After a recent management transition, Webster Industries Inc. continues to look ahead to growth and opportunities.
In its 134th year of business, Andrew Felter has been chosen as the new president, replacing Fred Spurck, who had served as president and CEO since 1983.
"And we just recently moved me to chairman and CEO," Spurck said. "And we moved Andy from vice president of manufacturing to president.
"It was a planned transition started five years ago."
Spurck has been with Webster since 1978, when he joined the company as controller. He was promoted to vice president of finance in 1981 before becoming president.
He earned a bachelor's degree from Ohio State University in accounting and finance, became a certified public accountant, and earned a master's in business administration from OSU. He also attended the Stanford executive program.
"My job is to look at how we might develop other things throughout the company," Spurck said. "Strategic planning, maybe some acquisitions, things like that."
Felter now runs overall operations for the company, which makes conveyor chains, vibrating conveyors, apron conveyors and malleable iron casting.
He said he started with Webster while a student at OSU.
"Fred brought me in for a discussion and that led to an internship," he said. "I've been in the operations end of the business."
Felter graduated from OSU in 1988 and went on to earn a master's in business administration from Tiffin University in 1993.
He first worked as a staff accountant.
"I moved to controller in 1996 after my return," he said. Then he was promoted to vice president of manufacturing in 2005.
Spurck said the directors were in the fortunate position of choosing among three good internal candidates for the new president.
"The board and I feel really good about what we've done and the probability of success in the transition," he said.
"We've had some good success over the last five or six years," Spurck said. "Most of our success is due to the people we have."
He said Vice President Chris English has been with Webster 35 years, since he was 18 years old.
Vice President of Engineering Steve Rhoad started as a work-study student from the University of Cincinnati and has remained for 35 years.
Dean Bogner, vice president of sales, has been with the company for 18 years, and Felter started at Webster while in college, then left and returned, for a total of 17 years with Webster.
"The people we have helped with this transition," Spurck said. "All of our homegrown people."
Spurck said Webster Industries was founded in 1876 in Chicago by Towner K. Webster, and operated there in its early days.
"In 1907, he was looking for a place to move his factory due to some labor issue and some other issues in Chicago," Spurck said. "He ended up finding Tiffin, Ohio."
In 1906, a group of "county fathers" offered Towner $40,000 and 40 acres of land to move his factory to Tiffin, Spurck said, which translates into $3 million or $4 million in today's dollars.
The Nordholt family controlled the company from Great Depression until 1986.
Spurck said he became president in 1983.
"In 1986, a management group bought the company and formed an employee stock ownership program. We're still employee-owned today," he said.
Spurck said the employees are important to quality products.
He said Webster uses programs that promote continuous improvement and correct problems.
"If they see something that is wasteful or doesn't make sense, they can create one of these documents and help correct the problem," Spurck said. "This system has helped enabled us to be better at what we do and allows us to improve upon that base out there.
"I think, other than that, we have doggone good employees," Spurck said. "A corporation isn't just brick and mortar. What's important is the employees."
He said one family of workers had 250 years of service among four family members.
"That's one of the keys to our success also," Spurck said. "We don't experience a lot of turnover. I think it's a good place to work."
The administration has an open style of management and an open-door policy.
"That's what we've tried to foster in the environment," he said.
Another key to Webster's success has been an annual business plan, Spurck said.
"Success is based on having the plan and making adjustments if you're not meeting the plan," he said. "We must allow some young people to put some different things in place over time. It's time for people to have some new fresh ideas."
"Fred has developed over the year what we call the Webster Management System," Felter said. "I want to continue with that. There's not going to be a lot of enormous change.
"We want to continue on using the skills and attributes that made made us successful for the last five years for sure," he said. "I don't anticipate any large-scale changes."
Felter said his first few weeks in the new job have gone well.
"I've had a long time here at Webster and I've been mentored by Fred and Chris English and George Tolford in the operations end of the business," he said. "I think that set me up and brought me along.
"I have an understanding of the skill set that you need when you're working with a business such as Webster that's not a Fortune 500 company. It's a smaller company. You have to wear a lot of hats."
Felter said he is looking forward to bigger and better achievements for Webster.
"We certainly want to continue the 130-plus years of success," he said.
"One of the things we talk about every day is how can we make our work better," Felter said. "What can I do today to make my work, my family and my community better?"