|| Print ||
|Articles - June 2011|
|Wednesday, May 18, 2011|
Page 3 of 3
So the question arises: Why go through all this? All of Leatherman’s major competitors have moved at least part of their multi-tool production overseas, where labor costs are considerably less. Rather than spending the time and effort to re-jig the way the company runs its business, why not contract the work — or part of it, anyway — to a facility on the other side of the Pacific?
The answer is simple: Six years go, Jake Nichol made a promise, and a gambit.
In 2004, the company’s venerable founder and chairman, Tim Leatherman, came to a realization: He wasn’t very good at strategic planning. Leatherman had done a lot for his company. He invented the first multi-tool — first called “Mr. Crunch” and later “Pocket Survival Tool” — after a disastrous experience in a Fiat during a 1975 trip to Europe showed him that a simple pocketknife was not enough.
He and co-founder Steve Berliner filled the company’s first order in 1983, for 500 multi-tools to be sold in a Cabela’s catalog. He led the company through its exponential expansion, from those first 500 tools, to a company with 36 products selling millions of units annually in more than 85 countries around the world. The company now reports more than $80 million annually in gross revenues. It says that after a difficult 2008, revenue grew 18% during the past fiscal year.
But strategic planning was not his forte, Leatherman, 62, says now. “I thought we had a strategic plan, but the employees couldn’t recall the meetings,” he says. “Because there weren’t any.”
In 2004, at the company’s first strategic planning session, Leatherman was on the verge of stepping down from full-time duties at the company. He included in the plan a list of what he called the company’s “guiding principles.” Chief among them was a pledge to keep the company, and its manufacturing plant, in Portland for as long as possible.
Those principles became a kind of contract for the company’s next chief executive. If a candidate agreed to adhere to the plan, they’d talk. If not, there was nothing more to discuss.
Leatherman set up an interview with Nichol, who brought with him a quarter-century’s worth of experience of the tool industry, both at Stanley and at Danaher, the Washington, D.C.-based group that makes tools for Sears under the Craftsman brand. At Danaher, Leatherman says, Nichol was in much the same position, having to devise ways to make hand tools in the U.S. when many rivals had moved production elsewhere.
Nichol agreed to follow Leatherman’s principles — and to take the job. That agreement has shaped the way the company has operated ever since.
So the company’s disadvantage is a permanent one, at least as permanent as such things get. Nichol and Leatherman both say that the pledge to remain in Portland presents obvious challenges — balancing quality and cost, always fending off competitors that offer good concepts at often-lower prices.
But Nichol says the pledge has been a kind of blessing as well. The jobs the company provides in Portland are, in a way, its promise to the area, something Leatherman, a native Oregonian, cherishes. With the agreement between Leatherman and Nichol in place, those promises can be kept. Company executives tell employees, government leaders and suppliers that it’s going to stay here. It’s empowering, Nichol says.
“The empowering part of that is that there are no off-ramps,” he says. “There’s no ‘If this doesn’t work we’ll go do such and such.’ It’s really helped us build a clear business strategy.”
The endless battle against costs and inefficiencies continues. Two years ago, it was a plan to make a $30 multi-tool. That plan has come to fruition. But Nichol says every year comes with new plans, and with them, new ideas about how to squeeze waste from the company and new, faster, more efficient work habits to embrace. From Nichol down to the workers on the factory floor, it’s again time to stretch.
Wednesday, October 28, 2015
BY JACOB PALMER
Live, work, play with the president of Gramor Development.
Monday, November 02, 2015
BY LINDA BAKER
The hollowing out of the American city is now a bona fide cultural meme. Newspapers, magazines and digital media sites are publishing story after story about the morphing of urban grit and diversity into bastions of wealth and commodity culture.
Monday, October 05, 2015
VIDEO BY JESSE LARSON
Profiling some of the organizations featured in the 2015 list.
Wednesday, October 28, 2015
BY APRIL STREETER
The world's second-largest wind energy project yields costs and benefits for a sheep-farming family in Eastern Oregon.
Monday, September 28, 2015
BY BEN DEJARNETTE
Controversial track star Nick Symmonds is leveraging his celebrity to grow a performance chewing-gum brand. Fans hail his marketing ploys as genius. Critics dub them shameless.
Tuesday, November 03, 2015
Two trends dominate the manufacturing sector: onshoring and the rise of small-scale production manufacturing, known as the "maker economy."
Wednesday, October 28, 2015
BY CHRIS NOBLE
’Tis the season of giving — and that goes far beyond trees drowning in Lego sets and ironic knitwear. Santa Claus knows corporations are people too, in need of gifts to warm the hearts (and stomachs) of even the most Grinch-like CFOs.
|The Love Boat|
|The Food Pod Grows Up|
|The High Road|
|Tinker, Tailor, Portland Maker|
|The Shift to Community Health Care|
|The Harder They Fall|
|Another chapter to the Bezos/Musk space race story|
|Thanksgiving travel: Fuel costs low, terrorism anxiety high|
|Costco chicken salad linked to E. coli case in Washington|
|Nestle comes clean about benefitting from slave labor|
|Enormous drugmaker emerges from Pfizer, Allergan deal|
|Startups joining lobbying game|
|Merchants complain as Square goes public|
Economic diversity has proven a smart strategy for the Port of Hood River. How can other Oregon communities replicate the model?
Phone, Internet needs of small community school districts earn attention of top-five telecom provider.
Farmland LP grows its vision for organic farming in Oregon.
The Salem Convention Center has capped its tenth anniversary year by earning the prestigious “Best of the Best 2015” award from NW Meetings & Events magazine. Selected as the Best Convention/Conference Venue in Oregon by meeting and event planners from Alaska, British Columbia, Idaho, Oregon and Washington, the Salem Convention Center ranked above the Oregon Convention Center and the Portland Art Museum.
The Oregon Cooperative Hall of Fame honors individuals for their outstanding contributions to the successful building and operation of Oregon agricultural cooperatives.
Health insurer reports $10.2 million in net income after taxes through the first nine months of 2015.