Crane Group is determined to be a family business into the fourth generation.
It took Tanny Crane's father three years of weekly phone calls to persuade her to join the family business. In the three decades since she finally relented in 1987, the company has grown far beyond its roots as a plastic products manufacturer, and Crane herself has become one of the city's most respected corporate leaders.
What hasn't changed within the company started in 1947 by her grandfather, serial entrepreneur Robert S. Crane, are its core values.
Tanny Crane and her cousin, Mike Crane, have been diligent about making sure their leadership is consistent with how their fathers, Robert Jr. and Jameson “Jim” Crane, respectively, managed the company their own father began. Bob Jr. died in 1992.
“Mike and I talk all the time about this foundation that our grandfather and our fathers have built. We're just trying to add to that foundation to make sure that it's sturdy enough and enduring enough for the next generation,” the Crane Group president and CEO says. Her cousin and partner in the family business is president of Crane Group Companies.
Family business survival is never assured and gets trickier as time passes, with only 3 percent passing on to a fourth generation. The third-generation cousins “are committed to passing the torch, so we're continuing to build those blocks to make sure that foundation is sturdy and strong and stronger than we received it for the next generation,” Crane says.
While expanding business interests into new and diverse areas, the longest-serving female member of the Columbus Partnership is also committed to building community—especially in the South Side neighborhood where the family business began.
Six core values anchor Crane Group and its various interests and investments. The values were not explicitly handed down by brothers Bob Jr. and Jim, but Tanny and Mike pulled the list from notes their fathers kept of quarterly meetings with staff working all shifts of the 24/5 manufacturing plant.
“My dad and my uncle would have shift meetings every quarter. … That would be their opportunity to talk to their associates about what was going on, new customers and projects. They wouldn't use the words ‘core values,' but they would talk about their principles,” Crane says.
As part of strategic planning in the 1990s, she and her cousin “went back through all my dad's and uncle's shift meeting notes for decades. We really wanted to make sure that we were communicating the principles that my father and uncle had built. We wanted to make sure that we weren't on the wrong track. It was such fun to read through all of those notes.”
The values are now ingrained, and Crane needs no notes to relate them.
“Treating every single associate and customer with respect and dignity is number one,” she says. “Two, and really built strongly by our fathers, is communication up and down and throughout our company,” she adds.
Communication became especially important in the 1960s as the company withstood two unionization attempts. “They never got to a vote because even back then my dad and my uncle really believed in open and honest communication, and everyone was treated like family, which is another core value.”
The union talk had impact that has lasted since the '60s. “If there was ever a question, it would go up on our bulletin boards. We had suggestion boxes, and from those two union attempts—my dad used to always talk about it—he never forgot that and wanted to make sure communication was at the top of our list in terms of our values, because he didn't want to have anyone have to live through that. So we've always been transparent with our associates—about financials, about where we stand on thoughts and ideas and wanting to hear from them,” Crane explains.
The third core value is that the company operates as one team and treats associates “like they're family, because they are family,” Crane says. That remains important even as the total number of employees now exceeds 1,000 with the acquisition last summer of a majority interest in Pet Paradise, which operates pet boarding, grooming, day camp and spa services at 28 pet resorts across the southern US.
Pet Paradise employs more than 700. Crane Group headquarters in the former Belmont Casket Building in the Arena District houses 35, with more than 300 in other Crane companies. Crane Renovation Group brands include Able Roofing, Mr. Roof, Contractors Inc. and Responsiv Disaster Recovery. Rounding out the Crane Group companies are Crane Materials International, Sensit Technologies and Screen Machine Industries. There is also Crane Investment Company.
The focus on values extends not only to companies Crane Group has acquired but also to those it has sold.
“Our core values even hold and hold more strongly when we've sold companies,” Crane says. “That is as important to us as acquiring a business, that we so value our associates that our only reason to sell is to make sure the people who buy them improve their well-being.”
It was 2011 the first time a Crane company was sold. As part of post-recession planning, Boston Consulting Group was brought in to help the family and company executives envision the future of Crane Group.
“We were really wed to building products, and even though we have a portfolio of investments, so many of them all went back to building products, so we started a strategy of kind of recalibrating and looking ahead,” Crane recalls. “We sold our siding company, we sold a company that we had grown organically called Timber Tech, which was one of my babies. … And then we sold our legacy Crane Plastics business to the management team. They're still on the South Side, which is fantastic.”
In each case, “we wanted to make sure the company that bought them had the same core values, that they would keep the headquarters, would keep the business where it is and they've held true to that,” she adds.
“So our Timber Tech business is still in Wilmington; still has hundreds of employees. It's growing. And our siding business is still on the South Side of Columbus; still growing. And our Crane Plastics business is right across the street from that,” Crane says.
As Crane Group has moved away from its heavy focus on building products, fast-growing service industries of interest to the fourth generation, such as healthcare and pet care, have moved onto its radar. Crane says she, too, is fascinated with “the humanization of dogs.” The trend struck her when she was out of town for the wedding of her best friend's daughter.
“We were in Jackson Hole and I was sitting in the kitchen watching these bridesmaids Skyping their dogs; Skyping their dogs and crying.”
Fourth on the list of core values is being a great workplace. “We want Crane or Pet Paradise or Sensit to be the best place you ever worked. So we do associate surveys every year and a half, and we really, really care that people, when they go home at night, they talk about (how) they love what they do and they tell their friends; we want them to come work with us as well,” Crane explains.
“The next (core value) is share the rewards of the company,” she says. “We've had profit-sharing since 1969, and it was really emulated from Emerson Electric but also Worthington Industries. Dad and John McConnell and Jim Crane were dear friends, and Dad sat on Worthington Industries' board and we share a lot of their same values and profit-sharing, sharing the rewards.”
The six Crane Group core values are not in a priority order. “The last and to me one of the dearest,” Crane says, “is being community stewards and really sharing our success with the community and making sure the community is successful. Going back to something Dad would always say, Columbus has been so good to us over all these years that we have a responsibility to give back to the cities where we are; now that's a lot more than just Columbus.”
The family and company's dedication to community runs so deep that it was institutionalized in 2005 with creation of an initiative, Crane On Board, to encourage associates to take active roles on the boards of local nonprofits. Now, 45 company leaders serve on more than 75 boards.
Crane herself is heavily involved with several nonprofits and loves to tell visitors about the work underway with more than a dozen organizations that have a vital presence at Reeb Community Center, a former elementary school at 200 Reeb Ave. on the South Side. Renovation of the center was undertaken at the urging of then-Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman, with Crane and Donato's Pizza Chairwoman Jane Grote Abell heading it up.
Coleman was concerned about unemployment, poverty and housing on the South Side and reached out to Donatos founder Jim Grote, appealing to his roots as a Southender. Grote turned to his daughter, and she brought in Crane. The two had known each other from other community involvement but had not really worked together. “We have become the best friends and such advocates and cheerleaders for what Reeb Avenue Center has become,” Crane says.
The center opened in September 2015 and now houses more than a dozen agencies that provide services to educate children and adults, help the unemployed find work, provide healthy food options to the community and build neighborhood pride.
Crane is at the center regularly and is energized by the community-building work underway. “We've been open for a year, and there's 14 nonprofits there. It's all about education and workforce, and Jane Abell and I and hordes of others are so committed to improving the lives of our neighbors.”
Mentioning any one of the agencies can launch Crane into a story about how it came to be at the center and what it does for those it serves. She credits Matt Habash, executive director of the Mid-Ohio Foodbank, with spurring creation of Roots Café instead of the soup kitchen that was planned.
“Matt Habash came forward and said—this was at the last minute during construction—there are soup kitchens really all around. What we need is fresh food for this community.” A foodbank farm two miles south of Reeb provides fresh produce, while a foodbank executive chef runs the pay-as-you-can café that Crane claims serves meals to rival Lindey's. The café also makes healthy snacks for the center's preschoolers and cooks dinners of fresh food for youngsters who frequent the Boys and Girls Club upstairs.
Even staffing of the café is part of its community-building mission, Crane explains. Unemployed men and women from the neighborhood are taught job skills in a 60-day training program while working in the kitchen, as servers or in other positions. Completion wins assistance in landing jobs, which has had Crane and Abell making personal visits to major Columbus employers such as OhioHealth and Huntington in search of openings.
The Reeb center is Crane's current focus, but her community service began soon after she moved back to Columbus to accept her father's invitation to work in the family business.
“Just a block south of us was Koebel Elementary School, a Columbus city school, and I started tutoring. And I tutored there for five years; every week, the same 1st grade class; Allison Crawford's class,” Crane recalls.
As her own two daughters began reading, she noticed a pronounced disparity in abilities with those she tutored at Koebel. She realized Koebel children's family circumstances weren't as stable, reflecting the challenges some face in impoverished urban areas.
“I became passionate about how to close that gap. … I became kind of this evangelist about early learning for urban kids, and that's just lasted my entire career,” Crane says.
Mary Yost is the editor.