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Leader aims company at lofty targets

Chief executive Phil Dolci has led air gun manufacturer Crosman in Ontario County since 2012. (Photo by Kimberly McKinzie)

The CEO of Crosman Corp., Phil Dolci, says he is not one to beat around the bush.

“I’m very direct and have a pretty transparent style,” Dolci says. “You will always know exactly what I’m thinking.”

Dolci, 47, was named Crosman’s chief executive in 2012. He took the reins from Kenneth D’Arcy, who had led the company since 2001.

Dolci believes one of the best ways to help the business is to keep its employees informed. That means letting them know what is going well—and the areas that can be improved.

One of the first things he did when taking over was share all the company’s financials and its key objectives with the workforce. The transparency is having a positive effect on the organization, he believes.

“Most people here bleed Crosman,” Dolci says. “They want to know they are having a positive impact.”

The second thing Dolci did when he arrived on the job was put everyone at the company in a profit-sharing plan.

“We win, and we lose, as a team,” he says.

Founded in Rochester in 1923, Crosman designs and manufactures airguns and airgun ammunition, along with airsoft, optics and shooting sports accessories. Its clients are retailers such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Kmart Corp. and sporting goods stores. The company sells its products worldwide under the Crosman, Benjamin, CenterPoint, Game Face and Undead Apocalypse brands.

The firm moved to its current location in East Bloomfield, Ontario County, in 1971. Crosman employs 300 workers and ranked 25th on the most recent Rochester Business Journal list of manufacturers. In 2010, Wellspring Capital Management LLC, a private-equity firm from New York City, purchased a majority interest in the company.

Dolci connected with Crosman through a recruiter. He says the company is a good fit for him, as he has always strived to work for companies that focus on products.

“I wasn’t cut out to be in the services business,” he says.

Dolci grew up on the South Side of Chicago, where his father was a city police officer.

Originally, Dolci planned to study medicine but then decided to pursue a career in business. He received a bachelor of arts degree in economics from the University of Chicago in 1990 and went on to earn an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University in 2003.

Before joining Crosman, Dolci was CEO of Jarden Corp.’s Leisure and Entertainment Group and president of the U.S. Playing Card Co., a division of Jarden. He also was a vice president with Sanford L.P., a division of Newell Rubbermaid Inc., where he contributed to the growth of brands such as Sharpie and Expo. Prior to that, he spent 14 years in the food industry at ConAgra Foods Inc., Dean Foods and Kraft Foods Inc.

During his time at the other firms, Dolci worked mainly in the Chicago area, but with Jarden he was in the Ohio-Kentucky region.

‘Death marches’
At Crosman, Dolci spends roughly one-third of his time traveling, mostly to meet with customers around the globe. Crosman also has a small team based in Denmark as well as a warehouse and distribution center there.

Crosman’s international business is one of the fastest-growing parts of the company. The firm is the only manufacturer of airguns in the United States.

Because of the growth, Dolci places an emphasis on overseas travel. His colleagues jokingly refer to his overseas trips as “death marches,” since Dolci does business non-stop. It is not unusual for Dolci to fly into Paris, shower at the airport, get picked up by his general manager there and go straight to work, getting the job done in a few days.

When asked if he wants to have time to regroup after the long trip, he tells co-workers he slept on the plane and is ready to go.

“I can sleep anywhere, and I’m a big fan of naps,” Dolci says.

When he is not traveling, Dolci holds quarterly meetings with members of the management team at Crosman and conducts town-hall-style meetings each quarter to update employees on the company’s health.

He declined to disclose the sales publicly for the privately held firm. The business is in a growth mode, he says. Part of the growth comes from the continual introduction of new products, particularly those that meet regulations that vary by state and country.

Among the company’s biggest challenges is going up against competitors who care less about quality than Crosman. A superior product can often lead to more involvement in the sport, he explains.

Dolci does not believe it is always necessary to move manufacturing oversees.

Crosman used to manufacture about half of its equipment in the United States and half abroad; today two-thirds is made here, while the remaining one-third is sourced outside of the country.

“If you are good enough, you can do it here efficiently,” Dolci says.

Another challenge is continuing to bring people into the shooting sports industry amid protests from anti-gun supporters, whom he believes often paint the industry with a broad brush.

Dolci says there are many positives to the sport and a number of programs in place that focus on shooting safety, such as the National Rifle Association of America’s youth sporting programs and the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps. Crosman supports such programs.

Moving forward, Crosman will continue to focus on consumer education and work to decrease costs, largely through efficiency efforts. New product development remains important, as does continuing to grow domestically and expanding its international business.

Crosman is also looking at expanding into adjacent markets, Dolci says. He declined to provide additional details.

‘The right way’
Troy Shay, president of Jarden Home Brands, has known Dolci for more than 12 years. The two first worked together at Sanford; Dolci later recruited Shay to Jarden.

Shay refers to Dolci as a colleague, mentor and friend. He spoke of Dolci’s integrity, loyalty and business acumen.

“(Dolci) does business the right way,” Shay says.

“He is as well-rounded a business person as I have ever been around,” Shay says. “He’s able to engage at all levels, from the plant floor to the boardroom, extending out to customers and suppliers, as well.”

Dolci is also someone with high expectations.

“Phil sets aggressive targets that push people to be better and deliver better results than they think they can,” Shay says. “But it’s always done with a pragmatic view and plan to get there together as a team.”

While Dolci admits to being direct, he expects the same treatment from those with whom he works.

“I don’t want people saying what they think I want to hear; I want to hear what they think,” Dolci says.

If people are working their hardest to execute a plan and it fails, it is not the end of the world, he adds. As long as there is commitment, the team will adjust and move forward.

“I don’t expect perfection, I expect attention to detail,” Dolci says. “If we take two steps forward and a half step back, that’s pretty good.”

Robert Beckwith, Crosman’s chief financial officer, describes Dolci as a thoughtful and well-rounded leader who is able to empower employees. Dolci also understands all aspects of the business, from sales and marketing to manufacturing and finance, Beckwith says.

“He clearly communicates his vision for growth to all employees and ensures everyone works together as a team to achieve success,” Beckwith says.

Dolci also enjoys the industry in general.

“There are a lot of fun and interesting people,” he says.

The honorary colonel
Besides family photos, Dolci has only two things adorning his office walls. One is a sign highlighting priorities, among them the importance of family. The sign was a gift from a vendor years ago.

The other is a letter from the government of Kentucky naming him an honorary Kentucky colonel. Dolci received the gift because of his lead in moving a business across the river from Ohio to Kentucky.

The hardest parts of the job are dealing with Upstate New York winters and being away from his family.

Dolci divides his time between Ontario County and Ohio. He has a townhouse in Victor, but on most weekends he travels to his house in Cincinnati where his family lives. When Dolci took the job at Crosman, the couple decided it was best for Susan and the girls to stay in their home in Ohio, allowing their daughters to remain at the same school district.

He and his wife of 22 years, Susan, have three daughters: Juliana, 21, Katie, 18, and Elizabeth, 15.

A self-described morning person, Dolci says he gets more done in the first part of the day, though his schedule is flexible. He works out daily, either going to a gym or running.

In addition to spending time with his family and exercising, Dolci likes to cook. He especially likes to try to recreate recipes he and his wife have enjoyed in restaurants. His wife is particularly fond of a butternut squash risotto dish Dolci was able to duplicate after a few tries.

While Dolci calls himself “very social,” he eschews one form of social media, which he believes goes against his nature.

“I like hanging out and talking with people,” he says. “I want to be the last person on the planet on Facebook.”

Phil Dolci
Title: CEO, Crosman Corp.
Age: 47
Education: B.A. in economics from the University of Chicago, 1990; MBA from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University in Illinois, 2003
Residence: Victor and Cincinnati, Ohio
Family: Wife, Susan; daughters Juliana, 21, Katie, 18, and Elizabeth, 15
Hobbies: Cooking, exercise
Quote: “Most people here bleed Crosman. They want to know they are having a positive impact.”

3/20/15 (c) 2015 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.


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