“Initially I was skeptical that we would get anything worthwhile from the SCORE counseling,” says Larry Albert, co-owner with his brother Charles Albert of ACI ALLOYS, Inc. “Charley convinced me that we had nothing to lose since the counseling services were free, but after working with Mike O’Connor and Lido Scardigli of SCORE, I’m a real believer,” continues Larry. ACI Alloys, Inc. manufactures sputtering targets, evaporation sources, and specialty materials and shapes for thin film or related applications. The company specializes in the R & D market with end customers like IBM and Stanford University.
“Our dad, Paul Albert, was a research scientist at IBM and an expert in metals and alloys used by disk drive manufacturers in their sputtering processes. When he retired in 1982 he consulted for awhile, but in 1985 he decided to start up ACI Alloys,” explains Charles Albert. “Both Larry and I worked in the business when we were teenagers and during college vacations.” Charles, who has a PhD in theoretical physics, left his position as an environmental engineer in 1996 to join ACI full time and help his parents. “The business was pretty much a one-man show before Charley joined,” says Larry. After Larry graduated from UC Santa Barbara in 1995, he worked as an accountant in Hawaii. “I never expected that I’d come back and work in the family business,” he states. However, in 1997, at Charley’s instigation, he did return in order to take over sales management of the company.
Paul Albert began to phase out of active management now that his two sons were in the business, and by 2000 Charles and Larry had fully taken over. “The problem was that neither of us had any management background or training,” says Larry. “There was a lot of overlap in our roles, and as you might expect, this led to inefficiency and even friction between us,” adds Charles. The brothers recognized that they needed help in order for the company to realize its full potential. At first they considered using paid consultants, but Larry believed “most consultants don’t really understand ACI’s business. Yet, they’re quick to tell us that that we had to do certain things that we didn’t think made much sense.” He adds “that’s why I was skeptical when Charley suggested that we talk to SCORE.”
In January 2007 the Albert Brothers had their first meeting with SVSCORE counselors, Mike O’Connor and Lido Scardigli. Mike and Lido quickly realized that some simple actions could help significantly. They suggested that Charles and Larry write down agreed upon goals and objectives for the company, individual job descriptions with roles and responsibilities for themselves, a flow chart of the key processes of the company, and ways to focus on proactive activities. Charles laughingly comments, “When I told Lido that I was VP of Operations, but that I was spending most of my time reacting to crises, he suggested that maybe I should change my title to VP of Chaos.” “We really appreciate the straightforward approach that Mike and Lido take. They make practical suggestions, but tell us that the final decisions have to be ours,” adds Larry. “We each had our ideas about goals, objectives, roles and responsibilities. But, writing them down really made us clarify them,” Charles says.
The Albert brothers credit their SCORE counselors with helping them achieve significant improvements in their management of ACI. Revenues are projected to increase over 30 percent in 2007. Order turnaround time through the shop improved by 73 percent as measured by reduced daily backlog, while the number of quotes increased by 20 percent. “Because we’re more efficient, I’ve been able to spend more face time with customers and less time fighting fires,” claims Larry. “Mike and Lido really impressed on us the need to more closely and more frequently monitor cash flow,” says Charles. Larry explains, “Now we’re able to prepare an accurate cash flow report weekly instead of the approximation we used to make only monthly. This is all because we’ve become more proactive and less reactionary.” Charles sums up by saying, “Best of all, Larry and I have improved our working relationship.”
The Albert brothers are looking forward to preparing a business plan and budget for 2008 with the help of Mike and Lido. “This will be the first time we’ve ever had a real plan,” says Larry. Charles concludes, “With continuing help from SCORE, we believe ACI can grow significantly and remain a profitable company.”