Still Kicking After Half a Century

Turning Point

In September, Rick Kline, president of Gardner Business Media, celebrated 50 years with the company. It’s more than a milestone, it’s a testament.

To say that Rick has manufacturing in his DNA is an understatement. His is the third generation to head up the company his grandfather founded in 1928. Generation four is positioned to carry on this legacy.

I’ve known Rick my entire 36-year metalworking career and have worked for him the past 21 years. To say I work for Rick isn’t exactly correct. One doesn’t really work for Rick: one journeys with Rick.

The man has an amazing capacity to explore our industry and deal with the changes that are constant. When the company was founded, Cincinnati was central to the machine tool and manufacturing industries. Today, that central position is global.

It amazes me how well Rick is known across the planet. I’ve witnessed this personally in more countries, states and companies than I can count. His council is requested by peers who appreciate his experience and integrity. At international trade shows, he is truly a rock star.

Anyone who has spent a career in manufacturing understands that adapting to change is necessary to survive. Those who cannot adapt are winnowed out. We’ve all seen that occur many times over.

When I started at Gardner, we published three trade magazines. There was no Internet; integrated media was not a term. Publishing companies simply published. Print ruled the day.

That steady-state model bears little resemblance to the world our company now occupies. Our successful transition from then to now reflects Rick’s style. Like most successful leaders, Rick surrounds himself with smart people, and he lets them do their thing. I call him a facilitator.

For me, Production Machining exemplifies this style. It’s not that I’m all that smart, but when the case was made that the precision machined parts industry was being underserved by the trade press, we started this magazine. Can it be 12 years?

Some companies didn’t see what was happening in the trade press industry. At first, there was a fear that publishing print editions of magazines would be supplanted by online editions. Some have been. 

We took a different tact. Rather than see proliferation of electronic and digital products as a threat, we embraced them as a means to better accomplish our prime directive, which is to bring buyers and sellers of products, processes and software together. Our job is to help inform businesses about things that can make their businesses stronger.

The digital revolution allows us to perform this task more efficiently. The magazine is a discovery tool. Looking through the pages introduces readers to things they might not know about—and in some cases trigger ideas.

This discovery phase leads to more in-depth information gathering, which is where the internet comes in. It’s easy to search the Web if you know what you’re looking for. But you can’t search what you’re not aware of.

Now, in addition to the monthly print product, we continuously update our website, we blog, send out an e-newsletter and work with the PMPA to promote this industry’s success. It’s been a fun ride, and it was facilitated by Rick’s trust in his people to make the right decisions. That thought makes you want to be successful.

To celebrate Rick’s anniversary, much of the company came together for a surprise reception and dinner. In addition to employees and family, many of industry’s heavy hitters were in attendance. There was a roast, and with 50 years under one’s belt, much fodder from which to choose. It was a good time and reflective of how Rick is viewed personally and professionally.

Now I’m probably going to be lambasted by my colleagues for running this homage to Rick and that’s OK. After all this time, and all of the miles, sucking up is simply not necessary. Ours is a relationship built over time and built on mutual respect. We each bring something different to the table, and that’s why it works.

Rick will move on some day—probably feet first—but like the transition from his grandfather to his father and to Rick, the foundations have been built strongly for the next generation to continue moving forward.