation is involved, be sure the salary covers the cost of living in the new city. Source: Robert Half Management Resources