We know that Maui Jim makes polarized sunglasses and the company is regarded as a great place to work, especially if you like to wear Hawaiian shirts.
But during the 39th McCord lecture last week at Bradley University, Mike Dalton, Maui Jim’s president, provided insight into what makes the company unique.
Introduced by Josh Lewer, McCord professor of executive management development at Bradley’s Foster College of Business, a tieless Dalton took to the podium to tell the story of the third-largest sunglasses company in the world, a firm that sells 110 styles in 100 countries at an average cost of $240 a pair.
After recounting how the company came to be, a saga that involves a Japanese vacationeer, Maui Jim (Jim Richards) and Walter Hester, Dalton rolled on to explain why an enterprise so focused on sun and fun is located in Peoria.
The answer is Peoria-based RLI Insurance is the largest shareholder in the company but Dalton admits Maui Jim looked at other locations such as Durango, Colo., and sites in Texas before expanding its operation here in 1999.
That Maui Jim chose to stay in the heartland is another example of how this company goes its own way, never doing what it’s supposed to do — except succeed.
Dalton was happy to reveal that Maui Jim has no five-year plan and doesn’t bother with contracts with suppliers. “It’s a handshake and away we go,” he said.
Maui Jim has no mission statement but Dalton would be the first to admit the company is on a mission to support its customers and employees.
The policy is to create customers for life, he said. Brand loyalty requires that phones be answered within 15 seconds — with real people — and repairs mad s happy, said Dalton.
As for the company’s employees, none was laid off during the recession, the president noted, adding Maui Jim tries to find what their people do best and then have them do it. What a concept.
Along the way, employees enjoy the in-house health club, the cookouts and occasions like Bonus Day, where the company’s HR people hand out Bloody Marys to folks in the office.
But the aloha spirit cited as one of the firm’s four basic pillars (along with product, customer service and retail/supplier partners) is not some gimmick designed to promote the company’s Hawaiian roots.
Dalton credits Hester, the Maui Jim chairman, for the philosophy that guides the company, adding the man hasn’t attended a single financial meeting at his own company for 20 years but will fly into action if he hears of a customer service or employee problem.
Dalton closed with an imposing graph that showed the company’s phenomenal sales growth. Maybe more businesses need to be handing out Bloody Marys.
Steve Tarter is Journal Star business editor. Tarter’s phone number is 686-3260, and his email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow his blog, Minding Business, on pjstar.com and follow him on Twitter @SteveTarter