144. Hero – Jon Meighan, President at Lake Erie Rubber Transcript


Jon: 00:00 

I used to always think that happiness was the most important thing, but I’m learning that happiness is a fleeting thing. It can’t be there all the time. And so I think the most important thing to me is purpose. And what that means to me is I’m doing things that serve a purpose in this world to do something better. And so I think it can be for my family. It can be for my work. It can be for my hobbies even but purpose is really what drives me in everything that I do.

Chris: 00:35 

Welcome to EECO Asks Why a podcast that dives into industrial manufacturing topics, spotlights the heroes that keep America running. I’m your host, Chris Grainger. And on this podcast, we do not cover the latest features and benefits on products that come to market, instead, we focus on advice and insight from the top minds of industry because people and ideas will be how America remains number one in manufacturing in the world. 

Welcome to eco asks why today we have a hero episode. I’m very excited to have with me, Mr. Jon Meighan, who is the president and owner of Lake Erie Rubber. How are you doing Jon? 

Jon: 01:15 

I’m good. How are you today, Chris? 

Chris: 01:17 

I’m great. I’m great. Now Lake Erie Rubber. So Pennsylvania?

Jon: 01:22 

Yes, sir. Erie, Pennsylvania. 

Chris: 01:23 

All right. All right. I’m sure it’s beautiful up there. 

Jon: 01:27 

Yes, we have a really beautiful spot on the west side of Erie, Pennsylvania, not too far from the lake. So we’re very lucky to have our facility where it is. 

Chris: 01:38 

That sounds outstanding. I’m looking forward to learning about Lake Erie and just about you in general, and maybe get a start of, we love these hero conversations to get going, just talking about the personal journey. So, what can you tell us there? 

Jon: 01:51 

Sure. So, I purchased Lake Erie Rubber almost four years ago now, but my previous life I worked at GE Transportation, General Electric, manufacturing freight locomotives. And I did that for 10 years. And to be totally honest with you I thought, I would probably work there for maybe four years and I thought I’m going to start my own company, And I had always wanted to be an entrepreneur, my whole life. And then life kinda got in the way as they say, and things kept propelling with my career at GE. And I was enjoying my career there. And the next thing you know, I was 10 years in and plant manager of our international kitting and distribution. I was married with a kid and one of my friends one day….

 As a hobby. I have the race car with a couple buddies and me and my buddy were working on the race car and I was talking about businesses I wanted to start or whatever. And he said, “You’ve been talking about this whole thing for about 10 years. When are you actually going to do something about it?”

And so that day I decided, all right I hear what you’re saying. And at that point I decided to start down the journey how do I start taking actions to get to owning my own business and running my own business? And I’ve always followed this principle. I had a boss at GE who was awesome to me. And he would always tell me, we would have these really complex projects. And I’d say, you know, Ray, this is just, I don’t know how we’re going to do this. And he said, all you need to know is, you know what your goal is. What’s your next actionable step and your next actionable step has to be something that you can do within the next two weeks.

And so when I got that challenge from my friend who was basically telling me that I’m a lot of talk and no action, I said, you know what, I’m going to start following my own process that I use at work and I’m going to take that next actionable step. And so that day I said, my next step is that I’m going to contact a family friend that I know who’s been a very successful small business owner and that’s my next actionable step.

And it kind of started from there. And you know that down that path I learned about, how you find business brokers and make acquisitions. And this is all stuff that I didn’t know anything about it, but again, I just kept working towards that next actionable step and about a year and a half to almost two years after I started that first step I ended up as the owner of Lake Erie Rubber.

Chris: 04:25 

Wow, man, that is amazing story. So I mean that, next actionable step advice, what’d he say it had to be something you could accomplish in two weeks? 

Jon: 04:36 

Yes. So whenever I have a problem that I don’t know, it just seems too big to solve, you know, and I, can’t put a roadmap together. I know I’m an engineer, mechanical engineer, so I love to build out, how am I going to do this and lay everything out, but sometimes you have something where you don’t know what the in-between steps are. And I’ve been doing this for a lot of years now, but that next actionable step, just something to put me one step closer than I’ll do in the next two weeks. 

Chris: 05:06 

That’s great. Now I do have to ask, a plant manager at GE, that’s probably a very coveted position to people would love to have to make that transition to an entrepreneur at your all manufacturer. Did you get people questioning what you were doing? 

Jon: 05:21 

Yes. I think everyone that I knew thought I was a complete psycho because they said, I went from, running a facility that was 300,000 square feet with hundreds of employees to owning a facility that was 24,000 square feet and it had about eight employees when I took over.

Now we’ve grown it a lot since then, but when people were looking at that, they said, what the heck is wrong And in the meantime, of course, if you’re familiar with making acquisitions of businesses, everything got delayed and it took a long time. And so my second child, my daughter ended up being born the day that they wanted me to sign, to take ownership of the business.

We had to push it. So she was four days old. My son was one year old. And my wife was staying at home with both the kids. So, I actually have this, I have a picture of myself holding my four-day-old daughter wearing a suit, going to sign the papers for owning the business. And so that was just a really crazy week.

You know, Monday I signed, I took ownership. Tuesday, I walked into GE and put in my resignation there. And because of the position that I was holding I needed about a month to transition. So for the first month of my daughter’s life, I was working at, GE and running my business with a newborn and a one-year-old at home with my wife. She’s a Saint. No, not everyone could do what, she did that’s for sure. 

Chris: 06:49 

No doubt. You definitely have a good support system at home. Good thing is that the first month that they sleep a lot, right? So you could say that. 

Jon: 06:55 

Yeah, my daughter was, she was special. She’s never slept. She said she’s three. She still doesn’t sleep that well.

Chris: 07:01 

Gotcha. I gotcha. Well, you know, hats off to you. The courage the willingness to take a risk and now you’re impacting people directly there at Lake Erie, Rubber, and just what an amazing story. So just thank you for sharing that. 

Jon: 07:16 

Oh, thanks. I appreciate it. you know, it’s one step at a time. That’s all it really is. 

Chris: 07:21 

Right. And think I saw maybe on your website or something, you had shared that picture of you holding your daughter. And I was going to ask you about that. So that was actually right after signing day? 

Jon: 07:30 

Yeah, that was the day that I signed to take ownership of the company.

Chris: 07:34 

Wow that’s great. That’s great. What a memory there? Thank you for walking us through that. Now you’re managing this manufacturer facility there in Lake Erie. What are some of the challenges that you’re hearing? 

Jon: 07:45 

Yeah. You know, I think challenges with, manufacturing today, one of the biggest challenges is we’re competing against overseas suppliers who at times offer products that, we offer highly spec products. And sometimes they’re offering something at a price that just isn’t even possible. 

So that’s, been a challenge, but you know what I’ve learned in the past few years, generally because of our ability with speed, our quality and our technical solutions that we can offer because of the communication, the location, all of those things allow us to offer value add that can offset, you know, the price difference.

And we’re finding that while that is a challenge still, and I’m sure will continue to be a challenge. There are a lot of companies that are realizing how much value there is in working with someone who can move really fast, who can give them consistent quality and also who can offer them real technical support.

For us, rubber is a very niche industry. There’s not a lot of people out there that are experts in elastomers. And so definitely our customers need our help to solve elastomers issues. So, anyone who’s manufacturing in the United States, those are three things that you can offer that are a real value add to overcome those challenges with manufacturing right now.

Chris: 09:12 

For sure. I mean, they’re all so important, but the speed really jumps out to me. So, I mean, it sounds like your business is set up in such a way you’re pretty agile. You can really pivot, meet a certain customer’s demands. And at the same time when the next order’s coming in, you’re ready to take that one too.

Jon: 09:28 

That’s right. And some of it too is being creative. We work with customers where, we’ll set up different inventory agreements, blanket order agreements. So you gotta be creative to say, you know, maybe our value stream really is about a six-week lead time, but we have a customer who needs a one or two weekly time. Let’s figure out a way to make that possible. They’re not going to get that from an overseas vendor, but someone who’s in the US, who is local, you can find a way to, get to what your customer really needs to be successful for their customers. 

Chris: 09:58 

There you go. Now I normally ask about advice, Jon, but I think I want to, the way I like to get your opinion. The entrepreneur side, you know, that took so much courage and it’s obviously your passion. So maybe speak to the entrepreneur out there that’s listening. And they’re trying to figure out how to crack into manufacturing. What advice would you offer that person? 

Jon: 10:20 

Well, the first piece of advice I would give is what was told to me. I would really consider looking for an acquisition of a family-owned business. There are a lot of family-owned businesses that are really great companies with great employees and the ownership doesn’t have a succession plan and having experience working for a very large company like GE Transportation, you might be shocked to realize how many small privately-owned businesses are manufacturing the components that go into that upper-level locomotive that they build at GE.

So I think considering an acquisition is something that really makes a lot of sense in manufacturing, particularly. For me, it’s a business where I was able to keep the experts that have all the experience in rubber, onboard at the company. And so, you know, I walked in with kind of a fresh set of eyes and an ability to focus on improvement and growth, where we already had the expertise. I just think that’s a really good option for people I manufacturing. 

Chris: 11:28 

For sure. And I mean, how would you even find that? Is that just through networking in the industry itself or trying to pick a niche, like you were talking about and just to explore about that? Where do you even start that?

Jon: 11:42 

Yeah, so it’s difficult because you can’t go online and look for serious manufacturing companies that are for sale. They don’t want people to know they’re for sale. Everything is going to be through an NDA. And so the way you get started is you look for a business broker and almost anywhere you’ll be able to find one that is pretty local to you. 

And you reach out to that business broker. They’ll have you sign some NDAs and they’ll be able to put you in touch with, it’s really like a real estate agent for businesses, but if you’re not in contact with them, generally, you’re not going to know what’s for sale.

And when you do start looking, I would recommend having an open mind because, in my position, I’d never even seen rubber manufacturing. I had done machining and assembly and welding and lots of other stuff, but, as I mentioned, I was really looking more for the right people to help me run the business.

Chris: 12:43 

So don’t put too many tight parameters around, like it has to be this particular type of business because this is my personal field of expertise, open yourself up some more. 

Jon: 12:52 

Yeah. And, you can do that, but you may be searching for a really long time if that’s the case, depending on, maybe if you’re really open to locations and moving somewhere else, then you can tighten up that scope on what exactly you want the business to be, but in my case, I had been in Erie for 10 years and I just felt that I could have a bigger impact on this community running and growing a small business than I could working for a big company. 

So it depends on what you’re inspired by too. For me, the inspiration was I wanted to have an impact on my community. I want it to do something positive. I wanted to create jobs. And make better of some jobs that were already here. And so that, that was my inspiration to get into it. 

Chris: 13:38 

That’s why you’re here as our hero, Jon, really what a wonderful answer. And, from a manufacturing standpoint, a lot of people they just have a misconception. They think that the triple D, the dull, dirty and dangerous type of environments from a manufacturing standpoint. So any myths, any misperceptions that you would like to clear the air on right now? 

Jon: 14:00 

Yeah. So I do think a lot of people think of manufacturing as kind of dirty grunt work and it’s really not. Manufacturing is the greatest technology in the world is being implemented to build things more efficiently than have ever been done in the history of mankind. And so  really the challenges and the ability to do things that haven’t been done before exist in manufacturing.

And so it’s a very exciting place to be because we’re constantly on the forefront of new things that have never been done before. And, you know, I think the best shops are not dirty and dingy, they’re bright and clean and calculated and very well run. And so manufacturing really, that’s not what it is anymore. Maybe it was in the 1900s but that won’t get you very far these days and you gotta be on top of your game to compete. 

Chris: 14:59 

No doubt about it. Thank you for going there. Some of these manufacturing plants now are phenomenal places to work. You could eat off the floor at some of them. So it’s just definitely a misperception out there in the more times we get to hear leaders like yourself talk about that just that much more hope and inspiration for others. So,    

Jon: 15:17 

It’s near and dear to my heart manufacturing is one of the best ways to impact your local economy, because what you’re doing is producing product for us that goes nationally and internationally. 

So you’re bringing dollars into your community on something where the dollars are coming from other places, and people don’t realize what a profound effect, additional manufacturing jobs have on your community because not only are you bringing dollars in from outside, but you’re also creating a lot of new work for services on any type of thing that has to be done in our facility. Things that we purchased, all of that. It really is amazing what a significant economic impact manufacturing does for a community. So that’s one reason I say, you know, I wanted to grow this business to help the Erie community. It really can have a major impact. 

Chris: 16:12 

It does. And thank you for bringing that up too because it’s so important because there’s so many ancillary types of businesses. Like you said even support manufacturing, but that money’s coming in, it’s going out. It’s going out to the boutiques to shops, to barbers, everything, everybody around gets impacted by that manufacturing. 

Jon: 16:30 

Exactly. Exactly.

Chris: 16:32 

Now how about you? You’re there as, the president, the owner at Lake Erie Rubber. When are you the happiest? What work are you doing?

Jon: 16:41 

The happiest for me honestly, is when I walk out to the shop and. It’s full of people. It’s bright, it’s busy. It’s a little bit noisy. And there’s just seeing that many products being made at a facility, right here. And, knowing that we created those jobs, we’re keeping those jobs, we’re paying our employees. That’s a really good feeling. It just it feels like you’re accomplishing something that really means something. And so it’s a good feeling to, that just kind of sense of accomplishment when you see that.

Chris: 17:14 

I bet it does. I bet it does. I mean, hats off to you. I mean, it’s just a wonderful story there and I love to Jon let’s take a turn off of Lake Erie and let’s talk about you outside of work. 

Jon: 17:26 

Sure. 

Chris: 17:27 

How about hobbies? You mentioned at the beginning. So we’re going to have to go there. Hopefully, you will about a race car or something. And so what hobbies do you got there? 

 Jon: 17:35 

My buddy who challenged me on starting my own business, he also is the one who got me into a road course racing. And so for gosh, probably eight years now, we’ve been doing endurance racing where we have a team of four guys and we all work on the car and we go to tracks all over the United States and we do these anywhere from 14 hour to 24 hour races where we swap drivers and we’re our own pit crew because we’re amateurs.

And so that’s been a hobby that I’ve, managed to hold on to even through taking ownership of the business and don’t do it quite as much as I did before, but I still really enjoy getting out on the racetrack and competing. 

Chris: 18:15 

So that’s cool. Now, what kind of car is it?

Jon: 18:17 

So we race a 1989 Mazda RX7. It’s on maybe its fifth different engine now. Okay. We blew up the original engine nearly immediately. Then we took an engine out of a 2000 Corvette and figured out how to make that work in RX7, which was pretty fun because the car is pretty small and the engine was, it was pretty powerful.

And then now we decided we wanted to run a whole different class and we’re running a Honda K24, which would come out of like your Honda CRV, but you’d be surprised how well those engines work in a racecar. They can be tuned up to run really well. And so right now we’re running in a car with a Honda engine and different transmissions and rear ends. And it’s just, it’s a fun project. 

Chris: 19:02 

It sounds like it. How fast have you ever gone in that thing? 

Jon: 19:04 

When we were at Daytona, we were on the road course version. So you’re only on the oval for about, you know, part of the oval not the whole oval, but we were getting up to about 155 on the oval. 

Chris: 19:16 

That’s moving pretty good. That’s moving right there. Now is that a road course behind you? There is that a road course? 

Jon: 19:23 

Yeah. That’s pit race, which is a private track in Wampum, Pennsylvania, near Pittsburgh. And it’s a really fun track. It’s actually one of my favorite tracks, which is why it’s on my wall. Even though it’s lesser-known than some of the Daytonas and Charlotte Motor Speedway and Watkins Glen, and those, yeah. It’s really a really fun track and it’s close by. So I get to go, a few times a year to go down there and run that track, which is fun too. 

Chris: 19:50 

And have you ever been to a Virginia International Raceway?

Jon: 19:53 

I sure have. 

Chris: 19:55 

Close to where I grew up. It’s right there, outside of Danville. So yeah, I’ve heard, I’ve never actually been to that track to see a race but I hear it’s pretty awesome. 

Jon: 20:06 

It is really awesome. And actually it’s part of the inspiration for this track behind me, the person who owns this track also owns Virginia International Raceway.

Chris: 20:15 

Oh, okay. Very cool. Well, I had to go there from a racing standpoint. I did some racing myself, all circle track. We never turned right. We were always turning left, you know? 

Jon: 20:26 

You know what though? I’ll tell you what I’ve seen some of the circle track and those guys are aggressive, man. They get after it. It’s not for the faint of heart. 

Chris: 20:37 

No it was not, my first race that I crew chief when the guy stepped up to the late model series a, we wrecked it in the first corner of the first lap. So I was like, yeah, this is why it’s this pretty hard here. So yeah. 

Jon: 20:49 

What kind of cars were you guys running?

Chris: 20:50 

We were just running late models. Had a lot of fun. I got a buddy who’s in truck series now and stuff, but racing has always been near and dear, but we’ll stay here forever. So let’s move on from racing. So how about family, you mentioned your daughter, she was born right there when you signed for Lake Erie Rubber. And I think he said I had a one-year-old son at the time. So what would you like to share with us about your family. 

Jon: 21:14 

Yeah, sure. So, my wife, as I mentioned, has been the ultimate supporter of me in this process on the entrepreneurial journey. And I think that’s, it just, I can’t say enough about that because the risk that we took in putting all of our, you know, I was not independently wealthy, I did not pay cash for my business. I had to take a lot of loans and when you do that, you sign personal guarantees that, they can have all your personal assets if you don’t succeed at the business. And, I mentioned that my daughter was four days old when I went to sign well, they made my wife sign as well to make sure that, you know, you don’t get a divorce and then give her all this stuff if you’re going under.

So that way she’s held liable too. So they actually sent a lawyer to our house. And she’s there holding the baby, signing the paper, she’s crying. She just she’s like, “What is this mean?” I’m like, “ah, it’s just, it won’t be good if we go bankrupt or close up the business, but it’ll be fine.” And but she supported me, you know, and she’s never doubted and you know that, I think that’s really important.

If you’re going to go down this kind of journey, you have to have your significant other on board because if they’re not. There could be some really tough times. So my wife has been great. I have a five-year-old now he’s five. My daughter’s about to be four and, it’s been great. They’re there in all kinds of stuff now. We’re doing swimming lessons. And last night I was coaching soccer for my son. And while I do put a lot of time and effort into my business, my family is still the most important thing to me. And I still make sure that I’m home every day to see my kids before they go to bed and stay involved in their activities. It’s just family is really important. 

Chris: 23:04 

Oh man. It’s just definitely a capital H with the hero here. That’s wonderful that you see the importance of that and that you’re being intentional to be in your kids’ lives and coaching and thank you for sharing. 

Jon: 23:18 

Oh, no problem. I appreciate it. It’s something that’s important to me and no matter what you’re doing, your family has to be at the top of the list. At least for me.

Chris: 23:27 

They do for sure. How about any resources that you enjoy? Like podcast or YouTube channels in any books? You’re all over the place from racing to running businesses, to entrepreneur. Just curious, what do you enjoy consuming? 

Jon: 23:41 

When I started at Lake Erie Rubber, I bought a rubber company. I’d never seen rubber and I bought a company that needed to increase its sales and I’d never done sales. And so I got really into listening to eBooks while I was driving about sales and marketing and all that kind of stuff.

So, I like being able to listen in the car and using that time to try to learn about the things that I’m not familiar with. And so for me, it’s been for the past couple of years, it’s been pretty heavy on sales and marketing. And those kinds of things, as well as, you know, there’s a few, there’s not as much content on rubber, but I like to listen to that stuff too.

I’ve really tried to educate myself on the chemistry, behind what we do and why certain materials do the things they do and what they’re good for. Really those are the things I consume. And one thing I would add too, is I actually started making my own video series about rubber, which forced me to get even more in depth with my understanding of it because if I’m going to present it, I really have to learn and study so that I know what I’m talking about. 

Chris: 24:49 

Right. Well, I’ll tell you if you’re willing to share some of those links with us for those videos, we’ll put them in our show notes and listeners, you can go right there and check out if you want to learn more about rubber Jon’s your man.

Jon: 24:59 

We’ll tell you all about it or you go, there you go. Sure. 

Chris: 25:03 

We’ll have that lightning round. I love doing the lightning round just to get to know our guests on a little more of a fun, personal level. So if you’re willing to play, we’ll jump right in. 

Jon: 25:12 

Sure. Sure. 

Chris: 25:13 

Okay. I like start easy, favorite food?

Jon: 25:16 

Probably pizza. I’m simple.

Chris: 25:17 

Okay. Can’t go wrong with that. How about adult beverage? 

Jon: 25:22 

I like an old-fashioned. 

Chris: 25:23 

All right. I’m coming to Pennsylvania. We have something in common, Jon. So there you go. Very good. Very good. What’s your favorite app? 

Jon: 25:31 

I like Strava. I’m a big mountain biker. And so I love this app Strava and lets me compete against all the people locally that are riding the same trails as me and my wife will tell you I’m the most competitive person in the entire world. I’m pretty low-key, but I really am really competitive. So I love going out on the trails and seeing if I set a record and can be the fastest guy around on certain trails. 

Chris: 25:57 

Very cool. How about what’s on your nightstand? 

Jon: 26:00 

A couple, a sales book and a marketing book and the monitor for my daughter’s room. So I can hear if she’s yelling at me in the night.

Chris: 26:09 

There you go. Now what’s a guilty pleasure for you? 

Jon: 26:12 

I would say ice cream. I try to eat really healthy. I’m a vegetarian. And so I like to eat really healthy, but man, do I love ice cream. 

Chris: 26:20 

It’s something about it. That’s for sure, buddy. That is for sure. How about a destination somewhere? You hadn’t been yet, but you hope to go one day. 

Jon: 26:27 

I want to go to Australia. 

Chris: 26:29 

Cool. Very cool. Just with somebody the other day, who’s been there several times and he was talking about how awesome it was outside the plane ride there.

Jon: 26:37 

That’s one of the biggest things that stop me from going, but I, would really love to go there. 

Chris: 26:42 

What’s the coolest place you have been to?

Jon: 26:44 

Hawaii. 

Chris: 26:45 

Okay. Which island? 

Jon: 26:46 

I love Kauai. I love Maui too, but Kauai was cool because it’s a more rural version of Hawaii to see kind of what it’s really like. My wife and I did some hikes out there that were just absolutely incredible. The views are just, it’s hard to believe. I look back at the pictures and I’m like, I can’t even believe that was real. 

Chris: 27:07 

Oh yeah. We went to Maui when we got married and we said, when we go back, we want to go to Kauai as well.

Jon: 27:13 

It’s great. It’s really nice. 

Chris: 27:15 

Very cool. Last one. Pets, dogs or cats? 

Jon: 27:19 

Both. 

Chris: 27:20 

Both. Okay. I’ll let it slide. I’ll let it slide. What kind of dog?

Jon: 27:25 

I have a pug and she’s awesome. 

Chris: 27:29 

That’s cool. That’s cool with me, Jon. Thank you for playing a lightning round. That was a lot of fun. Gave us some insight, the things that you enjoy.

So we always wrap up the EECO Asks Why with the Why, Jon, and just speaks about your passion. So, you know, somebody comes up to you and wants to know what is your personal, why, what would that be? 

Jon: 27:48 

I used to always think that happiness was the most important thing, but I’m learning that happiness is a fleeting thing. It can’t be there all the time. And so I think the most important thing to me is purpose. And what that means to me is I’m doing things that serve a purpose in this world to do something better. And so I think it can be for my family. It can be for my work. It can be for my hobbies even but purpose is really what drives me in everything that I do.

Chris: 28:23 

Well, Jon, you definitely are, a hero. That purpose we can see it, we can hear it in your voice and we wish you nothing but the best and for the team there at Lake Erie Rubber nothing but success in the future. And just thank you for taking the time and sharing your story with us.

Jon: 28:39 

Thanks, Chris. It’s really great talking with you and hope to talk to you again soon. 

Chris: 28:43 

Absolutely, sir. Thank you.

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