Meet Kirk Zehnder, president and CEO of Earnest Machine
What is Earnest Machine?
We are a wholesale industrial distributor of nuts and bolts, yes, literally. We import large diameter, high-strength, high-quality fasteners and sell through distributors throughout North America and Europe. We are focused on providing excellent customer service and an excellent customer experience.
How did you come to be an entrepreneur?
I have always had an entrepreneurial style to my life. The combination of being curious and questioning convention probably forced me into being my own boss. I did the t-shirt business for a while, had a brief stint in custom furniture and produced an independent film. My role at Earnest has been part renovator and part entrepreneur.
Why did you start your business?
My grandfather started the business in 1948 and my father (plus other family) ran it since the '70s. I closed my production company in 2001, got married and needed a job. I convinced my dad to hire me and in 2002 I began as the marketing guy. I thought it was going to be temporary and in less than six months I was all in and started renovating the business by taking it down to the studs. The business had so much potential and it just needed a plan. So, while the company is 64 years old, it has the energy of a start-up.
What resources/organizations here did you take advantage of and how did they help?
I joined the Cleveland chapter of Entrepreneur’s Organization (EO) and was immediately connected to a group of business owners who were my peers. There were so many things I didn’t know and I can admit it, I was afraid to ask. EO members have helped me build a better business, be a better leader and expanded my awareness how much I don’t know.
What are some of the advantages to doing business in Cleveland?
Cleveland is inherently authentic and when we decide to do something, we do it because we believe in it.
What advice would you give to someone starting a company here?
Get connected to people who are doing the same thing and ask as many questions as you can.
Can you share a funny or amazing entrepreneurial experience with our readers?
I heard a local CEO of a billion-dollar company talk about his experience. I was so engaged by it that I called his office and suggested that we get together to talk. Six weeks later I spent an hour with him in his office. I took a lot of notes.
What inspires you?
People who challenge the status quo of anything.
What companies or founders do you admire and why?
I really admire companies like Apple
because they are focused on delivering an excellent customer experience and boldly do it in commoditized markets.
What’s next for you and your company?
My focus is on building a team of only A players that can deliver great customer experiences, while creating simple systems that increase our capacities to grow.