Fidelitone's 90 years evolves from phonograph needles to supply chain manager
Josh Johnson and Ross Hudson like to recall the advice their parents and grandparents would pass along during family gatherings.
"You can't go broke on small profits," "check your ego at the door," and 'never a borrower or lender be" were among the phrases that became ingrained in their personal and work cultures.
But the main phrase that steered their lives was "Taking care of Mama Fidelitone is taking care of you."
As the fourth generation family owners of Wauconda-based Fidelitone, Johnson and Hudson have helped lead the supply chain management and logistic company to a major milestone this year -- celebrating 90 years of business.
"It's been the fiber of our family," said Johnson, Fidelitone's CEO. "Fidelitone is intertwined in our family's heritage and our past."
What's even more amazing is the Fidelitone of today does not resemble the company when it started in 1929. Today, the company handles everything from off-site warehousing of materials for companies, to order fulfillment services, to last-minute delivery services.
When their grandfather, Arthur Olsen, started the company in Chicago in 1929, it was a manufacturer of phonograph needles.
How does a company go from making turntable needles to a supply chain management firm? Hudson, Fidelitone's chief financial officer, notes it was a combination of the family's entrepreneurial spirit and listening to and adapting to customer needs.
"It was the entrepreneurial spirit our family had over the years that has helped us continue to evolve into different facets," Hudson added.
Johnson pointed to a time in the late 1970s and early 80s - when phonograph records were being replaced by cassette tapes and CDs - as an era that set the company's future. One of the company' major clients was Sears, which was facing a specific need as Japanese electronic manufacturers, such as Sony and Sanyo, were making inroads into the U.S. market,
"They were looking for a domestic parts shipping company at the time," he said. "We really became their domestic parts presence for their foreign electronic brands and repair.
"That's what took us from manufacturing needles to our first entry into distribution," he added. "It really evolved to what has become our supply chain management organization today."
The company expanded its parts and distribution business and, through several acquisitions over the years, evolved into the business it is today.
Johnson noted that being a private, family-run business has been an advantage in Fidelitone's success. In addition to being able to make decisions quickly, recognizing opportunities is instilled at all levels of the organization, he said.
"As we've grown, we've tried to instill our decision making at all levels as 'Is this a good decision for Fidelitone?'" Johnson said. "It's helpful to be private, but it's also having that culture and making sure our employees understand that."
It's that work culture that also brings loyalty among its employees. Johnson and Hudson noted several Fidelitone employees have been with the company more than 20 years, which they attribute to creating an atmosphere of fairness and transparency, as well as creating new opportunities for employees within the company.
"The loyalty from the employees is mirrored by the loyalty of the company." Hudson said. "Part of the entrepreneurial spirit is to change roles and try new things."
Johnson added it also lies in understanding that not every great idea is always going to be a success.
"We haven't always knocked it out of the park," he said. "We're made some mistakes and we learn from them."
Fidelitone has around 800 employees operating at 32 locations across the U.S., and is at a size that Johnson said puts them in a unique competitive position.
"There are some extremely large (competitors) and some extremely small ones, and I think we fall in the middle," he said. "We are situated very well to be flexible enough to beat the small guys and big enough to run with the big dogs."
While he notes operating a business in Illinois can be a challenge, Johnson added the Chicago area and Midwest still provides some of the best workers in the nation.
"It's those hardworking Midwestern values that builds and drives the work ethic of a lot of our mentality," he said. "We appreciate the efforts of our employees, and that level never goes unnoticed by us or our clients."
Overall, Johnson and Hudson see Fidelitone in a good place for the future, as they continue to look at new opportunities to expand and evolve, integrating technology with the work culture that they see is critical to the company. But, when it comes to the core of success, Johnson notes it all comes back to family and those sayings passed on from generation to generation.
"It's not by coincidence or happenstance that success gets transitioned."