From Janitor to Factory Owner: American Manufacturing Makes a Comeback

Posted on March 1, 2012


No one could imagine more humble beginnings than that of a factory janitor who never went to college.  Tony Lee, after a stint in the army, took a job as a janitor at an Eaton Corp. factory in Massillon, Ohio in 1997.  Today, he’s co-owner of Ring Masters, a company that makes engine rings for industrial use, and his daughter is heading to college next fall.  Tony is hoping she’ll be the first college graduate in the family.  How did Tony rise from janitor to co-owner?  Well, it took persistence, resources, and a belief in American manufacturing.

Like a lot of U.S. manufacturing centers, Massillon has suffered from closed factories and thousands of lost jobs.  Tony was grateful for the opportunity to work as janitor and quickly rose to foreman after four years at the factory.  In 2002, Eaton started shutting down divisions of the factory, one by one.  Soon over 1000 workers were down to just 35 in Tony’s division, which was slated to be closed at the end of 2002.  But Tony refused to let the factory die, spending hours at the local public library studying.  Despite never going to college, much less business school, Tony wrote a business plan detailing how his factory could survive and prosper in a time when American manufacturing was going under.

Against all odds, he convinced a group of investors to buy the factory and keep it running. Members of the investor group and Tony’s co-workers all say they were inspired by Tony’s leadership, passion for the business and drive to keep it alive. Everyone, it seemed, was rooting for Tony to succeed.

Their confidence in Tony, however, came with a big catch: investors would only put money into the company if Tony could have a stake in it as well.  What did this mean?  The investors wanted Tony to raise $25,000 to buy a part of the company.  As most of the obstacles in his life, Tony Lee welcomed this challenge.  After taking a second mortgage on his house, selling his motorcycle and literally scrounging for loose change, Tony had the money and was in on the deal.  Actually he was “all in;” failure was not an option for Tony.

Today, 9 years later, Ring Masters is a thriving business with over $4 million in annual sales.  Tony has made back his initial $25,000 investment several times over and is part-owner of a growing business.  For anyone who’s ever thought “I can run the company better than my boss,” Tony Lee is an inspiration.

Success stories like Tony’s and Ring Masters’ are the result of planning, determination, and a little bit of luck.  At MarketMAPS, we help businesses with the planning part.  Whether you’re an up and coming business and you need help determining the most profitable area for a new site, or you’re an established business like Ring Masters and you need help organizing your customer locations, let MarketMAPS’ geographic-based solutions help you.

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