Wire Rope Exchange (WRE): What were some of the more compelling reasons for joining The Crosby Group? What aspects of the company held particular appeal for you?
Jason Struthers, CEO and President of The Crosby Group: There were some unexpected synergies that became very apparent after my first visit to Tulsa. Not only was I seeing a very successful manufacturer with a strong global market presence, but Crosby’s channels to market, and namely their world-class distribution partners around the world, were very much in line with the same excellent caliber of organizations that I had worked with in my previous roles.
WRE: What specific strengths do you bring to your new role as CEO?
Struthers: In my 20 years working for diversified industrial companies, I have spent about half of my career in sales and marketing and half in operations. That has given me a well-rounded basis which allows me to get my arms around all aspects of the business to some extent so that I can understand the real issues and opportunities. Additionally, my previous experience has been global in nature but with a strong North American base, and that aligns well with Crosby’s worldwide business footprint. A final key element is that I have been very fortunate to work with world-class distribution organizations in my prior companies, and coming into an organization like Crosby that embraces that same channel philosophy was, again, a very natural fit.
WRE: As a newcomer, what are some of the company’s previous accomplishments that you find especially impressive?
Struthers: During Crosby’s 150 years, many milestones have been accomplished, but I’d say that the unwavering focus on premier customer service—and how it is really part of the company’s DNA—is most impressive. It permeates literally every decision and activity in the company. It sounds cliché, but hardly a meeting goes by or e-mail thread builds without someone interjecting, ‘but how does this improve our customers’ experience?’ If the answer is not readily available, then it begs the question as to why we want or need to do whatever it was in the first place.
Of course, I’d be remiss if I did not call out Crosby’s training program. It has become a mainstay in the lifting and rigging industries for two decades and over 275,000 people have attended the extensive list of courses created and taught by Crosby.
Then there is the global network of distributors with whom Crosby has partnered for the better part of the last century, in many cases. This is a group of independent businesses who have dedicated themselves to being local technical experts on the application of lifting and rigging solutions, and they put Crosby in the very envious position of having a world-class support network like no other. To that end, they are out there in the trenches every day solving applications for end users and OEMs. Our distributor partners are the extension of Crosby in every sense of the word from customer service, stocking of products, delivery and installation, and aftermarket support.
Lastly, and throughout our history, Crosby has routinely stepped up to lead the industry in risk-management initiatives. In a business where the phrase ‘everything on the line’ really means something, product education, and quality are job one. I have been very impressed with that long-term commitment to keep pushing the lifting and rigging industry to new levels of expectations in these areas.
WRE: What are some of the areas that could be improved or enhanced?
Struthers: Just for clarity purposes, it is important to state that I have not inherited anything that is “broken” by any means. On the contrary, the decades-long success story of Crosby as a global leader in lifting and rigging applications is well known. Of course, I do represent a set of fresh eyes, and my intent is to continue to build on all of the good things that have made Crosby what it is today. At the same time, I plan to keep pushing the organization to new heights for quality, customer service, productivity, and innovation, in order to increase the value for our customers. We will continue to leverage technology where we can, and some efforts will be just good old blocking and tackling details within our day-to-day operations and processes. Naturally, we also want to be a company that continues to focus on being the easiest company with whom our customers do business. That means continuous improvement in our training, our sizing tools and mobile apps, our Websites and customer service organization, our aftermarket support, and frankly, anywhere we have a touch point with our customers. We earn high marks today, but I have yet to find anyone in the organization who is not fully motivated to keep raising the bar.
WRE: How would you describe the culture of the company? What makes it unique or different from other corporations?
Struthers: Crosby has an impressive percentage of long-term employees, so the tribal knowledge runs deep. As a newcomer, it was a bit intimidating to think that I was facing thousands of years of deeply rooted application experience, industry knowledge, and relationships. Top that with a shared passion to keep winning, and you have a pretty awesome cultural swell under multiple roofs worldwide. There are other successful and highly motivated companies out there, and the stories of corporate cultures that reject new ideas or even new people altogether are well known. Fortunately, I have found the Crosby team to be a bit of an enigma in this regard. I have felt entirely welcomed across the entire organization, and, at the same time, I have found a team that is very open-minded about looking at new ideas and points of view.
WRE: How does Crosby stand out from its competitors within the industry?
Struthers: Crosby has some obvious attributes that distinguish it in the industry, such as the widest range of standard products and its global footprint, which allows local manufacturing for North American, European, and Asian markets. However, the real differentiation comes from the fact that Crosby is not out there just selling components.
It is difficult to put a simple word on it, but Crosby is really out there creating ‘peace of mind’ one application at a time. That comes from the confidence that is instilled in our customers when they attend one of Crosby’s training seminars, because end users know that proper and effective lifting and rigging applications start with solid sizing and engineering. We then back-up all of the training with a wide range of sizing tools, mobile apps, manuals, and, of course, our highly touted support from the factory and our world-class distributors. Beyond that, our customers know that Crosby has made a long-term commitment to drive the best techniques, application standards, and the latest certifications in the industry.
Lastly, there is the whole arena of customizing products for OEMs and end users who are seeking the quality and technical expertise of Crosby, but who may not find exactly what they need in our catalog. This might include a common modification that is addressed by our engineering team and then materializes in our machine shops, or it might be a whole new product that is produced in one of our forging facilities. It is that combination of flexibility, experience, and technical “know-how” that gives our customers “peace of mind” when they are lifting or securing precious cargo.
WRE: How is the transition going? What lessons have you learned during these initial months of leadership at Crosby?
Struthers: I had the luxury of spending my first 90 days with an icon in the industry at my side. Larry Postelwait, the former President and CEO for the past 25 years, was gracious enough to postpone some of his own personal plans to make sure that I had a very solid onboarding experience. We spent much of that time travelling the globe, visiting our facilities, and meeting our customers, our distribution partners, our suppliers, and our employees. I could not have asked for a better mentor, and fortunately Larry has been gracious enough to still be there for me even today when a new question arises for which I think that he might have some good insight or history. Otherwise, the rest of the Crosby team have all been extremely helpful as I acclimate to a new culture, not to mention a new geography, and that effort is paying off in an extraordinarily smooth transition.
WRE: Can you offer an example of valuable advice that outgoing CEO Larry Postelwait has shared with you? In what ways has his input been helpful to you during the transition process?
Struthers: In many ways, I am standing on the tall shoulders that Larry, the Crosby team, our distribution partners, and our suppliers have built over decades of unwavering focus on the customer. It has always been about delivering the best overall experience with uncompromising quality, and Larry was passionate about that mantra. I could not agree more, so his excellent advice has resonated with me since the first time we met.
WRE: What goals have you set for yourself as CEO in the coming year?
Struthers: The near-term goal is the ongoing smooth transition of leadership, while continuing to build on the success of recent years. Of course, there is always an opportunity to further our customer service efforts. The last few years have presented Crosby with some good growth opportunity, and it can be a challenge to fully take advantage of such market dynamics while not impacting service levels for your current customers. To that end, we have an aggressive plan for new hires, new equipment, facility upgrades, and expansions, etc., and the effective implementation of all of that investment is going to be our main focus for the short term. Longer term, we will want to continue to make strides in the most attractive global markets, while still building upon our strong market positions in North America and Europe, and that becomes a natural extension of the investments that we are making today.
WRE: How would you describe your leadership style?
Struthers: First and foremost, I believe in surrounding oneself with the best team. Fortunately, I have inherited an extremely talented and multi-faceted organization, but I have also been able to bring in some additional talent to bolster the team. Next, I am a fan of initial collaborative planning as key goals are set for the business, but then allowing the team to do what it does best.
Of course, this is not a “set it and forget it” program either. I subscribe to the Plan-Do-Check-Act thought process, which essentially states that we gain alignment on our overall goals up front (Plan) and then we deploy the appropriate resources to accomplish them (Do). Along the way, we monitor our progress (Check). If we are on track, then we stay the course, but if we do not see the expected results, or if something changes significantly in the equation, then we can counter it with freshly adapted plans (Act). I believe that this style of leadership allows the team to take real ownership in the process and the results, while still allowing me to be in the loop in a nonintrusive manner most of the time and in a more direct manner when required.
WRE: What is your business philosophy?
Struthers: “You have to know your customer to delight your customer.” Simply stated, we have to maintain those excellent touch points with our customers on all levels to fully understand what it will take to deliver a truly exceptional customer experience. By understanding our customers’ quality, technology, and service expectations, we can then innovate products and processes in ways that exceed expectations, while still delivering on all of the baseline expectations. As an example, Apple changed the whole music industry paradigm with the iPod, while most of its competitors were still trying to improve the CD. The real question for the Crosby team is, “What is that ‘iPod’ for rigging and lifting?” I’m not sure at the moment, but you can bet that the Crosby team is out there talking to our customers to try to better understand a path to deliver that level of satisfaction.
WRE: In what specific ways do you hope to build on the company’s continued success?
Struthers: The company has been on the right trajectory for some time. Frankly, we plan to double-down on many of the things that have brought us this success. We will stay focused on our customers’ needs. We will continue to deliver the widest range of innovative solutions. We will maintain the best overall value, and we will never stop driving the value chain that starts with industry education and then extends through sizing and application, delivery, installation, and ongoing performance with every Crosby solution.
At the end of the day, we will keep adding hammers in our forge shops, hiring the best talent, and churning out innovative products, but if our customers cannot easily work with us, then they will seek other options. We do not want to miss on the importance of “ease of use” and “ease of doing business with us.”
WRE: What sorts of changes do you see in The Crosby Group’s future?
Struthers: Crosby is committed to being where our customers need us around the globe. As their opportunities expand, we will likewise want to expand our capabilities to deliver the same levels of service wherever they may be. While we anticipate that much of that expansion will be global organic investment, Crosby will also seek strategic partnerships with like-minded and focused companies for joint ventures and acquisition opportunities in order to round out the solutions that our customers demand. However, despite global expansion, there is no plan to alter our focus on our strong North American and European presence.
WRE: What are the industry challenges that lie ahead? And what are your strategies for overcoming them?
Struthers: The biggest challenge to the rigging and lifting industry is probably the same one that’s affecting most industries today, and that is the uncertain economy. With Europe still struggling, China showing some signs of moderate slow down, and a pending U.S. election promising very different policies and programs, depending on which party is elected, it is no wonder that businesses are cautious about making major investments. While we cannot control these influencing factors, Crosby will stay the course with our commitment to application education for the industry, our efforts to provide the same highest-level value to our customers wherever and whenever they need it, and our investment in our manufacturing and technical support capabilities to assure that we are prepared to support our customers’ needs going forward.