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  • Ohioblog: A Swing State Journal

    Saturday, September 25, 2004

    For some executives, employees do matter 

    James Griffith, president and chief executive officer of Canton's Timken Co., put a smiley face on business in the bellwether county of this swing state when he spoke Friday at the Canton Regional Chamber of Commerce's CEO Forum.

    It was the right audience for Griffith's ``Competing to Win'' message. These people understand what needs to be done at the top in order for their global organizations not only to survive but also to prosper. There might get a different response from the bottom of the company ladder, down where live those in the blue-collar bearing-making jobs that the United Steelworkers of America are trying to save.

    Timken and the Steelworkers are negotiating the fate of 1,150 jobs that Timken has said may have to be eliminated, even as the company adds professional, white-collar jobs.

    Demand has been high for Timken bearings, Griffith said, but ``in the end, it's the customers that determine if a facility survives.'' Not to mention the analysts who tell the shareholders what they should expect.

    Once, when those who ran Northeast Ohio's strongest and best companies were less answerable to analysts and shareholders, or maybe they just had more guts and the character to try to do the right thing by everyone, shareholder and customer demands were but parts of the larger equation.

    Ohioblog prefers the philosophy to which former Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. President Robert Mercer, hewed. ``I've never bought the idea that the shareholder is owner of the company,'' Mercer said in Wheels of Fortune: The Story of Rubber in Akron. ``They own a piece of paper with the company's name on it, and they'll get rid of that paper at the drop of an eighth of a point in the stock price.

    ``Our employees, whether union or otherwise, have a wife or husband and kids and years invested in the company, and they're looking at investing more years. First and foremost, you have an obligation to your customers. But you have to do the right thing by your employees. Then you have an obligation to your suppliers and to your community.... If you do all the other things right, the shareholder is going to make out like a bandit.''

    There aren't many like Mercer any more, not in Ohio, not in America. If there were, Ohioblog would vote for them.

    - Steve Love

    posted by Ohioblog: A Swing State Journal at 10:10 AM

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       •  July 2004
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