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Executive Interview with Bill Skok, President of Elgin Industries
In this exclusive interview, Skok talks about a major milestone for the family owned business – its 90th anniversary. He also addresses the lessons his family learned while keeping the business alive during the Great Depression and how Elgin maintains its family oriented principles today.
By Amy Antenora
Skok is president of Elgin Industries, a leading global manufacturer of
original equipment and replacement engine and chassis products for the
automotive and commercial vehicle markets. Skok joined the company,
founded in 1919 by his grandfather, Martin Skok Sr., as government
sales administrator in 1985 and became vice president of OEM sales in
1988. He was named president of the company in 2003 after having served
nearly nine years as vice president of sales and marketing. Skok is a
past president of the National Engine Parts Manufacturer's Association
(NEPMA) and a board member of the Production Engine Remanufacturers
Association (PERA). He earned a bachelor of business administration
degree from St. Norbert College, De Pere, Wis., in 1985.
This is a very exciting time for Elgin, as the company
celebrates 90 years in business. What are some of the key attributes
that you feel contribute to Elgin’s longevity?
My grandfather, Martin Skok Sr., had an unusually powerful
entrepreneurial spirit that drove him to invent products and
manufacturing processes and to ultimately establish his own company in
1919. Once he had launched Elgin, he reached out to other entrepreneurs
from similar backgrounds to provide the capital to create their own
companies. A few of these operations have become successful in their
own right. I am proud to say that his spirit of entrepreneurialism,
innovation and commitment to customer service have been passed down
through each succeeding generation and are driving our success today
with global OEMs, production engine rebuilders and aftermarket
Any special celebrations planned in honor of this milestone?
The entire year has been both a celebration of our success and a laying
of groundwork for future growth. We are certainly stepping up our
marketing activities to ensure customers know that we remain one of the
oldest and most successful OE and aftermarket manufacturing firms still
operated by the same family. We’ve also planned a variety of
celebrations that will involve customers and employees. We have a
close-knit, family environment, not only with our associates here in
Elgin but also with our customers around the world.
As one of the few aftermarket businesses still around today
that survived the Great Depression, did your grandfather pass along any
wisdom that you feel is relevant to today’s challenging times?
Both my grandfather and my father, Martin Skok Jr., built this company
through a relentless focus on delivering superior customer value. That
meant innovative, well-engineered parts that restore OE performance but
which are offered at a significant savings as compared to the
dealership channel. It has also meant being very nimble we can
quickly adapt our operations and services to reflect the changing needs
of the customer. We’ve maintained this focus while expanding our value
proposition into a variety of other product areas we’re now a leading
basic manufacturer of complete valvetrain systems as well as a full
complement of other engine and chassis products. We recently expanded
into the chemicals segment with specially formulated engine lubes for
rebuilders and performance enthusiasts. Our Elgin PRO-STOCK performance
line has experienced exponential growth in product areas and coverage.
And we’re finding new ways to flex our fully integrated operations to
meet the specific needs of each customer.
The basic premise on which this company was founded delivering
superior value is just as powerful today as it was 90 years ago. That
explains not only why we remain a trusted manufacturing partner to
aftermarket distributors, rebuilders and repair shops, but also why we
are a preferred partner of companies like General Motors,
Harley-Davidson, Jasper Engines & Transmissions, Mack and
Federal-Mogul. We work with these companies to explore innovative new
ways to help drive their productivity and profitability through our own
manufacturing operations as well as our packaging and distribution
capabilities. For example, we have a number of customers that now rely
on us to manage the packaging and distribution of their own branded
engine and chassis parts. These parts come off our production lines,
are packaged under the customers’ brands and shipped to their
distribution centers or customer locations.
Can you talk about any impact Elgin has experienced as a result of the
financial struggles at some of your biggest customers today, and how
the company has handled it?
As I said earlier, we view our customers as part of our family. We have
close relationships with most accounts and are in touch with them in
good times and bad. This proactive approach protects both parties. We
know what’s happening in their businesses and they know what’s
happening in ours. I’m pleased to say that we have an expanding base of
financially strong customers in all areas of our business OE, stock
replacement parts, performance, heavy duty and heat treat.
Speaking of family, Elgin is a family business that is now under the
third generation of ownership, which is rare today. Will family
ownership continue with the next generation?
I certainly hope so. Virtually every branch of our family is involved
in day-to-day operations and my father continues to play an active
role. As we continue to expand our product offering and range of
value-added solutions, we’re building a foundation for long-term growth
that will benefit, hopefully, our children and grandchildren. Being
family owned is a valuable differentiator in the aftermarket most of
our distributor customers are privately held businesses and there’s a
stronger sense of partnership when you are speaking with the person who
signs the checks. Any customer who calls us can immediately reach me,
my father, my brother Tom or my sister Cheryl. By the same token, any
employee can knock on our door and offer suggestions on how to improve
our products or processes. Public companies can’t match that level of
openness and responsiveness.
Of course, there’s another side to that equation. Because we are family
owned, some distributors might wrongly assume we’re not on the leading
edge of engineering and manufacturing technology. That couldn’t be
further from the truth without exception, prospective customers who
visit our headquarters and manufacturing complex in Elgin are amazed at
how sophisticated we are.
Amy Antenora is editor of aftermarketNews.com.