America at work
This Manufacturing Company Teaches the Next Generation about Sustainability
Carrie Brooks | August 15, 2017

This month, we’re introducing some of America’s most inspiring entrepreneurs by interviewing all 18 finalists for this year’s Dream Big Small Business Awards. The awards program honors the achievements of some of our nation’s most remarkable small business owners and celebrates their contributions to the American economy. We’ll be spotlighting a different finalist every day between now and the Small Business Summit 2017, where the winners will be announced (register to attend here).

The company: Ecolink

Who’s in charge: John Roudebush

Where are they: Tucker, Georgia

What they do: Work alongside both businesses and government agencies to develop safer industrial chemicals. And involve students and young professionals in the process.

Q: What inspired the creation of your business? What problem does it help to solve?

Roudebush: Ecolink was  founded  in  1991  in  response  to  a  market  need  for  cleaning  fluids  that  did  not  deplete  the stratospheric  ozone  layer.   Impending  bans  on  production  of  ozone  depleting  solvents  created  a  great  deal  of disruption  to  the  power  generation  industry,  and  Ecolink quickly capitalized  by  achieving  approvals  by  General Electric  and  Westinghouse.   Ecolink immediately made a significant contribution to the global effort to repair the ozone layer.

Ecolink has continued to innovate in response to other environmental issues including air pollution and global warming. It is gratifying to have developed and sold cleaners and degreasers that solve critical cleaning applications in U.S.  Military as well as the aerospace and power generation markets.

Q: What barriers have you faced while building your company? How did you overcome them?

Roudebush: When Ecolink was started, all manufacturing, warehousing, and logistics processes were outsourced to a third party.  I  joined  the  organization  as  president in  2004  and  acquired  the company  in March of 2006.  Three months into ownership, the company that provided all of our third party support announced that it was going to abandon its facility and cease its partnership with us.  I had to quickly decide whether to identify another company to manufacture, warehouse, and ship my product, or to set up my own warehouse and find suitable manufacturing partners. Overcoming  this  challenge  was  simply  a  matter  of  systematically  identifying  new  vendor/partners  and  a  new facility in a timely manner.

By March of 2007, we had a fully functional warehouse and multiple manufacturing companies providing our production needs.   There  was  no  disruption in  the  supply  of  Ecolink  products  to  our customers. What’s more, 2007 was a record year for revenue and profits in the Company’s history.

Q: What is your proudest moment as an entrepreneur?

Roudebush: Among my proudest achievements is the fact that Ecolink weathered the great recession of 2008-2009 and remaining profitable without cutting staff. Additionally, under my leadership, the company received the Energy Conservation and Environmental Steward awards from former Governor Sonny Perdue. We also had the opportunity to travel with Governor Perdue on a trade mission in Dubai.

Q: Tell us about your company’s role in the community. How do you use your business to serve as a community leader?

Roudebush: We  have  a  long  history  of  investing  in  education  and  the  environment.  We see a positive correlation with education and environmental awareness.   Recently, Ecolink began to employ high school and college students to help launch our multi-million dollar product lines. Our hope is that our interns come to internalize Ecolink’s zero waste mission. We hope that students apply this in different environments, including schools, homes, and other workplaces. Outside of our work with students, our employees spread our mission through presentations at local, regional, and national conferences and workshop as well as webinars and online content.

Q: What does it mean to not only have created your own job, but to also create jobs for others?

Roudebush: I did not acquire Ecolink to buy myself a job.  I did it to make a difference in both my life and the lives of my employees.  Business ownership has given me greater ability to mentor young professionals.  Most of my career has been spent working in small organizations where I have been afforded the chance to wear many hats and to make a visible difference within an organization.  It  is  highly  satisfying  to  hire  and  mentor  people  who  share  that mindset.  I’ve been able to watch my employees grow both personally and professionally. Ecolink provides high-value jobs and strong benefits. I seek to hire and retain employees that yearn to make a difference and contribute to their community.

Q: How did you decide to participate in the Dream Big Small Business of the Year Awards program? And, what does it mean to you to be a finalist in this year’s program?

Roudebush: We were graciously nominated by the DeKalb County Chamber of Commerce, which also named Ecolink one of its Georgia Small Business Rock Stars. In fact, this designation inspired the DeKalb County Board of Commissioners to declare March 14, 2017 as Ecolink Day.

We are especially proud of this opportunity to showcase our public-private partnership with high school teachers and students. Being a finalist validates the value and practicality of working with schools. If just one company is inspired by our story and takes the leap of faith to partner with a school, we will consider that a victory, no matter the outcome of the award selection.

Q: If selected as the winner of the Dream Big Small Business of the Year Award, how will you invest the $25,000 grand prize?

Roudebush: If selected, we will continue to fund our year-round high school and college internship program. We will use the prize money to explore distance learning technologies in order to expand the reach of our program and collaborate with remote schools.  This program will help us to incentivize  our  customers  and  vendors  to  invest  in  their  local  communities  and widen the reach of cultivating tomorrow’s leaders.  In  addition  to  distance  learning,  we  will  continue  to  invest  in  our  online  presence  to  attract  progressive companies  open  to  similar  public-private  partnerships.

Q: What advice would you give to other small business owners looking to grow their business or someone who is just starting out with a new business?

Roudebush: In the words of Jim Collins, make sure you have the right people on the bus and in the right seats.  One thing I’ve learned  from  experience  and  other  CEOs  is  that  to  hire  slowly  and  fire  quickly  is  the  best  prescription for success.  Equally important is to have a strong business banking relationship and to work with a competent outside accounting firm.  Business owners should also cultivate a strong board of directors or advisors.

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