THE BLADE/DAVE ZAPOTOSKY Enlarge | Buy This Photo
As a young entrepreneur, Ford Cauffiel just wouldn't hear it.
"They said, 'Never go in the inner city, never buy old buildings, never fix up buildings,' " he recalled last week at his office in Toledo, laughing that he didn't have the money to do anything else.
So Mr. Cauffiel, 81, did all those things and has been proven successful many times over. The small company he started as an engineer in 1953 morphed into a leading producer of metal production equipment, shipping its machinery around the globe. Now after nearly six decades and facing an illness, he decided it was time for someone else to lead Cauffiel Technology Corp.
Two weeks ago he finalized the sale to Ben McGilvery, an eight-year employee who worked his way up through the company to be hand-picked as Mr. Cauffiel's successor.
"I've been seriously thinking about [selling the company]. I also had this in mind for Ben because he's from an entrepreneurial-machinery family. I favored Ben of all the people I've ever employed because he's a graduate of the University of Toledo college of engineering, he's very computer literate, he's very smart, and he's a very good negotiator."
With Mr. McGilvery as chief executive officer, the company will be known as Cauffiel Corp.
The company makes an assortment of equipment that can process steel, but it also works with metals you'd have to crack a chemistry book to spell properly.
"These metals today can not only be steel, but we do exotic metals used in computers such as niobium, tantalum, titanium," Mr. Cauffiel said. "We've even done large rolling mills in lead for radiation rooms used in X-ray rooms and used in airports."
The company employs 18 people full-time. While that seems like a small number, Mr. Cauffiel says the work they do helps keep many people employed.
"In this type of business, we employ a lot of shops around here. We run the assembly operation, we do the engineering and the assembly. That's it," Mr. Cauffiel said.
He's staying on as a consultant only -- Ben's the boss, he quickly interjects -- but he offers assurances he plans to do anything he can to ensure the company's future success.
The industry is very competitive, but Cauffiel Corp. has an advantage over most of its competitors.
"We're one of the only American-owned and operated small businesses still left in the states. A lot of our competitors have been bought out by foreign interests, which has given us a shoe up on everybody with government work. They have stipulations for small businesses, American-owned and operated businesses … there's all sorts of perks they get for doing business with us."
Mr. McGilvery is a sort of kindred spirt with Mr. Cauffiel, having grown up with a father and grandfather who both owned their companies. He's a hands-on engineer, something Mr. Cauffiel says there aren't enough of in America.
"So many engineers, they have no practical experience. They're good at going to the moon -- working for government and large companies -- but to find guys like him and his brother, that know how to do about everything in engineering and sales and everything it takes to make a small business go, it's rare," he said. "This is the problem in the country. We need more technical, practical, hands-on skills."
Mr. McGilvery, who hired his brother, Sam, to work with him, said his upbringing bred into him the desire to have his own company.
"It's a big deal taking on all the employees, assuming all the liabilities. There's a lot of bills to pay, and there's a lot of people depending on you. But it's also nice. At the end of the day, if all goes well, you're the owner, and you get to reap the awards of that," he said. "It's fulfilling."
Over the years, Mr. Cauffiel dabbled in other interests and companies. He's a philanthropist, having donated money and land to schools and other causes. He has a collection of antique automobiles.
He holds several patents and owns other steel-processing businesses, as well as Lithium Innovations, a Toledo company doing highly technical work with lithium, developing energy-saving window coatings and processing the metal for pharmaceutical use. He's had failed ventures too -- being a Pontiac dealer and holding an interest in a lead mine were two headaches Mr. Cauffiel can laugh off now.
But it was Cauffiel Technologies Corp. that provided the steady income and served as the backbone for all his ventures.
In spite of the fact that he got the man he wanted to carry the business into the future, getting out is a little difficult, he admitted.
"It's where it started," he said. "It's like having a baby and pretty soon it grows."
"I'm not a very religious guy. But my form of immortality is to think this will go on with this name long after my demise. To me that means something."
Contact Tyrel Linkhorn at: email@example.com or 419-724-6134.