Executives of the Year: A cuppa Joe for Terso

Heading into 2018, Terso Solutions CEO Joe Pleshek is as optimistic as the next business leader, but with optimism comes business culture considerations.

Now with 50 employees, Terso Solutions still manufactures and sells inventory-tracking systems for the life science and health care fields, but having moved to a new and expanded production facility in Fitchburg, it has experienced strong growth and market adoption for its inventory-management solutions. Its recent growth has been achieved with the help of strategic decisions made during the past five years, but now the company must find the workers necessary to grow without overtaxing its existing staff.

If that sounds familiar to businesses executives across Wisconsin, it’s because most every organization that is poised for growth, and actually wants to grow, has to temper those plans with the reality of the labor shortage, or what some observers call the body gap.

Smelling the coffee

Pleshek, who was selected as IB’s Small Company Executive of the Year, has been with Terso for 11 years, including nine as chief executive. He is credited with strong revenue growth, important strategic acquisitions, and the fruitful decision to enter the dental market with RFID technology. “Things like our technology choice in ultra-high frequency RFID — that was a major win for us that we’re now realizing benefits from,” Pleshek notes. “The other thing is we’ve really brought in and developed some great talent in the organization, so as these growth opportunities come up, we’re ready to meet them.”

Come celebrate with
Joe Pleshek and our other winners at the Executive of the Year Awards on February 15.

That readiness is the main worry Terso’s current employees have about the company’s recent growth. Would management be able to scale up its workforce enough to handle growing demand? Pleshek was able to detect this concern through his ongoing conversations with employees, including the “Cup of Joe with Joe” concept that he initiated after the company workforce grew to the point where Pleshek didn’t feel he was getting enough from large-group gatherings.

With its workforce growth, Pleshek saw the need to break up his staff conversations into smaller groups of 10 to 12 people. These meetings usually feature an open forum with no set agenda, and the transparent communication has provided invaluable feedback. “One thing I picked up, especially in the second half of 2017, was that as we’ve gained some large new customer contracts that dramatically will scale us upward in the next year or two, I got a sense from people that they were just nervous about how we were going to be able to do this,” he notes. “How are we going to be able to pull this off with the current staffing that we have? In my mind, it was clear that as we grew the business, we would continue to add new people, but I found that we needed to be a bit more definitive in our future staffing plans.”

As a result, the Terso management team developed a short-range plan regarding hires during the first half of 2018. “It always felt that we were going to continue to add resources to help them out, but that sort of eased concerns,” Pleshek adds. “It’s an acceleration of our staffing plan.”



Visionary future

The way things are going, that workforce ramp up cannot come too soon. Terso’s entry into the dental market is going well, especially with the growing dental needs of aging baby boomers. The company does business with three of the leading dental products companies — implants and the like — and eye care is another potential growth market as aging boomers benefit from products like intraocular lenses and other expensive products that Pleshek notes, “must be controlled from an inventory-management perspective.”

“We have a lot of large enterprise customers engaging us in the dental market, but also in other medical device spaces, and they are looking to start RFID inventory-management projects globally,” he states. “We also have a facility in Manheim, Germany, which is a subsidiary of Terso Solutions, that we started up about six years ago. To be able to say yes, we obviously have capabilities to help you here in North America, but we also have capabilities to help you in Europe simultaneously, as a small company, that really has helped us achieve those growth capabilities.”

Heading into 2018, there is a great deal of business optimism locally, statewide, and nationwide, and Pleshek shares that optimistic view. “We know with more certainty some of the projects and new customers that we have going, so I’m very optimistic,” he states. “I also feel a little bit challenged, as do other executives, about our ability to first of all retain the talent we have and also recruit people with more skills and talent into the organization to support that growth. It’s competitive right now to find really good people, so that’s the major concern — to support the operation that we have going forward.”

Great honor

Pleshek is described as a compassionate, hungry-for-innovation, emotionally intelligent, and humble leader who has raised the bar for other executives and those around him. For Pleshek, the Executive of the Year recognition is a great honor that means a great deal to him and the company as a whole.

“I appreciate being nominated by folks here in the company because that means a lot to me, and then to be selected by the judging panel of past winners is a real honor,” he states. “I’ve followed In Business and I’ve always held leaders that are recognized in very high regard, so it means a lot to me and, just as importantly, to the company and the employees of Terso.”

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