Many will say that operating a family business across multiple generations can prove incredibly challenging. A lot simply fold after the first generation retires.
That could’ve easily happened to West Ohio Tool Co., but CEO and Visionary Kaci King was determined to protect the family legacy. After 25 years working behind the scenes, she transitioned the company to a 100% woman-owned business in the overwhelmingly male-dominated cutting tool industry.
Since then, West Ohio Tool has expanded to bidding for government contracts for the Department of Defense, additional firearms manufacturing, wind turbines, ceramics manufacturing, and aerospace. As a result, they’ve seen their profit margins skyrocket. But most importantly, they’ve healed a once toxic work environment.
The Bumpy Road
Of course, it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows to get there.
Frustrated with a sales ceiling the business couldn’t break through, by 2019 Kaci’s father, Kerry, the founder, confided in a friend in the cutting tool industry. That friend introduced them to Traction. Kaci loved the concepts right away and kept researching EOS® and how to apply it to their business.
Still, Kerry was growing older. Employees wondered what would happen after Kerry retired, and he realized things had to change because he couldn’t work forever. Kerry had entertained several interested buyers a few years prior, but he hadn’t liked the offers he received. In November 2019, he suffered a stroke and no longer had a choice.
It was a wake-up call for the family. Despite her father’s objections about not wanting to be put “out to pasture,” Kaci knew she needed to step in and that she needed help.
Whether you believe there are only 42 problems in the history of business (or 97, or 128), Kaci said West Ohio Tool Co. probably faced them all.
Like most places, West Ohio Tool struggled to find reliable employees for production who believed in a team culture and the idea of learning, growing, and innovating. The biggest issue was that Kaci needed workers in a field that no one teaches, which requires new employees to learn on the fly. This situation means the average onboarding cycle can take two years or more before someone can work independently.
To make matters worse, having the wrong people in the organization caused more heartache for Kaci than long on-ramps.
Years before, the person her father envisioned as the next general manager tried to have Kaci removed from the business entirely. As half-owner, Kaci became a silent partner and decided to manage the company’s finances from home rather than deal with the daily toxicity.
But with her father’s stroke, Kaci transitioned back to the shop and officially began managing the business in February 2020. She brought her husband, Rea, on to help, eventually putting him in the Integrator™ seat. They discovered inconsistent or missing processes from sales to production.
Then, a month later, the pandemic shut the whole world down. Wondering how they’d survive the pandemic on top of their preexisting people and process problems, Kaci felt a new urgency to run on EOS®.
But she had no idea where to start.
“It’s almost like a poker game,” Kaci joked. “We came in with the worst hand ever. We repeatedly asked ourselves and each other, ‘How are we going to do this?’”
The answer? One card at a time. One person at a time. One process at a time.
Recapturing Their Vision
During her research on EOS, Kaci saw Expert EOS Implementer™ Alex Freytag serve as moderator for an online event. She loved his personality and brought him in to help them recapture the innovative spirit from her father’s original vision for the company.
Alex guided Kaci on how to use all the tools and processes that first attracted her to EOS. She could see how using them would help turn things around for West Ohio Tool.
In addition, Alex provided the objective clarity Kaci and Rea needed. Meeting with a third party at a neutral location helped drive home that they had major people issues to address.
“We tried to play nice in the sand for some period,” Kaci said. “But it came to a point where we held the door open for those that self-selected out. In addition, after some time trying to get others on board, unfortunately we had to let them go. We ended up replacing the entire leadership team. I’m not proud of where we started. As an owner, it’s difficult to share where we were, but I’m extremely proud of how far we’ve come and the progress made (even with a pandemic) as well as where we are going!”
The first year was excruciating. They faced bad part quality, poor quote-to-order ratios, terrible fits on the leadership team, and poor sales.
Still, Kaci and Rea played one card at a time and started with sales, an area with chronic problems. Alex coached them to look for the root causes of their sales issues (spoiler alert: they had people issues).
Next, they identified people who either didn’t belong in the company or were sitting in the wrong seat in the organization. Many of those identified people weren’t following processes, which confirmed their decisions.
So, one by one, they reenacted and enforced every successful system that had been in place in prior years.
In time, they began to accumulate a list of wins to celebrate. One by one.
For example, not long after their first two-day session with Alex, an amazing production manager came on board. He represented the first major hire for Kaci and Rea as the Visionary/Integrator™ duo. He excelled at making cutting tools, believed in teaching other people, and also believed in innovation. Kaci and Rea felt things shifting.
Soon after, their daughter joined as the head of finance, and Kaci and Rea made more key changes to leadership. Kaci worked hard with her new leadership team to continue to solidify people and processes. By June 2021, even with a lot of work to do, West Ohio Tool was headed in the right direction. And by the following year, Kaci had the numbers to prove it.
As an innovative company, West Ohio Tool refocused on creating new solutions for their customers’ unique problems. By increasing their innovative solution sales, they also retained a reputation as a trusted business partner for their customers. To continue to foster growth, Kaci and her leadership team created a ranking system for client sales according to order size. Ultimately, the goal was to grow existing customers up through the ranks.
New doors opened to them through women-owned business certification as well. With a healthy team, they could pursue the opportunities presenting themselves. Kaci sees these new markets as becoming an important piece to growing sales.
In Q3 2022, they posted their first month of 30% profit, a goal Kaci says they dug hard for. And in February 2023, they provided the first incentive plan payout after three solid months of hitting all measurables!
“Ultimately, as much as we want to grow sales, including some new targets,” Kaci said. “Just to have a profit in the first year since COVID feels fantastic.”
Most importantly, they’ve tackled their toxic work culture. Apart from removing the biggest drags on team health from the company, they’ve implemented “reward days.” When the team hit a target, they got a reward day. The program became a tremendous success.
“It was really amazing to see all of them come together,” Kaci said. “We still have a few small snags to address, but overall it’s way different. Like a different company. From almost being ousted from my own company to turning it back around has been an interesting experience. I’m having a great time leading and creating and ‘running the ship,’ as my dad would say. EOS has given me the tools and clarity to further the vision, have a strategy to make growth possible, and also create my own legacy.”