Back in the late sixties a successful power transmission supply salesman struck up a friendship with one of his customers. The owner of the company was a brilliant scientist, but not quite as adept as a businessman. The salesman began giving him marketing pointers, and one day the company’s owner turned to him and said “You know, you’re better at this than I am. You should think about buying me out.” So he did.
The salesman was Samuel T. Haines, and the company was Rawling Gear, which was later absorbed into Gear Motions, Inc., along with Nixon Gear and Oliver Gear. “My father had spent many years on the road by then, and I think he was ready for a new challenge,” according to Samuel R. Haines, who is now president of the company. “I was in college at the time, and when I graduated from Babson with an MBA in 1973, I joined the company on a temporary basis to help develop a business plan to grow the company.”
That temporary assignment turned into another, and then another, and before Haines knew it 10 years had passed. Oliver Gear, in Buffalo, New York, had been acquired during that time, and in 1978 Nixon Gear, which is in Syracuse — now the company’s headquarters — was purchased out of bankruptcy. Haines offered to move there temporarily in order to help turn things around, and that began what he refers to as his “second MBA.”
The recession of the early eighties struck a crippling blow to the U.S. economy, and Gear Motions found itself teetering on the brink of oblivion. Haines decided that, if they were going to pull out of their downward spiral, it would require the efforts of everyone involved — management and employees alike. “We didn’t have anything to lose, and everything to gain by engaging everybody in the company,” he explains. “So I started meeting with the employees and seeking their input, and that’s when I learned firsthand how much they had to offer and how willing they were to help if they were given the chance.”
So Haines started sharing profit/loss statements with his employees, and holding meetings to make them aware of exactly where the company stood in terms of its financial health. Staggered shifts were introduced, which kept more people working, and management took a pay cut in order to make clear that “we would be working longer hours for less pay, right along with everybody else,” he says.
The result is that the company made it through the recession, and with few lost jobs, which formed an internal bond that exists to this day. Gear Motions recently adopted the ESOP — Employee Stock Ownership Plan — program, for instance, and Haines says the decision is connected, in part, to that period. “Weathering that recession really allowed us to learn the benefits of employee empowerment and engagement, and it also helped develop the conservative philosophy that’s guided us over the years.”
Many changes have occurred since the early eighties, including Haines’ ascension to the position of president when his father became ill in 1985. Gear Motions also purchased the California company Gear Supply and Broaching in 1988 in order to take advantage of the many aerospace and defense projects that were available at that time. “Then there was Glasnost, and the Wall came down, which changed everything,” Haines says, and the company decided to close that operation in order to protect its core business. “It was apparent that we were headed into another slowdown, and having been shot at once and missed, we really didn’t want to find ourselves in that situation again. As it turned out, we skated right through that recession. Didn’t even have any red ink, as I recall.”
Today Gear Motions has consolidated its operations into two locations; Oliver Gear, which focuses on large diameter gearing, and Nixon Gear, offering state of the art grinding services. While its customers are found all around the world — with two in China, and others on the West Coast and in Texas — the bulk of them are located “east of the Mississippi,” as Haines says.
Wherever they may be, what they’ve come to expect from the company is quality, in part due to its embrace of the latest technologies. “I sometimes think of Gear Motions as a small company with big-company technology, because we probably have the most modern fleet of gear grinders in a job shop anywhere,” he says. “And our robotic cells ensure both precision and repeatability, so our customers know that they can depend on the gears we produce for them.”
Proof that this approach is working is found in the numbers, with annual revenues of $8 million five years ago nearly doubled to $15 million this year. As always, Haines is quick to attribute this growth to the company’s employees: “We have a team that’s been with us for a long time, and they’re dedicated to making the most of the tools and training they’ve been given. Working with them has been a real education for me … they’re great people.”
MORE INFO Call 315-488-0100 or go to www.gearmotions.com.