Russell McBroom, president and CEO of Mereen-Johnson Machine Company, studies a long-ago photograph of north Minneapolis. On land that’s now the middle of westbound Interstate 94 stood bustling factories, warehouses, and lumberyards piled high with wood.

McBroom runs his finger across the sepia-toned panorama to find the original site of Mereen-Johnson, a maker of industrial saws and woodworking machinery for customers who manufacture windows, doors, cabinets, millwork, and ceiling tiles. It’s located now at Lyndale Avenue and 44th Street North, just a block from where it started.

The company had a top-line sales focus rather than a margin focus.

 

Other neighborhood businesses have moved away or closed or both. The soft-spoken McBroom glances up from the photo and says, “All of these companies are probably gone. Few businesses survive 100 years.”

Mereen-Johnson nearly suffered the same fate two years ago, dragged down by a confluence of internal and external problems that might have closed its doors.

Then it hired Rick Lowenberg, a consultant with Alliance Management, Inc. He is succinct in describing the business of his locally based firm: “Alliance Management fixes companies. Then we move on.”

Lowenberg’s turnaround strategy enabled Mereen-Johnson to celebrate its centennial last year. The plan and its execution also earned Lowenberg and Mereen-Johnson the 2005 Turnaround of the Year award from the Twin Cities chapter of the Turnaround Management Association, an international nonprofit organization that promotes the corporate-renewal profession. More important, the turnaround made Mereen-Johnson—one of the few remaining American manufacturers of industrial woodworking machinery—a profitable and growing enterprise.

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