UToledo Family Business Center

Member Spotlight: Kripke Enterprises

Kripke Enterprises

Human Element Energizes Every Decision at Kripke Enterprises

One wall of the boardroom at Kripke Enterprises is devoted to an illustration of the periodic table — understandable for the business of a non-ferrous metal trading company. The primary element, though, is identified as the human element. The accompanying text reads, “While the elements of the periodic table hold the physical universe together, the human element, which cannot be mapped or charted, is the force that holds our spirit, our hearts and our commonality together.”

That’s been the guiding principle of the company since its 1993 founding by Larry and Joanie Kripke, building on decades of experience in metals trading shared by Larry’s brothers Harley and Bobby — first with the Toledo-based company begun by their father, then with Kripke-Tuschman Industries, finally with Omnisource.

Founder Larry’s son, Matt Kripke, now CEO, echoes the sentiment: “Maybe what I’m most proud of — and I’m proud of many things — is that the ‘Great Resignation’ of the Covid pandemic didn’t affect us. We had almost zero turnover. That speaks to our leadership team: Chad Kripke [President], Marvin Finkelstein [Senior Vice President], Andy Golding [Chief Strategy Officer], Scott Chaffee [Chief Financial Officer], Eric Phillips [Chief Operating Officer] and the rest of the senior staff.

“They let our employees know they care about them. Our goal is empowering people and helping them grow.”

Before that was possible, of course, the company itself had to become empowered and grow into today’s aluminum-dealing powerhouse with 70 employees and $260 million in sales last year. Larry Kripke’s own vision for the company was initially far more modest, Matt says.

“My Dad never wanted to work for a large company again; he just wanted to provide a livelihood for him and his family. His business plan was accepted by then-Capital Bank, and he was a year and a half into operations with just a handful of employees — when he got sick and was in and out of the hospital for about a month.”

Despite his reluctance to enter the family business and feeling out of his element after an earlier background in sales, Matt got his uncles’ blessing to “learn by fire,” as he says. “I’d talk with Dad in the hospital, he’d coach me — and we kept going. When he came back to work, I told him I wanted to join him. It hadn’t been a plan on either of our parts.”

Following the initial learning curve, Matt was restive. “It took me a long time to find my footing,” he says. “I didn’t have a good vision of what we could become, but I felt things were moving too slow.

“It was around 1998 when I approached Dad and said that I wanted something bigger; I wasn’t happy. As long as I live, I will always appreciate how he handled it. A lot of people I know in other family businesses had dads who would have said, Fine, no problem, don’t let the door hit you on your way out.

“Instead, he said, ‘I don’t want you to be here if you’re not happy.’ He recommended an organizational psychologist he knew, told me to see him, interview at other companies and then make my decision.”

The lesson Matt learned was “He was treating me as his son first, employee second. We were really small at the time, maybe five employees. I went out, looked around — and I stayed.”

Matt credits both parents for the family-first philosophy that underlines a company core principle of relationships: “Not just relationships with clients, but with employees as well. My Dad would tell our staff, ‘I’m going to take care of my family first, I want you to do the same with your family. We can adjust our operations to meet your family’s needs.’”

The company has impressively met its own growth needs, with offices in Florida, Tennessee and Baltimore, Maryland. Matt calls the company’s growth since 2001 “exponential.” As well, Kripke Enterprises acquired Mid-South Aluminum, with whom they’d had a longtime relationship. It’s been another mutually satisfying relationship, Matt says: “We’re happy that it’s helped us financially, but happier to see the satisfaction of all these other people who are now part of our team.”

And the ever-challenging Covid? It’s the reason the company, in the midst of pandemic-enforced economic doldrums, entered retail recycling. Matt notes the new pleasures, after the company’s history of 40,000-pound-truckload trade deals, of interacting with the general public. Not that the pandemic wasn’t an anxious time: “From April, May and June of 2020, our sales volume was down 70 percent. But we could look employees in eyes and say, ‘We’re going to be fine; our rainy-day planning will get us through.’ We recruited and trained new employees while other companies were reducing their staff. Three new salespeople we hired are now doing great. We also decided that metal markets, like the stock market, had taken a hit — but we bet on the future, used our new building and filled it with metal while others were freezing stock. That turned into a home run as well.”

He characterizes the company’s relationship with the UT Family Business Center as another big score. “I joined through my earlier job. I got involved in an affinity group and met people through whom I’m now on the board of Signature Bank. Another person referred our CFO Scott Chaffee to us; he’s been with us for 11 years. Relationships through the Center have been critical to our growth. Andy Golding, Eric Phillips, Dave Fisher our IT VP, Scott Chaffee — they all got involved in affinity groups.”

Matt appreciates the confidentiality that allows the sharing of ideas that have made the company stronger: “Senior leadership learn a lot from listening to others, but you learn even more by teaching others in an affinity group.” He and his wife are excited to involve FBC in their long-term philanthropic plans.

As the company reminds its people about the human element — its symbol is HU, its atomic number is Infinity. 

Back to Member Spotlight


Last Updated: 6/27/22