American Associates International is a company that specializes in coordinating outsourcing between international manufacturers and major domestic labels. The company was founded by an industrial engineer in the 1960’s with Mr. Zeanah inheriting the business in the 1990’s. The company provides large companies with design solutions to their product needs, with coordination provided to the foreign manufacturers. They employ 11 industrial engineers to facilitate product design and manufacturability, yet they own no production facilities of their own, instead relying on a large network of suppliers to create each needed component. These components can run into quantities of the hundreds of thousands, depending on the client. They take this approach so that they can keep up with changing labor markets and standards in manufacturing practice.
Mr. Zeanah began at UTK as an industrial engineering student and took an internship with the company. He later began working full time for them, and headed up a successful portion of the company for a time. When the company began to experience financial trouble, he was asked to become the CEO of the company. In exchange for his acceptance of the CEO position, the current owners had to agree to leave the company, making him the sole proprietor. The owners accepted, and he quickly returned the company to profitability by changing the focus of the company to a certain few topics that they were naturally good at, such as coordinating between companies and designing solutions. In this respect, he is not a typical entrepreneur as we have experienced in the past. He did not create the company, but instead inherited the company and returned it to profitability, no small task in and of itself.
From his experience, he had some words of wisdom to convey to us. In any business, we should seek to align ourselves with our customers. We should attempt to build friendships with customers, not just turn them into clients. A good friendship can result in a very good business. Another important lesson was to listen. A niche in the market may be identified by simply listening to the complaints of corporate executives, so take every opportunity to listen to those above you, because we just might learn something.
This concludes the series on local Knoxville entrepreneurs and their stories. I have found this project very informative should I ever seek to create my own business, but they are not only useful for entrepreneurial success, these words of wisdom are valid for any profession in any field. I aim to apply them in my future jobs to the fullest extent possible.