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As the largest member of a world-renowned group of firearms manufacturers that includes J.P. Sauer & Sohn and Blaser Gmbh. in Germany and Swiss Arms AG in Switzerland, SIG SAUER has grown to become an international leader in the firearms industry.
With a broad base of government and military clients that include the U.S. Navy SEALS, the Federal Air Marshals, the Department of Homeland Security and the U. S. Coast Guard, the Exeter, N.H.-based company has earned a reputation for quality and reliability, as nearly one out of every three law enforcement professionals in the United States uses a SIG SAUER firearm.
But when President and CEO Ron Cohen joined SIG SAUER in late 2004, the company – known at the time as SIGARMS Inc. – was in dire straits. “The goals were never clear,” he recalls. “It was a completely chaotic environment with no structure and no direction. It was a company on the verge of bankruptcy and about two seconds away from imploding. That is the perfect company for me.”
Repairing a failing company and transforming it into a global leader is the ultimate adrenaline rush in the corporate world, and it provides a sense of satisfaction that very few individuals get to experience. “What I like most in a job is the ability to take something that is broken, something that has potential, and putting it on the right course through a gut-wrenching process of hard decision-making,” Cohen says.
At the time Cohen joined the company, SIG SAUER had 130 employees with sales of around $40 million, but he saw the potential for something much greater. “Within a month-and-a-half, I let go of 99 percent of the top management of the company and brought in people that fit the mold that I was seeking,” Cohen says. “I was seeking hands-on executives who are driven to succeed because I believe execution is what separates good companies from bad companies.
“Companies usually don’t fail because of vision – they fail because they failed to execute the vision that they have,” he stresses. “On the other hand, we have a culture that is not afraid to fail. I believe if you don’t make mistakes, you don’t evolve. What I pride ourselves on is that we are as flexible as we were four years ago, even though we are four times bigger both in sales and in employees.”
Cohen’s goal was to create a more vertical organization. “Instead of focusing on how we can outsource our engineering and manufacturing functions to other companies, we brought a big share of our manufacturing and engineering on shore into New Hampshire. We believe that having engineers sit with marketing and salespeople under one roof creates flexibility, and it reduces the reaction time from market to product development and back to market.”
As a result, SIG SAUER has brought more products to the marketplace in the past four years than it has since it was established in the United States 25 years ago. “That can only be achieved by having a close-knit structure that allows all players in a company to dream an idea, design the idea, build a product, test it and then launch it into the marketplace,” Cohen says. “Our ability to bring new products to the table is one of the major success stories of this company.”
Cohen approaches business with a hands-on management style. “Some might say I’m a micromanager, but those who like my style say it’s refreshing to see a CEO who actually knows what his company is doing,” he says. “I want people from all different levels in the company to feel comfortable enough to come into my office and toss ideas around.
“But coming into Ron’s office is an experience,” he warns. “You need to know your stuff. He does not want to hear information – he wants new ideas; but beware, he knows what’s going on. I lead from the front. People see it, and I think it creates a certain spirit.”
Cohen is a natural-born leader in every sense of the word, and he likens this attribute to his Israeli upbringing. “Israel is a country with a lot of pressure,” he describes. “What that does is create a certain type of person that is driven, assertive and ‘in your face.’ I’m 48 years old, and I would say the five most important years of my life were spent as commander of a combat unit in the Israeli military in wartime from 1979 to 1984.
Although he studied at Technion Engineering School – known as the MIT of Israel – he says the military is what helped shape his career. “The military background creates a need to accomplish,” he explains. “You don’t say, ‘Let’s go, men,’ but you say, ‘After me.’ You lead by example. That is the nature of the army I served in – you learn how to overcome anything, and there is a drive to constantly move forward. There is a sense of ‘If we don’t move, we die.’ That’s a big part of who I am.”
As SIG SAUER continues to advance toward its goals of global dominance, its challenges have grown more complex, Cohen acknowledges. “I manage a company that is split into three activities: one in the United States, one in Germany and one in Switzerland,” he says. “Before that, these three operated independently. Now, I’m trying to unify the three companies to give them one product management staff, one product development staff and one marketing staff to blend the cultures and take advantage of each strength.”
Historically, the company derived 85 percent of its business from the United States, Germany, Switzerland, France and Sweden. “We have clearly defined our path to growth as being in emerging markets and developing countries,” Cohen notes. “We need to refocus the company resource-wise with the right staff, the right partnerships and completely revamp our product development to target those new markets. In doing so, we will double the business in the next five years.
“Another challenge for us is figuring out how to manage this growth,” he continues. “In terms of brand, we are considered the Mercedes-Benz of the firearms industry, but how do you grow Mercedes to be four times bigger while not losing your edge of being the quality leader? How do you grow without losing those parts of you? That’s tough. That’s a challenge for us.
“We’ve found that our brand strength overseas is just as powerful as it is in our home market even though we barely service those markets,” he points out. “It’s almost like an open invitation to go abroad and seek markets that are virtually untapped. If you define yourself as No. 1, you are stifling your growth because you already think you are king.
We define ourselves as a global defense player, and in that definition, we are nobody. This allows us to have tremendous growth without having to lower our pricing or compromise our position in the market.”