Lott Industries: The CEO Fights for Survival
In November 2009, a year after the U.S. economy began sliding into a deep recession, Joan Uhl Browne, the CEO of Lott Industries, faced a looming crisis. As financial losses mounted, would she be able to save the company she had led for two and a half years? Lott was a non-profit organization in Toledo, Ohio, that employed over 1200 adults with developmental disabilities when Browne took over in April 2007. The case traces Browne's steps as she tried to replace the loss of over 85 percent of the organization's revenues, build a management team and create new, innovative products. As Browne and her management team pursued a business model of diversification and business growth, they viewed the Lucas County Board of Developmental Disabilities, which hired the Lott staff and controlled Lott's financial resources, as an obstacle to implementing changes. The critical decision was which strategy was most likely to be successful in assuring the survival of Lott Industries: to keep doing what Lott had traditionally done, finding contracts geared to their current employee-consumers' skill levels as well as innovating, or to focus on securing long-term, higher margin contracts that require the flexibility to hire employees who do not have developmental disabilities, but who can do the jobs. The all-out effort to save Lott Industries through 2009 included restructuring the organization, searching for any and all kinds of contracts, and developing in-house innovations, including green cleaning products and gourmet dog treats. Browne pushed ahead, but she found that the crucial support from her most important stakeholder, the Lucas County Board of Developmental Disabilities, was weakening. As the frustrations of managing the changes necessary for survival in an increasingly poor economy accumulated, the case begins and ends with the CEO contemplating the next steps she needs to take, and the likelihood they will be successful.