As CEO of the Sarasota-based stand-up pouch machinery and beverage company PPi Technologies, R. Charles Murray, 66, reacted quickly when the economy nearly collapsed in 2008. "Our customers suffered tremendously with the banks not giving them loans to buy our equipment," he says. "We had to become very creative and almost like a bank. Instead of a customer getting a bank loan to buy one of our machines for $300,000, the customer gives me a deposit and pays a monthly fee."
What is PPi Technologies Group? We are the largest stand-up pouch machinery company in the U.S., with about 35 percent of the market, and the leading supplier of ready-to-drink cocktails in stand-up pouches. I founded the company in 1996 and we now have a 45,000-square-foot building for machinery that can fill stand-up pouches and a 15,000-square-foot building for our beverage pouch business. We have 30 employees and annual revenues of $21 million. In 2008, we were named one of Inc. magazine’s 5000 top companies.
Your background: I am a chemist by training, with a degree from the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa, where I was born and grew up. My first job was in explosives. I worked for one of Alfred Nobel’s dynamite companies. But there was an explosion, so I decided to move on and work in breweries. I became director of the largest packaging company in South Africa. In 1978, I attended a program at Michigan State University and did a presentation on packaging. I liked America and moved to Chicago, where I bought a small packaging company. But we hated the weather and decided to relocate to a climate identical to South Africa. We moved to Sarasota in 1991. I worked for a local pouch machinery company for five years before I started PPi Technologies. I generally come to the office at 7 a.m. and work until 6 p.m.
Your leadership style: I try to work with employees. [For example], if I have a top employee who comes to work late every day, I can get rid of him or change the working hour, so he comes in at 9 a.m. instead of 8 a.m. I prefer to change his hours. That makes him happy, and we have solved the problem.
How you communicate: Sometimes I will put an idea on a napkin and someone reads the napkin and makes it happen.
What you do best: Getting the best out of each person. Each one has a strength, and I want to grow that. My son has been in the company for 10 years, and he is now president. My nephew runs the sales group and a second nephew has started. This year my grandson, 14, has his first job in the factory. He will work this summer about two hours a day. I want to show him where pocket money comes from. He has already looked up the minimum wage and told me how much I have to pay him.
What you don’t do well: I don’t tolerate fools very easily.
Any big mistakes? We invested in a German machinery company and thought they would never go bankrupt. But they did. The father retired and the son took over and destroyed a 25-year-old company. We were left holding the pieces. What we did was find the ex-employees and tell them that if they would buy the company, we would be their customers and help them put it all back together. It took two very tough years and many sleepless nights.
Goal in five years: We want to be a $30-million-a-year company again, as we were three years ago. Our hope is to fully expand the beverage side of the business. We want to be in 30 states, compared to eight now, and 10 countries, up from three now.