Holy tech turnaround, Jabil CEO Tim Main hit the nail on the head with that one-liner.
When so many companies seem able to walk on water but later drown, how do investors and employees (much less business journalists) pick long-term winners?
St. Petersburg's Jabil, a contract electronics manufacturer, has shown some surprising resilience in a rollicking decade marked by the collapse of the Asian economy and burst of the Internet Bubble, ever quicker shifts in technology demand, the demise of industry rivals and the painful arrival of truly global competition.
Not to go overboard, but give Jabil a hand just for surviving, much less prospering. After all, here is a rare corporate animal: a private business that moved its headquarters here from the Detroit area in 1983 with a payroll of 600. Now it is a publicly traded company boasting 33,000 employees worldwide.
Ponder that growth rate. Jabil's work force is 55 times bigger today than it was 21 years ago. And in pursuit of lowest possible costs, Jabil workers who once worked exclusively in this country are now spread across the globe, from Guadalajara, Penang (Malaysia) and China to Brazil, Tiszaujvaros (Hungary) and Tokyo.
From a low stock price of less than $15 nearly a year ago, Jabil shares have since doubled.
Jabil executives pounded that bullish message Tuesday at the annual shareholders meeting held at St. Petersburg's Vinoy Country Club. For more news about Jabil and the meeting, take a look at reporter Jeff Harrington's story that starts on the front page of this business section. This column won't dwell on the details but try to look at how Jabil managed to grow against some tough odds.
When I first covered a Jabil annual meeting in 1996, the company was young and growing. But it had yet to grasp the coming tech boom fueled by the Internet, telecommunications deregulation and the proliferation of the personal computer. Tom Sansone, then Jabil's president, delivered remarks about the new "movement" by high-tech companies toward outsourcing some of their manufacturing. How quaint it sounds today.
A year later at the 1997 annual meeting, company CEO Bill Morean, the founder's son, stood to address shareholders. But he first had to wait while his mother gave him a standing ovation from the second row.
Times change. Jabil is maturing and less of a family-flavored venture these days. Morean has swapped his long hair and bushy mustache for trimmed locks and a precise mustache and goatee more befitting a member of the Forbes 400 list of the richest Americans. Morean's Jabil stock alone is currently worth a hefty $840-million.
What's Jabil's secret? Morean clearly took some risks to expand his company and largely succeeded. He inherited strong managers and manufacturing experts when he took over his father's business, and many are still there today. He found a strong CEO on his own payroll in Tim Main, who had joined Jabil in 1987 as a production control manager.
Ask Jabil for its success formula and its top executives cite the company culture. At Tuesday's meeting, shareholders watched a video presentation of testimonials by Jabil workers around the world. Employees such as Steven Yu in Huangpu, China, and Christian Hobiger in Austria spoke about a corporate can-do atmosphere that encourages efficiency and quality.
Moving jobs to the lowest-cost areas of the world is the easy part, Main told shareholders. The bigger challenge is creating and sustaining a single Jabil culture - reinforced by worldwide Internet webcasts and online training at "Jabil University."
That's what helped make the company successful, the CEO said. And it's one reason Jabil is not a big buyer of other contract manufacturers, whose cultures might not mix easily.
Traditionally, Jabil employs a "work cell" strategy that involves organizing its assembly workers into tightly focused teams. Each team produces products for and tends to one Jabil customer. That helps keep customers happy, and the modular set-up lets Jabil shift its resources easily as customers change.
"I think our culture is in great shape," Main told shareholders.
Kudos to Jabil. It's tough to succeed out there. But as an outsider who has watched many corporate celebrations turn sour, here's a suggestion: constant vigilance. There's always a hungry up-and-comer looking to take the trophy.
And another thing. High expectations are great. But go easy on some of the hype that appears in Jabil's latest annual report.
"We want to have the most satisfied customers on the planet," Morean and Main tell Jabil shareholders. Hey, don't we all?