Albert Camus once observed that the most important task of life involves the formation of relationships. He said, “Human relationships always help us to carry on because they always presuppose further developments – a future.” For Connor Manufacturing Services, a pioneering company tasked in the design and production of precision engineered metal products, both the legacy of success and development of strategies to secure future growth, are equally augmented by an appreciable approach to maintaining relationships.
With more than 100 years of service complementing its efficiencies and expertise in the design and manufacturing of engineered metal components, Connor Manufacturing Services has evolved from a family-run wholesale hardware enterprise into one of the world’s most respected institutions of industry. Connor products can be found enhancing functionality to a wide range of goods that touch everyday lives, from trucks, automobiles and office equipment to computers and telecommunication devices, and lots more. That degree of diversification might offer some authenticity in Connor’s adherence to demanding standards of precision, but it is also a byproduct of precisely-honed principles involving customer service and commitment to relationships. In fact, Connor’s global footprint was largely fostered through their focus on relationships.
To put that in proper perspective, President Dennis Kwiecinski provides insight into events that occurred more than 30 years ago, when so many technology companies began pulling-up and pulling out from America to capitalize on production opportunities in Asia. At that time, California-based Connor Manufacturing had already been a longtime supplier of springs used on pagers manufactured by Motorola. That relationship had evolved to include metal stamping essential in the production of cell phones. Then, as fate would have it, Motorola moved operations to Southeast Asia. Over time, another customer in Hewlett Packard also decided to move manufacturing overseas. Connor Manufacturing Services had to make a choice, as Kwiecinski explains, “Either we could open a location there and try to keep our business with these customers, or we could let it go, let them be serviced by our competitors, and try to expand our market in North America.”
Today, Connor divisions can be found in Singapore and China, an aspect that adds particular benefit to customers, but again, this expansion all stems from the company’s determination to go the extra mile in the maintaining of relationships.
And to be sure, Connor’s commitment isn’t simply reserved for customers. The company is equally diligent when it comes to maintaining relationships with its employees. Connor Manufacturing was among the first in industry to offer employees with a profit sharing plan and health insurance coverage, long before such practices were common in the workplace. “There is a philosophy we have,” explains Kwiecinski, “We may not be able to make a difference with everything in the world, but we can help make it a little better for the people that work here.” That “better” is reflected in compensation, education programs and other benefits. Collectively, the incorporation of these benefits has helped produce a working environment that fosters innovation and cooperation. Kwiecinski says such qualities not only carry over to enhance customer interactions, but also allows Connor to maintain higher than typical employee retention rates.
The company also puts high value on its relationships with suppliers. Supply chain partners undergo performance monitoring much the same way that employees do, and when deficiencies are found, Kwiecinski says the company works with suppliers to help them become better. “We cannot sell bad quality,” stresses Kwiecinski. “Our reputation hangs on everything we ship out the door and the way the customer receives it. We emphasize that in our supply chain, and we may not always work with the company that offers the lowest cost… we prefer to partner with those who can stand behind their service.”
Understanding their commitment to relationships is fundamental to understanding how Connor Manufacturing has been so successful in their industry. Yet, to account of how it all began also prompts consideration of relationships, in this case, an extraordinary pair of brothers from a highly esteemed family.
The Sloss Family of San Francisco
The emergence of Connor Manufacturing Services is explicitly linked to Louis Sloss, a dynamic entrepreneur and benefactor who has been widely credited for spurring economic and cultural growth essential in the late 19th Century history development of San Francisco. Sloss, along with his brother-in-law Lewis Gerstle, founded San Francisco’s Alaska Commercial Company, an enterprise that once reigned as one of the world’s largest suppliers of fur. Sloss routinely reinvested his earnings to grow a variety of companies and achieved regard as one of America’s most prominent men in business. He was also respected as a devoted family man and generous philanthropist. History books are replete with records of Sloss contributions to the growth of San Francisco. Sloss had two sons named Joseph and Henry. Long before these two graduated from Harvard University, the family had already created a successful venture in the wholesaling of hardware, an enterprise that was incorporated in 1920. Joseph and Henry returned home after graduation in 1933 to take charge of that operation. Kwiencinski jokes, “They were perfectly suited to run General Motors or U.S. Steele, but since those positions were filled, they came back to the family business.”
The business flourished for decades, but eventually experienced challenges from competition in the form of Sears and Ace Hardware, whose locations were rapidly expanding throughout the country. The Sloss brothers determined to enhance their business model with manufacturing, and in the 1940s, acquired a small company that primarily manufactured springs. Connor Spring, as it was known, went on to thrive in the production of wire forms and springs used in the manufacturing of IBM typewriters. The company reinvested in new tools and new machinery to diversify service offerings in a range of metallurgical marvels, and since the name of “Connor” had achieved respect and recognition in industry, the brother maintained the name, but adapted the enterprise which is known today as Connor Manufacturing Services. The Sloss brothers ran the operation throughout the modern era, but the last thirty years of its success is largely due to the leadership of CEO Bob Sloss (son of Joseph Sloss).
Modern Era Expertise
From springs and stampings to a range of custom designed components applied in a variety of mechanisms, Connor Manufacturing Services has continued to prosper under the leadership of Bob Sloss. The company’s California location has particularly flourished through its proximity to Silicon Valley and relationships with a number of high tech firms that rely on Connor’s engineered metal forms in the manufacturing of computer parts. A Connor division in Portland, Oregon, is equally vital to companies like Peterbilt and Freightliner who have relied on their products in the manufacturing of heavy trucks for more than 40 years. The company has continually invested in the refining of capabilities in Portland, as Kwiecinski notes, “That business isn’t moving offshore so we continue to invest in it.” At the same time, for companies that are conducting operations overseas, the relationship with Connor Manufacturing poses unique benefits in that products can be designed in America and rapidly transitioned for mass production in China or Southeast Asia. With its international presence, Connor has engineers on site to supervise production in these overseas locations for the companies requiring that capability. The standards of quality honed in its America locations are equally employed throughout Connor’s overseas locations.
Under Bob Sloss’ leadership, more than 40 years ago, the company made heavy investment in new management control systems and information systems. The introduction of a new sophisticated computer system helped the company realize greater efficiencies in the tracking of production jobs, which effectively enable all employees to rapidly access a range of details on any particular job or customer.
As for the future, Kwiecinski anticipates the company will continue to experience growth in their manufacturing capabilities in China. He also expects Connor Manufacturing to further build on its presence in the consumer electronics, telecommunications and automotive industries, utilizing the range of its customer designing, metal fabricating and manufacturing capabilities.
He says Connor Manufacturing Services will continue to focus on rapidly fulfilling needs and expectations of their clients and colleagues in business, which is necessary, notes Kwiecinski, “to create an environment where it easy to do business with us.”
By continually investing in operational improvement; by instilling a culture of cooperation and commitment to quality manufactured products that succinctly serve in the many relationships they have professionally fostered; by adhering to the family values of integrity and accountability set in place so long ago, Connor Manufacturing Services is poised for another century of success.
With a confidence born from the achievements demonstrated over the decades, Kwiecinski asserts, “We’re not always going to be the lowest cost because of our size, but we can out-service and out-perform anyone, because our people and are proficiencies are better than anyone else.”
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