Going Up? Tauber Alum Takes Small Business Venture to New Heights
For Allison Allgaier, MBA '01, the 30-second"elevator pitch" is literally about elevators these days. As president of Phoenix Modular Elevator Inc. in Mt. Vernon, Ill., this entrepreneur and alum of the Tauber Institute for Global Operations is happy to explain the ups and downs of the modular elevator biz.
It's a new field and a new role for Allgaier, who spent eight years with Alcoa Inc. supervising and managing integrated supply chain programs for aerospace industry customers. Most recently she oversaw lean manufacturing deployment for Alcoa's Newburgh, Ind., plant.
"I had been with a large corporation for many years, and I knew I wanted something else," says Allgaier of her move to strike out on her own. "Don't get me wrong. Corporate America was good to me, but I had become somewhat disillusioned with the bureaucracy and pace. I looked into moving to a smaller company or buying one."
Desiring to stay local, the Indiana resident found little to choose from in terms of manufacturing facilities to purchase. So she visited her local library and used their database to broaden her search. Then she took an old-school, direct-mail approach to make contact."I sent out 63 letters to area manufacturing companies," she says."Seven people called me back, and I screened them by phone."
Some were literally dying businesses with little potential, and one had actually closed for business one year earlier. Unlikely as it seems, Allgaier chose the latter to purchase. "I did my due diligence and looked into the feasibility and viability of Phoenix's product," she says. "Past customers had good things to say about it, and I saw the potential in it."
Phoenix Modular Elevator uses a patented design consisting of an enclosed welded steel hoistway structure that fully contains the elevator car, rails, controls, and drive system. Typically installed on a building's exterior, the product makes sense for retrofit applications and new construction alike. Over the past 12 years, the company installed 350 elevators in schools, stadiums, office buildings, theme parks, apartments and government buildings.
But recent economic challenges took their toll. Now Allgaier is looking to revive the company's bottom line. She relies on the skills and lean manufacturing knowledge gained during and since her MBA days to guide her small, but effective, management team."I was fortunate enough to be able to hire the cream of the crop of the company's employees, including the elevator system's chief designer and the key production people," she says."They've been critical in supplementing my knowledge about the elevator industry. I know I don't have to be the technical expert to be able to drive change and make improvements. I surround myself with the experts and then guide them using my management skills."
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