Marcia Untitled 11Heavy blow to light equipment manufacturer

By Marcia Gruver Doyle

In 2007, I interviewed Lynne Woodworth, then CEO and president of Stone Construction Equipment in the upstate New York town of Honeoye. When M&T Bank foreclosed on the light equipment manufacturer in early March, I revisited my interview notes: “You’ll soon find that this is a company that’s as passionate about their processes and their people as they are about their products,” I wrote after my visit.

A 100-percent employee-owned company since 1986, Stone was unabashedly egalitarian, Woodworth told me. “If you like status, Stone is not the place to work.”

“With an employee-owned company you have a committed workforce,” she said. “You can communicate the tough issues that come up and discuss your options. I find I get tremendous support because they know the decisions we’re making are designed to benefit the company, and they are the company.”

Which lead to a not always comfortable environment for leadership. “The type of questions you get from employee owners are very different than what other company leaders might get,” Woodworth said. “You do get challenged more. Your employees will question everything and certainly believe they have a right to those answers. Although it can be difficult, in the end, it’s a good thing because it really forces you to think through the validity of your actions and the rationale behind them, and whether or not they are ultimately good for the company.”

And Stone liked to point out it was one the few U.S.-owned light equipment manufacturers.

When the bank closed it down, the company had been in business for 45 years. In 2004, its FB1000 Stake Bed won one of our Innovation Awards. Stone and its leadership were always a mainstay at trade shows and industry associations. As this is being written, there are rumors another respected industry firm will buy Stone’s assets from the bank. That company will naturally have its own goals and strategies, ones that may not involve continuing manufacturing in Honeoye, or even continuing the Stone brand.

“You’ll soon find that this is a company that’s as passionate about their processes and their people as they are about their products.”

While M&T did not respond to my many inquiries, there are questions why the company wasn’t given the option of a Chapter 11. There’s speculation the bank wanted to get rid of the employee owners or get out of the construction industry.

But as one employee told me three weeks after the shut down, “It was a total shock. There was no real reason to shut us down. We took a big hit because our products are so tied to housing, but the bottom line was improving. They literally locked the doors.”

And a final comment: “I loved Stone and I loved what I did.”

There’s a famous line from the movie “Godfather” that has been bandied about since the film debuted: “It’s not personal, Sonny. It’s strictly business.” I’ve always disliked the saying because it’s inevitably brought out to justify unpopular decisions.

I also believe that when it comes to business, it’s all personal.