Bernsten International Reaches New Summit
At the summit of Mount McKinley, there’s a survey marker made by Berntsen International. Placed there by an 8-man expedition team in June 1989, the brass disk marks the summit’s true elevation, 20,320 feet above sea level. That’s where Berntsen, an 18-employee manufacturer located in Madison, Wisconsin, found itself just a few years ago. The company owned 80% of the market for survey markers, yet management didn’t want to stand at the summit admiring the view.
Enthusiasm for Ambitious Target
Leadership wanted to energize the company to reach new heights. So, they set a lofty objective: 20% sales growth in the first year. WMEP senior manufacturing specialist Wil Cox remembers the initial effect this target had on employees. “There were a lot of dropped jaws,” Cox says. “But we worked with them. And they got excited about this goal and started working to support it.” Tapping into this enthusiasm, Berntsen began planning for the future.
Foreign competition, new marker technology, and the uncertainty of future contracts posed a threat to the company. “We knew we had to expand our horizons and get out of our self-imposed marketplaces,” says President Rhonda Rushing. That realization motivated Berntsen to find new opportunities for growth and emphasize Strategic Repositioning as a part of their Strategic Planning. Strategic Repositioning leverages a company’s strategic competencies to redefine the business in order to be more competitive.
Strategic Repositioning Success
Using Strategic Repositioning, the company identified their reputation as a strategic competency. Berntsen leveraged this competency by distributing drills, hammers, and other survey equipment supplied by companies that recognized Berntsen’s reputation was marketable. The company also found new product opportunities making brass medallions, paperweights, and other collectibles related to the surveying business.
Employee Engagement is Key
One key to Berntsen’s success was to delegate authority and responsibility. “We tried not to dominate the conversation,” says Vice President Tom Wildgen. Instead, management actively sought input from their employees and put them in charge of making changes. They carefully tailored action plans to individual strengths and weaknesses, allowing the more assertive to take leadership, the more laid back to focus on implementation. They also held everyone accountable to the goals and deadlines they had set for themselves.
By involving their employees actively, Berntsen has progressed steadily toward their objective. They have introduced half a dozen new products, cut backlog in half, and increased sales 14% in the second quarter—well on their way to meeting their aggressive growth strategy. And they didn’t sacrifice customer service on the way—a classic pitfall of rapid growth. More than 95% of Berntsen’s customers rate them highly on service, on-time delivery, and quality.
Employee participation and leadership have been crucial to implementing their strategic plan. President Rushing says it’s also lifted a burden from management. “Sometimes you feel like you’re expected to have all the answers,” she says. “But now we’re drawing on the brainpower of the whole company. We have a way to use the knowledge, experience and creativity of all our employees.”
By involving their employees actively, Berntsen has progressed steadily toward their objective:
- Introduced six new products
- Cut backlog in half
- Increased sales 14% in the second quarter
- 95% of Berntsen’s customers rate them highly on service, on-time delivery, and quality.