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Southwire Retains Its Entrepreneurial Roots

For over half a century, Southwire has produced metal. Under the leadership of Roy Richards, Jr., 41, and the ownership of a second generation Richards family sibling team, the company provides the wire that carries electricity in 25% of all new home construction and provides power cable to electric utilities throughout the world.

"We are a slow-growth, low margin, cyclical business," Richards explains. "We are about operating efficiencies, cost reduction, improving customer service, keeping up product quality--and always figuring out ways to do more with less."

Roy Richards, Sr. founded the big copper business when he couldn't get a supplier to sell him cable to fulfill his contact to install electric lines in rural west Georgia. Rather than quit, he found a way to make the stuff himself. Later, working with Georgia Tech engineers, he pioneered the continuous casting of copper and aluminum rod B providing a distinct technological advantage to the company.

And the Richards' family business has been innovating ever since. Despite the company's growth to over $1.3 billion in sales and 5000 employees, the founder's entrepreneurial spirit lives. The company owns more than 400 patents in 40 other countries. In an early 2000 ceremony attended by U. S. Energy Secretary Bill Richardson, Southwire implemented electrical service with its high temperature superconducting cable that delivers five times as much electric power as standard wire, using supercooled ceramic compounds for higher capacity and lower resistance. (The process is called "high temperature" because it works with liquid nitrogen at -321 degrees rather than the previously required -425 degrees employing liquid helium). This is the technology's first practical application.

The company also innovates internally and strategically. It uses the latest information technology and has developed online sales technology that generates over $1 million in weekly revenues.

Finally, the company innovates strategically. Responding to market pressures and self-imposed financial performance standards, the company reduced its workforce and moved away from capital intensive vertical integration by selling a smelter and a refiner.

While competing with public companies in an old-economy industry, the Richards family proves its stewardship through strategic change and constant product and process innovation.




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