Investing in your workforce

January 1, 2011

 It’s hard to believe that Craig Zoberis, president of Illinois-based manufacturer Fusion Systems, started his company out of his own garage less than 10 years ago. Back then, he and his wife had some heated debates about joining forces with a prospective partner to get Fusion off the ground. Zoberis explains, “We had some pretty insane conversations almost every day for months until I finally realized what she was trying to tell me: I could to it on my own.” He finally complied and launched the company by himself; a decision he never regretted.

Zoberis’ wife gave wise advice, considering Fusion saw a 691-percent increase in revenue, from $670,534 in 2005 to $5.3 million in 2008. Still, Zoberis is impressively humble as he talks about how far he’s come. Fusion is a low-volume, domestic contract manufacturer that works with original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) who are frustrated with rising costs of internal work but cannot afford to outsource overseas. One of the company’s current projects: a foot scanner for podiatrists. “Normally, you’d see a podiatrist, step your foot in a mold, they’d take an impression, and then the mold would be sent to a factory in Central Illinois,” Zoberis explains. “Now, podiatrists will be able to scan a patient’s food in the office and it takes days instead of weeks.”

The company’s handpicked workforce, hired mainly from within and through referrals, is responsible for final products like these. “Focus on the ‘who’ not the ‘what’, “Zoberis explains, “because the ‘what’ is always going to change. The

Who’s’ will be able to adapt to the changes. As long as I have the right people, it doesn’t matter what we do. We’ll always be successful.”

Zoberis also puts a lot of stock in continuous learning. “Not just academic,” explains Zoberis, who received a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and a master’s in business. “There’s a business philosopher, Jim Rohn, who said, ‘A formal education will make you a living, but a self education will make you a fortune.’…I grew up working in my father’s business [in high school and college], and I don’t think I’d have the confidence I do today as a business owner if I hadn’t.”

Because that apprenticeship proved so valuable for Zoberis, he offers employees similar opportunities. After attending seminars and lectures held by business leaders, he passes the “Cliff’s Notes” versions on to his key people at Fusion. Zoberis also mentors other entrepreneurs with businesses making more than $250,000 bus less than $1 million through a program called The Accelerator- sponsored by the Entrepreneurs Organization.

Although Zoberis helps others achieve their business goals, Fusion still has lofty goals of its own, which the employees call BHAGs (Big Hairy Audacious Goals)- they post them on 11” x 17” sheets of paper in their cubicles along with their core values, beliefs, and purposes. “Our people know what we do, but it’s why we do it that they lose touch of,” Zoberis says. The BHAGs remind them.

One of its top BHAGs: a system to show clients the program they are making project. “A lot of contract manufacturers don’t want people in their facilities until there’s a finished product,” Zoberis says. “We don’t believe that’s the best way of doing business.” Thus, the company has created transparency in an industry where there is little. Fusion also implemented an Open Book Pricing Program, where it provides the client all costs and margins in a comprehensive pricing report. “It’s kind of cheesy, but when I named our company Fusion, I was referring to the idea of fusing our manufacturing processes with our customers,” Zoberis explains. “But if we don’t disclose this, we’re not really fusing…until you disclose how much you make off your partner, you’re not in a true partnership.”

The company’s other BHAGs? To increase the number of products it’s building. Oh, and to reach $7.1 million in revenue by the end of the year, Zoberis says. No biggie.

By Kelly Matlock

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