Paranoia enables CEO to expand during recession and win Ribby Award


Springfield Remanufacturing Corporation CEO Jack Stack created jobs during the Greate Recession because he anticipated hard times.

Jack Stack

Jack Stack

Previous Ribby Awards have gone to courageous CEOs who sacrificed their salaries, egos and other trappings to help their employees get through the recession.  This month’s honor goes to Jack Stack, CEO of Springfield Remanufacturing Corporation,(SRC) in Springfield, MO, whose employee-owned company has actually expanded during the economic crisis.  Stack and his team have thrived because he has expected disaster to strike since he and other managers bought a small factory from International Harvester 26 years ago to save their jobs.

Most of the genius MBAs who inflated the recently burst bubble were barely out of diapers or still had acne in 1983.  The prime interest rate was 21% and unemployment was 11 percent.   Those CEOs who remembered Newton’s law of gravity focused on securing their own safety nets, and not preparing their companies for a downturn.

“Everybody was at the bottom in 1983,” Stack recently told  “It was ugly and painful, just like today. We’d bought our factory to save our jobs, but to do it we had to take on a huge amount of debt, $8.9 million, because we had very little money ourselves. Let me tell you, you’re brain-dead in that situation. You’re on life support.

“If we’d had one little slip-up — if we’d been an hour late with a payment — they would have rushed in and closed us down, and 120 people would have been out on the street.”

Ever since, Stack has vigilantly looked for opportunities and scoured for vulnerabilities.  By thinking about what would go up in a down market, SRC has been able to grow.

Stack is the author of two books, The Great Game of Business and A Stake in the Outcome. I’m guessing that if every FORTUNE 500 CEO considered them as business bibles, we would have avoided the current mess.

It is not about saving jobs, Stack told, it is all about creating them.

“That’s our goal,” he said.  “And once you create them, you don’t want to lose them. What we’re doing here is helping people to get through life. I never want to have to take someone else’s livelihood away because of mistakes I’ve made in not anticipating a problem — even if it’s a problem I couldn’t have seen coming. It’s management’s job to expect those problems and prepare for them. A layoff is a failure of management. But the people who usually pay for that failure are not the ones responsible for it.”

That attitude is exactly what distinguishes Ribby Award winners from common CEOs.

Ribby Award winners are leaders who put their customers and employees before themselves. Each month, it recognizes a chief executive or business owner, who steps out of plush offices, away from armies of assistants and sycophants, to personally manage and promote.

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