A Successful Succession

The Bales sisters have brought their family-owned company a long way since taking the reins in the wake of an unexpected tragedy in 2009.

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Stacey Bales and Sara Mortensen are active members of the Technology and Manufacturing Association (TMA), the American Mold Builders Association (AMBA), SPE and other organizations. Stacey Bales (left) also serves on the boards of the TMA, the National Association for Surface Finishing (NASF), Midwest Chapter, and the related Chicago AESF Foundation, and she sits on the TMA’s Young Leaders and Women in TMA committees

“Sink or swim.” That’s how Stacey Bales and Sara Mortensen described the choice presented to them six years ago, when their father’s tragic and unexpected passing left the future of the family business solely in their hands.

Given that the sisters lacked even a broad outline of Steve Bales’ long-term plans for the company then known as Bales Mold Service, that future seemed uncertain at best when they took over in 2009. Yet, they’ve not only proven to be up to the challenge of carrying on their father’s legacy, they’ve taken the provider of surface coatings, finishes and value-added services to new heights. For evidence of that, look no further than the fact that sales increased by 73 percent in the first five years since the transition (and all indications are that the upswing will continue this year, the company reports).   

However, increased sales hasn’t been the only change since the transition at Bales, which is headquartered in Downers Grove, Illinois and operates a second facility in Harlingen, Texas. To help manage the additional work, the company has increased overall staffing levels by 40 percent and invested in an ERP system to improve scheduling and track workflow. That’s essential because Bales is taking on more work these days. It's taking on larger work as well.  To facilitate both, the company has made the following upgrades:

-A second blast room has increased capacity for larger components, and the size of that department has increased by 20 percent overall to allow for additional blast cabinets and equipment.

-The polishing department has expanded a full 30 percent, and the planned addition of a 5-ton hoist will facilitate handling of heavier components.

-New nickel-plating tanks are 30 percent larger than previous equipment on the aluminum line, while the steel line’s new tanks are 70 percent larger. In addition to enabling the company to handle slightly larger components, this upgraded equipment is reportedly facilitating faster processing and reduced lead times.  

-The chrome line features additional rectifiers, and the planned addition of a 500-gallon chrome tank will increase capacity in this area by another 25 percent.

 

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The first new product introduced since Sara and Stacey took the reins is Diamond E.N., an electroless nickel coating with nano-sized diamond particles. Reportedly the company’s toughest nickel product yet, it plates at 57 Rc and reaches 70 Rc after post bake. Low coefficient of friction means it can take on wear and release issues all at once.

The sisters have also overseen some significant milestones in the company’s history during their short tenure. Recognizing their emphasis on environmental sustainability, the city of Downers Grove presented Bales with its first-ever Green Business Award in 2013. This year, the Daily Herald Business Ledger honored the company with its annual Award for Business Excellence in the Family Business Category. Based on nominations submitted by the suburban business community, this award recognizes organizations’ achievements, growth and community involvement (Bales donates Christmas trees to the zoo every year for local Girl Scout Troops, to name one example of the latter). Even more recently, the Society of Plastics Engineers (SPE) presented Bales technical services manager and long-time employee Harry Raimondi with its 2015 Moldmaker of the Year award (the same award presented posthumously to Steve Bales in 2010).

Sara and Stacey’s legacy so far also includes a complete rebranding effort, undertaken just a few months ago to honor the company’s path and reflect a bold vision for its future. As part of that effort, the name changed to Bales Metal Surface Solutions, which reflects a shift beyond the mold industry to cover all manner of companies experiencing problems with corrosion, release or abrasion. The new name is matched with a new logo, new marketing materials, a new website, and a new trade show booth design, all developed with help from a new partner, PR firm Red Caffeine.  

What accounts for all this success? The sisters are quick to credit others, such as Raimondi, for providing needed expertise and having their best interests at heart. They’ve also made a concerted effort to build up wisdom and experience by getting more involved in the industry.

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The Bales sisters aim to carry on the legacy of their father, Steve Bales, who passed away in 2009.

However, there’s far more to Bales' recent success than that. The sisters’ story reveals that their own persistence in the face of adversity and uncertainty has been just as important. That story, including more specific details about tough decision points and efforts to carry on their father’s legacy, is told in this 2012 MMT article. Written by Stacey and Sara themselves, it’s a particularly interesting read in light of how far they’ve come since. It also offers some good advice on developing a succession plan, which seems a particularly hot topic among moldmakers these days. 

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