In 2013, 70 employees of an Ontario County company were in fear of losing their jobs. And those fears were not unfounded. Z-Axis, which makes electronic circuit boards, was up for sale, and the leading contender to buy it was not likely to keep the plant, and those jobs, here.
But behind the scenes, plans were being made to keep the company local. And little did the employees know, the new owner of the company would be one of their own, Michael Allen.
Allen, an electrical engineer, was the first person hired by the company's founder in 1989. That founder eventually sold the company to a new owner, who eventually named Allen to run the operation. But when rumors started flying five years ago that the company was going to be sold again, the worrying began. Seeing strangers in suits touring the plant floor, workers knew a sale was in the offing and their jobs could be in jeopardy.
“You're very unsure about what's going to happen,” says Bob Fox, who was the second employee hired by the original owner. “Are they going to buy the company and move it someplace else? Am I still going to have a job?”
While workers fretted over their futures, Michael Allen was working on being more than just the boss. He wanted to make sure the plant, and its workers, remained in Phelps.
“I wanted to start an electronics company when I was in high school,” says Allen. “I knew it was in my future.”
So Allen took a leap of faith, and bought the company.
“The first thing to do is talk to your wife about putting the house on the line,” Allen recalls. “Then you go get a second mortgage on your house that was bigger than your first mortgage. And you sign over your cars and the vacant lot next door.”
Allen worked closely with the Ontario County Economic Development Corporation to secure the loans needed to make the deal happen. Then he delivered the news to his co-workers.
“I stood in front of them and informed them that the business had been sold," says Allen. "Then I informed that my wife and I were the buyers. And there was a clap from the entire crowd of people.”
Allen says the company’s strategic plan is basic: Satisfied customers and satisfied employees lead to growth and profitability. Under his leadership, including several years before he bought the company, Z-Axis has grown from 25 to 80 employees. Allen, named the state’s Small Business Person of the Year in 2016, would be the first to pass along a lot of the credit to them.
Workers at Z-Axis joke that Allen treats the company like one of his children. He has two daughters, by the way, and both have joined the family business.