A new design for Strata: Next generation takes helm

TRAVERSE CITY – The tables have turned at Strata Design. On a recent summer day, Tyler Cerny, the new president and owner of Strata, sat across the desk from his new employee, Charles Cady – the same guy who gave him his job and started the company 20 years ago.

Cady announced the sale of his company June 30 and Cerny officially took ownership the very next day. While Cady represents the first 20 years in business, he's quick to point out that Cerny represents the coming decades.

Strata manufactures commercial architectural casework for the healthcare, higher education and store fixture industries and is one of the largest independent suppliers in the state. Think countertops and work surfaces, sports lockers, retail display cases and fixtures and reception spaces. Customers range from architectural firms to general contractors to hospitals and retail establishments. A third of those customers are outside Michigan, but within a 900-mile radius.

For Cady, the sale means a new job and marks the halfway point of the business succession plan he put in place three years ago. Looking for a bit more flexibility in his personal life and recognizing it was time to start diversifying his savings and assets for retirement, he brought in consultants to help plan the transition and to help communicate the change to his two dozen-plus employees. Cady now serves as business development manager and plans to fill that role for the next one to two years.

For Cerny, 35, the purchase makes him the business owner he has always wanted to be. With a background in manufacturing and operations, including three years at Alken-Ziegler in Kalkaska where he had risen to operations manager, Cerny brings to Strata just about everything Cady was looking for.

"In terms of skill set, it's as close as you can get," he said.

Together, the duo will work side by side to continue the business on its steady growth pattern. Cady said his staying on in the business development role will allow Cerny to "get his arms around all the moving parts" of the business.

Lean focus

Cerny moved to Traverse City in 7th grade after his father, Ralph, accepted a position at Munson Medical Center. He graduated from Traverse City Central High School in 1991, went to Michigan State for undergraduate work in materials engineering and later to Loyola University Chicago for his MBA.

Most recently, Cerny was working for Northwestern Michigan College's Training and Research helping to launch its new Lean Learning Consortium. The consortium is designed to be a collaborative training effort for local organizations to learn how to increase competitiveness through applications of "lean" ways of thinking and doing. Cerny will remain on the consortium's steering committee and will continue to guide lean efforts at Strata, which started implementing the tools over a year ago.

"A huge part of the whole acquisition process is the fit," said Cerny. "There's a lot of agreement here."

Cerny said most of the "lean" improvements at Strata have come from the employees. "The 'go to' attitude is huge in lean," he said. "I see my role as that of coach."

Plant manager Deborah Madison said the most impactful lean activity at Strata has dealt with workplace organization. "There's a place for everything and it means using less manufacturing time looking for something," she said.

"All of our employees know that for us to be in business we have to get better," Cady said, and this focus on the process and delivery of its products "makes a strong future for us."

But long before Strata was working on being more lean, it was looking for ways to be more green.

In the winter, Strata heats one of the production buildings (18,000-square-feet) entirely with its own scrap wood, something it's been doing since the mid-90s. "We're working with the most renewable resource," said Cady. "It makes sense for us to contain costs and be good stewards."

Cady is also a trainer on green materials for the state chapter of the Architecture Woodwork Institute.

"Our customers are changing," he said. "Two or three years ago, they didn't know what 'green' was. Now, some of the projects brought to us are LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) projects and some are just 'green.' You couldn't get green materials two or three years ago in Michigan. Now they are just a phone call away."

For Cerny's part, he has no plans to change the company's leadership in green efforts. "We will continue to push the 'green,'" he said, in the industry overall as well as seeking out additional ways to recycle Strata's own waste by-products.

The improved efficiencies have helped Strata post $3.1 million in revenue in 2007 and they're on track to hit $3.5 million this year, according to Cerny. The company has experienced 10 to 14 percent growth every year for the last four and Cerny is looking to add a couple of new employees moving forward.

"I have no intention but to continue to grow the company here," he said. BN