If the receptionist happens to be gone for a moment when you visit Jergens Inc., simply refer to the sign that directs you to dial your party from the phone booth across the lobby. Yes, phone booth. And yes, dial.
I asked Jack Schron, 69, the company’s president who doubles as Cuyahoga County Council representative for District 6, what happens if the visitor is too young to know how to use a dial phone. He laughs and shrugs. No matter. Given the level of efficiency that is the hallmark of Jergens’ success, someone no doubt will be there to help in short order.
And if that doesn’t happen, you can always knock on the window just around the corner where you’ll see Schron himself in his office.
The windowed space gives a glimpse into Schron’s approach to business. So, too, does the lobby, designed to look like a New York Central train station from the 1940s. It is testimony to Schron’s reverence for the fact that on this ground railyards once served as the lifeblood of the Collinwood neighborhood where generations of residents defined the American ideal of good, honest, hard work.
The land had become a brownfield with debris piled nearly as high as a train car when Schron decided, just before the 21st century dawned, that this is where he would relocate his family business.
“Where we are sitting and talking right now, that’s where we put a stake in the heart of the Rust Belt conversation,” he says. “When the Urban Institute studied it in the ’90s, they said the key to Cleveland’s revitalization was the Collinwood railroad yards — this site where 100,000 cars drive past on the interstate every single day, and where every evening anybody who wanted to avoid trash and dumping fees would just pull their truck up and unload it.”
Schron looked beyond the blight, saw the past and envisioned the future. As a lawyer, business executive, retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel, longtime school board leader in his native Chagrin Falls and active — very active — member of a litany of nonprofit and corporate boards, he was accustomed to acting boldly.
So it was that he ventured into still more uncharted territory when he decided to run for County Council in 2010 after the new government was formed to replace the scandal-ridden old system that had stamped so many tickets to prison. And so it was that the lifelong Republican took on a leading Democrat, Armond Budish, in the race for the top spot as county executive in 2014.
He lost the race, but that hardly is the end of the story. Strengthened by the support of his wife, Mary Ellen, to whom he has been married 47 years, Schron says he won’t stop “till they pile the dirt on.”
We talked about what he believes, what he does and why.
Q: You've said that Jergens "makes stuff that holds stuff together." A little more specific, please?
We hold things like parts and machine tools together so the part doesn’t go flying out during the machining process. We hold the speakers together at all the major rock concerts around the world. We hold hospital beds together. Our parts actually held together the hospital bed my dad passed away in. We held the missile to the underside of the wing on the aircraft Tom Cruise flew in Top Gun.
That’s our core. From there we migrated into distribution businesses. We sell all the things that support the manufacturing process — drills, cutting tools, all the consumables. We also manufacture one of the world’s most precise electric screwdrivers.
Q: Jergens was practicing lean manufacturing before the term was invented. Are you looking to take the
same philosophy of minimizing waste to government operations?
Would I like to see that happen? Yes. Do I see it happening? Not necessarily. But we have a project we’re in the process of doing, an ERP [Enterprise Resource Planning] system for county government. The go-live date for the first round is January 2018.
Q: Are you a driving force behind that?
This is something Ed FitzGerald [Cleveland’s first county executive] talked about in the campaign seven years ago. I would have been a much more significant driving force had I won the job [to replace FitzGerald]. It didn’t work out and that’s OK. I raised my voice about things like job creation and efficiency in government because if we can be more efficient in the way we run the government, we’ll have more dollars to spend on the real programs of government. I am concerned what will happen if we don’t get the efficiencies and effectiveness I think we should be getting.
Q: How will you measure the ROI?
These are the very questions I was asking when we were getting our first update on the ERP status in the Finance Committee. As of right now, no measurable goals, no measurable results, no commitments as to efficiencies or effectiveness have been presented to us.
Q: What are you going to do about that?
I’m going to do everything I can to hold folks’ feet to the fire. Realistically, an ERP system should show between 7 and 15 percent improvement in your operations. That should translate to new technologies and ways of doing things. Ultimately, if it’s successful, it should throw off dollars [to be used] for programs, not necessarily more dollars for processes.
Q: Do you believe that sort of practical business sensibility is one of your major contributions to government?
We went from a truly dysfunctional government to something that people were on the fence about. Would it work? People had suspicions. Were we going to be ethical? Were we going to be basically nonpartisan in our conversations? Were we going to have the objectives of all the citizens in play? I can say that we started out that way. My concern will be, is there a risk that we could return to go political?
Q. That’s a big question for a Republican on decidedly Democrat turf.
I want the elections in the county to be nonpartisan. That would eliminate some of the natural tension that develops between Rs and Ds. Cleveland is going to have a [mayoral] election in November. There is no R and D. Every judge who runs for office, there’s no R and D. Why should the county executive and the 11 County Council people not fall into that same category?
Q: But you took on the challenge anyway.
I asked myself, “Do I really want this in my life?” The answer was yes. You can’t sit on the fence.
Q: Where does your impulse to get involved come from?
I had a grandfather who was a Presbyterian minister for 50 years. He would preach one sermon in Hungarian and one sermon in English. Sharing and caring for other human beings is part of the DNA in our family. I watched it and grew up with it on both sides of my family.
Q: What role did your service in the military play?
I was chief of defense. They asked me what I wanted to do. I said I wanted to be a trial lawyer, and I wanted to be on the defense side. I wanted to help those folks who were on the tough side of the equation. Probably 85 to 90 percent of my clients on active duty were African-Americans.
aid something is wrong with this equation. Something doesn’t make sense. Why should that many of the total military be in my office as defendants?
Q: What’s your answer?
My answer is that there probably is an economic component to it. There’s a job creation component to it. There’s a family component to it. There’s a community component. Fix the job component, and it will go a long way to fixing the rest.
Q: Is there an essential truth you learned as an Army officer that helped shaped how you deal with those problems?
I learned that leadership is where everything starts and stops. Sometimes you’re dealing with a sergeant who’s got 20 years seniority on you. There you are, a 25-year-old, and you have to learn how to deal with that person. You have a superior rank, but you’re not a superior person.
That’s what I learned. Every piece of the military is important. Whether it’s the folks in the commissary serving food to you or whether it’s the folks in transportation trying to get bullets to you or whether it’s the one person out in front. It’s like a 6/7-to-1 ratio. You have one person out in front with the weapon and behind that person are seven people making sure that the one in front has everything he or she needs. This same ratio holds true whether it is the skilled machinist at Jergens making aerospace parts or the county support person providing help to someone in need.
Q: So it’s an approach to doing good.
Unfortunately, some people believe that doing deeds as long as you have good intentions is the objective. It’s not. I believe that most people have it in their heart to do good things. If we can do good things more efficiently and effectively, we can spread [the impact].
Q. As a servant leader?
There’s a great book called The Conservative Heart. It’s not the “compassionate conservative” of George Bush. This goes deeper than that. Don’t worry about what your actions are. Worry about what’s in the core. The actions will follow.
Q: Including using your financial
resources to serve others?
I love what my dad said: “You can’t take it with you in travelers checks.” We have sales offices in Mumbai and Shanghai. It’s when you travel to those other parts of the world and you see the poorest of the poor that you realize the blessings we have by living in the U.S.
How do we share some of those blessings, whether it’s outside the country or domestically or with our neighbors,
Q: And at Jergens?
Sharing must be through actions like our 30 years of company-sponsored blood drives resulting in over 3,500 pints of blood impacting 17,000 lives. Through a scholarship fund created for Cleveland Municipal Schools, students at Max Hayes and through a family foundation supporting the Salvation Army, Wounded Warriors, the Fisher House and many more community needs. One of our proudest ways of sharing has been these last two years to support the special needs children of the Mayfield Schools CEVEC program. Teachers greeted their students at our doors every day of the school year as Jergens became their classroom.
When you do things of that nature, it fosters other people to do the same