A Tale Of Four Freshmen

By Sonya A. Donaldson

$1.25 a day cleaning houses.” Times, indeed, have changed.

GOOD VIBRATIONS
For those of a certain generation, “Shake, Rattle and Roll” is a song title and nothing else. But for Joseph B. Anderson Jr., 60, CEO of Vibration Control Technologies L.L.C., it’s the absence of trembling that distinguishes his product from the competition.

Troy, Michigan-based VCT supplies torsion vibration dampers to automakers such as Ford, Honda, Nissan, and DaimlerChrysler. It’s a product that helped the company produce revenues of $59 million in 2002. Also known as crankshaft dampers, these devices dwell in the harsh environment of a vehicle’s engine and serve to reduce the noise and vibration of a vehicle. They’re an integral part of cars, light trucks, SUVs — just about any vehicle. “It’s the competitive differentiator between car companies,” says Anderson. “When you get into a car that is quiet and smooth-running, that is a major factor in your decision to buy that vehicle. The more effectively we design and engineer our dampers, the better off I am and the faster I’ll grow.”

Like the torsion vibration dampers he engineers and supplies, Anderson is no stranger to harsh environments. A West Point graduate, he endured two tours of duty in Vietnam as a combat infantry officer, during his second tour he was a company commander as well. Anderson was also a White House Fellow, but resigned his commission when General Motors recruited him in 1979. The Topeka, Kansas, native has found that much of his military training and experience translates quite well to the business environment. “[Corporations and the military are] both large organizations with a chain of command; there’s teamwork and a significant amount
of training [involved] to get quality and productivity; there’s orientation on mission and objective,” he says. Of his time at GM, Anderson likes to say that he “traded in his rifle for a wrench, and competition from the Vietnamese to the Japanese.”

Now, the Japanese, as well as a variety of domestic and overseas companies, are his customers. And his experience running a joint venture in Korea for GM has enabled the 23-year veteran of the auto industry to purchase a business of his own in Korea. So while he learned French at West Point, Anderson is now “boning up” on his Korean to communicate with clients. “I’m in an industry that has to be global,” he says. “That’s just the way the world is. If African American businesses aren’t prepared to [do business globally], they’re going to be left behind.”

FINDING THE RIGHT STAFF FOR THE JOB
A great sense of timing is nothing without the ability to execute. In his struggle to grow his business from a one-man consulting operation to what today is roughly a $30 million staffing company that provides services to the pharmaceutical, aerospace, energy, and utility industries, Gilbert C. Morrell Jr. has had to work overtime to convince prospective clients that a minority firm can indeed execute.

First, however, he had to define his company. Although Morrell had positioned the Connecticut-based company as an engineering firm,

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