John Crow believes in "servant leadership," an alternative to the typically hierarchical style of management that has dominated American business for so long. Coined by Robert Greenleaf, the term refers to leaders who use teamwork and personal involvement to enhance the lives of their workers and their communities. With the headlines dominated by Enron and other spectacular ethical meltdowns in business, Crow's attitude as president of Lloyd Industries, a Spokane manufacturer of pans and tools for pizzerias and commercial bakeries, reflects a refreshing change.
"I recognize that to be respected as a manager and a leader, I have to be willing to serve," he says. "I love my job, and as the owner and manager of the company, I have to want everyone here to feel that way. I want this to be my employees' last and best job."
Crow has worked in ministry throughout his life, and he currently serves as an ordained deacon at Assumption Parish in North Spokane, but he sees business as his true calling. "I've started three businesses in my life, and they've all succeeded," he says. "Now, I look at how to make business my ministry."
The key, he says, is to treat both employees and customers with respect. And he must be onto something, because the company has grown 400 percent in the last five years and now has a solid workforce of 25 full-time employees.
"We've been in business since 1989, and we haven't lost a customer," he says.
After establishing the company in Southern California, Crow relocated Lloyd Industries to Spokane in 1993 following a visit to his adult children here. "The area really grew on me," he recalls. "It's a good place to run a national business. A livable wage -- enough income to buy a home -- is considerably lower here than in Southern California, so the pressure here is a lot less. And because we can pay a livable wage, our employees are more loyal."
But it takes more than loyal employees to compete in the global marketplace. Lloyd Industries has always sold directly to customers, and e-commerce now makes that approach even more efficient. With its three Web sites (www.bakingtools.com, www.pizzatools.com and www.lloydpans.com) attracting attention, the company now ships to customers throughout North America and Europe. Eliminating outside sales people and distributors gives Lloyd Industries a higher margin to work with, Crow says. Plus, customizing a product to particular needs is not a problem, because the company can create anything from a single prototype to thousands of mass-produced units. They've produced a cake pan that makes a Finding Nemo cake and pizza pan that makes a pie in the shape of the state of Texas.
"We come up with innovative things that no one else has done," he says. "Most of our new products have been done at a customer's request. We tell them the impossible just takes a little extra work."
Crow says the company is poised to grow more as soon as he can find a new space for expansion. Right now, Lloyd Industries occupies about 18,000 square feet in two separate facilities in northeast Spokane; Crow is looking for either new or existing space that's double the present size. The goal is to bring all departments under one roof again and to allow for continued growth by continuing to market current products and by expanding Internet sales to consumers. Crow says he's getting close to a building deal but can't reveal any details at the moment.
As the company grows, Crow sees more duties falling to his son, Rob, who serves as vice president and operations manager. "His job description is anything I don't like to do," quips the senior Crow. In a more serious tone, he adds, "I don't have all the answers. I don't even have all the questions. But I love making the customers happy. My employees give me the best job I've ever had."