Another in Illinois Review's ongoing series of hardworking job creators in the field of manufacturing ...
HAMMOND IN - Statistics say that family businesses commonly face tough survival odds when the third generation moves into leadership. About 40 percent of U.S. family-owned businesses become second-generation companies, but only 13 out of 100 survive the third generation.
Those numbers are in the back of Jordyn Anderson's mind these days, as she carefully juggles serving as vice-president of Calumet Abrasives with being a wife and mother of five young children.
"The statistics aren't good indicators for the third generation," Anderson said. "As companies grow, they often break off into smaller subsidiaries, and the more family members that get involved, the more complicated it is for a business to succeed."
But Calumet Abrasives is defying the odds. It is a family-owned company that has survived and thrived amidst economic ups and downs.
First established shortly after World War II, Anderson's Swedish immigrant grandfather created a resin-bonded wheel that was used at Great Lakes steel mills. Since the company's inception, Calumet Abrasives - like any other successful long-term company - has adapted its product line to meet the needs and demands of their clients.
Jordyn's 73-year-old father, John Anderson, continues to lead Calumet Abrasives 60 hours a week at their Hammond, Indiana plant.
"He feels a tremendous responsibility to this place, and always will, " Jordyn said about her father. "His leadership over the years was crucial to the company's success."
John Anderson began working at Calumet Abrasives when he was 19 years old, when his father - the company's founder - died suddenly. Since that time, the family business has been his focus.
"My dad is very proud of Calumet Abrasives' success over the years, and I'm determined to follow in his footsteps and see the company thrive even more," Jordyn said.
Calumet Abrasives now has 75 employees, as the demand for a resin-bonded reinforced grinding wheels continues to grow.
Grinding wheels come in various sizes and are used for a multitude of purposes - from tiny ones used by dentists in caring for teeth, all the way to giant wheels used in highway construction.
Calumet Abrasives specializes in small diameter wheels from one to eight inches, sometimes up to 14 inches.
Over the years, dwindling demands for steel mill parts created opportunities to make parts for nearby oil refineries and commercial tool manufacturers. Now the majority of Calumet's work is producing grinding wheels for a private commercial brand of tools.
And while that arrangement has been the mainstay for the company for years, the company is in the process of broadening its clientele, Jordyn said.
"Calumet Abrasives isn't a household brand because we manufacture under someone else's name," she said. "That's one of the biggest challenges as Calumet's next generation moves forward - to get a more diversified customer base where we have a market presence of our own."
While there's always the threat of competition, the experience and intellectual familiarity with their product and its uses set Calumet Abrasives ahead of others, Jordyn said.
Although at one time there was talk of Calumet Abrasives being bought up by a bigger company, it didn't happen, which has turned out to be a good thing for their employees and their families.
"They still have jobs in the area, but now the pressure's on," Jordyn said, "It's grow or die."
So after 78 years, Calumet Abrasives recently hired its first-ever salesman.
"We've done a lot of market research and we've found we need to offer a value-added product. It's tough to compete with products coming from overseas," she said.
Anderson says that one of her and her dad's biggest concerns is that the public education system has generally omitted shop classes. That direction away from hands-on machinist courses has made it more difficult to get good, well-trained employees interested in the work Calumet Abrasives does.
An alumni of University of Indiana, Jordyn says the school system is too focused on getting kids to college.
"It's difficult to translate the message to the next generation that there are good jobs out there without a college degree," she said. "If college is not for you, you're going to waste a lot of time and rack up a lot of debt to find out it's not for you. Many young people don't realize there are jobs available in which they can make good money without going to college."
There's a lot of talk that manufacturing is coming back to the U.S. and that there's a need to promote these type of jobs, but promoting the skilled workforce alternative isn't widespread yet, she said. Calumet Abrasives offers machinist and other skilled labor training for their employees, and they are looking to expand those opportunities.
Calumet Abrasives, like hundreds of other manufacturers in the area, had their start when the area around Lake Michigan was America's industrial hub. State lines Jordyn has found, make some difference, but remaining in the region is key, providing nearby access to complementary companies.
"Some years the economic breaks are in Indiana, sometimes in other states," Jordyn said. Tax advantages come and go, and companies have to adapt.
"You can't just pack up and leave when things change that you don't like," she said.
But balancing family and business is the biggest challenge facing Jordyn these days, along with developing the right relationships and knowing the right people in the industry.
"The boom that we were in was fun until 2008," then things drastically changed, she said. "You have to constantly prove yourself now."
As for a woman in her position, she's excited about taking on the challenge and using what she's learned from her dad and her own experiences to support other women in the industry.
"It's better to be flexible and take care of the people you've invested in," she said. "Things are better today for women and will be more so in the future."
Calumet Abrasives is located in Hammond, Indiana, on the web at www.calumetabrasives.com
First published by Technology and Manufacturing Association in Schaumburg, Illinois. Used by permission.