After serving our country in Vietnam, Dennis Pedersen returned home to Kansas and started working for Gilmore and Tatge Manufacturing, Inc. (predecessor to GT Mfg. Inc.) as a press brake machine operator in 1971.
Now, 42 years later, he is the President and CEO of GT Mfg., Inc., a Kansas company with global reach. “We are known as the worldwide leader in manufacturing batch grain dryers”, said Pedersen.
The accumulated knowledge that Pedersen gained while working in the fabrication, assembly, inventory control, shipping, purchasing and sales departments, helped him excel in both sales and management while steering the company through change of ownership and reorganization.
In the first four years of Dennis Pedersen’s leadership as President, GT Mfg., Inc. grew its sales by 86% and expanded its exports to from 43 to 73 countries. From Afghanistan to Vietnam, the company has expanded its reach to 6 continents.
When the company needed more production space, it worked with the local government in 2011 to approve the demolition of an antiquated five-story brick building on its property that was used by the company decades earlier. In 2012, a new production facility was built to maximize the usable space on the property.
Before the new facility was built, Pedersen reached out to the Kansas Small Business Development Center (KSBDC) to help him plan for the increased production capacity, and finding new markets overseas for GT Mfg products. He worked with Linda Sutton and Ross Jordan at the KSBDC to connect him with the resources needed to expand their exports.
Pedersen’s sales philosophy is “to prepare for what our customers are capable of doing, and not what we think they will do.” The KSBDC helped him refine his business plan to maximize his outreach efforts overseas, and develop a marketing strategy.
Dennis credits the success of the company on the character and hard work of its employees. “Our employees are the reason why the company has continued to grow. They are the most important asset this company has”, said Pedersen. The company had 17 employees in 2005 when Pedersen took over managing the company. Thanks to growing demand, and greater production capacity, the company now employs 42 workers.
When asked to give advice to other business executives, Pedersen mentioned two things: the importance of reaching-out to resources like the KSBDC when planning for the future, and investing in a good team of employees.
Mr. Alex Harb came to the United States from Lebanon nearly 14 years ago with hopes of earning a college degree and eventually landing a job. The experience left him with more questions than answers about how he would accomplish those goals. His situation was compounded by the fact that he knew little English. He was raised speaking French as a second language. Perseverance was his most important attribute.
Overcoming obstacles, he says, was nothing new in his life because he grew up amid turmoil in his native Lebanon. "It gives you the survivor mentality," says Harb.
He came to Wichita in August 2000 and enrolled at Wichita State University. Harb paid his way through college by busing and waiting tables, and selling pocket knives on eBay, while learning English along the way. He also worked as an intern at LSI Corporation, a computer storage device manufacturer in Wichita.
Within four years, Harb had accomplished one of his goals and set out to accomplish the other. With a computer science degree in hand, Harb started Ribbit Computers in December 2004.
Working with Intrust Bank, Alex Harb obtained a 7(a) SBA loan that financed the equipment, inventory, staffing and other operating expenses. “The SBA loan really helped,” Harb says. “I saved with a lower interest rate, plus it gave me more confidence in the marketplace. I can’t say enough to praise the professional assistance I received from Intrust Bank, and the great financing available through the SBA loan program.”
Alex Harb’s first job was at his dad's wholesale grocery store in Lebanon as a teenager. He honed his customer-service skills while working as a waiter at Red Rock Canyon Grill restaurant in Wichita. "Those experiences taught me the more you take care of the customer, the more reward you are going to get out of it," Harb says. Transferring those lessons to the computer business has helped Harb be successful with Ribbit.
Ribbit now has 55 employees across five retail and computer repair stores in Wichita. The company also includes a business solutions division, which launched in 2013.
"He was really good at customer service and I think he took that with him to Ribbit Computers," says John Arnold, who owns Red Rock Canyon Restaurant. "He's really passionate about that." Arnold says Harb wasn't afraid to work hard to accomplish his goals, and he often came to work early and stayed late.
Alex Harb has been interested in the restaurant business since college, and now he’s finally getting ready to open one of his own. “I just wanted to wait for the right opportunity to do it,” he says. His first foray into the business will be with a Golden Corral in Raymore, Mo., followed by three more in the Kansas City area in the next five years. Harb says North Carolina-based Golden Corral is a good company. A franchisee already has two in Wichita, so Harb says doing any Golden Corrals here is not an option for him.
“While I was going to college, I worked in restaurants,” he says. “I really wanted to open a restaurant by the time I was done.” He says he realized he needed business experience first. “The restaurant business is really tough,” Harb says. “You can’t make mistakes.” Keith Stevens, senior vice president of Southwest National Bank, who has served as a financial advisor to Harb, says he has a solid grasp of how to make a business successful. Stevens says Harb understands how to strategically grow a business. "I just admire his business acumen," Stevens says. "His expansion plans have been well thought out."
When he's not working, Harb enjoys pheasant hunting and playing soccer. "I enjoy what I'm doing," Harb says.
The timing was right when Mike Rickords and his son-in-law, Stephen Brittain, decided to turn their dream of owning their own machine shop into reality. Mike had decades of experience working for a large aerospace manufacturer, and Stephen had held various positions from CNC operator to large assembly program manager at a small firm. So in 2003, when Mike heard that he might be laid-off, they both got serious about the idea of using their combined experience to start their own business.
While they were putting together a business plan, they reached out to the Kansas Small Business Development Center (KSBDC) at Wichita State University. The KSBDC helped them create a more robust business plan to present to a bank for financing. “After 10 banks turned us down, Garden Plain State Bank approved a SBA guarantee 7(a) loan to finance one water-jet machine and some operating capital,” said Stephen. Then, on March 19, 2004, Absolute Dimensions, LLC opened its doors for business.
By 2008, the business was doubling its revenue every six months, and they needed another machine to keep up with demand. One week after they bought a new horizontal CNC machine, the strike at Boeing in Seattle hit the market hard. “Our financing and nerves got tight in those days. Luckily, we had some receivables and cash on hand to help us through those lean months” said Stephen. “Business was slow and we were concerned about our keeping our employees on the payroll, so we participated in the Kansas Shared Work program,” he added.
In 2009, Absolute Dimensions, LLC was able to obtain a SBA 506 Recovery Act zero-interest loan to help through the difficult time. They also kept in touch with the KSBDC for guidance on strategic planning, and even had all five of their office staff attend their workshops. The strategic planning process helped them diversify their product and service capabilities to include composite materials. They also added new customers outside the aerospace industry. Absolute Dimensions, LLC is now using their machining equipment to produce parts for a truck manufacturer, a company that makes signs, and they even make custom metallic inlays for tile.
By 2012, Absolute Dimensions, LLC, was growing to the point where they needed to consolidate their financing at a larger bank that had the capacity to service their needs. Today, the company’s 24 employees are trying to keep up with demand, and using every inch of available space in their facility.
When asked for their words of wisdom to other small business owners, Steven and his wife Miranda, who manages the office, said it is vital to manage the growth of your business. “You can grow too fast and put your business at risk”, said Stephen. “Save money when you have it because your cash flow can create constraints”, Miranda added. They both believe it’s important to reach out to organizations like the Kansas Small Business Development Center for expert advice on business planning. They gave a lot of credit to the KSBDC and the SBA for helping them navigate through the turbulent times.
The future looks bright for Absolute Dimensions, LLC. If things keep up, they may be looking for a new building and more automation to meet the growing demand.