A casual conversation at a high school reunion changed Marcia Salsbury's life. She had befriended three brothers who became the owners of J.J. Kennedy Inc., a Fombell, Pa.-based ready-mixed concrete producer.
At the time, the producer was rapidly expanding and needed extra help. Salsbury was working as an accounting/business consultant. In her career, she had assisted a number of industries—trade associations, nonprofits, small businesses, and retail—but not construction. When her friends asked for help, she was undaunted.
What started out as a once-a-week consulting job has turned into a full-time position as controller for J.J. Kennedy. “The terminology and overall pace was a learning curve,” says Salsbury. It took her some time to get used to the “hurry up and wait” environment in construction. But there was little time to get acclimated. She needed to be up and running.
“In the four and a half years I‘ve been here, we've added three locations and moved one plant. We have doubled the size of the staff,” says Salsbury. With such growth, Salsbury needed tighter managerial controls. Drawing on her retail experience, she started implementing procedures to monitor the producer's cash flow.
“Sometimes concrete producers can be very unstructured when dealing with cash and receivables,” she says. Salsbury focused initially on the simple things, like establishing a system in which office managers were required to balance cash drawers at the end of each day.
Although J.J. Kennedy has been fairing well in difficult economic times, Salsbury believes extra constraints are always in order. A major change Salsbury made was to closely monitor accounts receivable. She bought an accounting software system to track receivables and flag those that were overdue. “We try to be much more diligent now,” Salsbury explains. “Which customer is at 30 or 45 days?" And she instituted an edict that when a customer's account is unsettled at 60 days, the account is closed.
Her experience has also provided a practical approach as well. Customer loyalty is important.
“You might have a very good customer for years, so when they lag in payments, you try to work with them. It's hard, but it will pay off in the long run," she says. To help give guidance, Salisbury provides estimated credit limit levels for contractors based on how long they've been customers.
Salsbury provides leadership in another way. Four of J.J. Kennedy's six plant managers are women. Three of the 42 drivers are women and the producer used to have a female quality control person. Most employees in dispatch, accounting, and human resources are women. She credits luck and the owners' interest in hiring a good, diversified staff that has drawn so many women in her company.
“They [the women] do an awesome job, and they're great workers,” says Salsbury. “They're also good multitaskers. They're very loyal and very dedicated. They love what they do. I never expected this industry to as interesting and challenging as it is.”