Inheriting a challenge to keep the business going

When her husband died nearly a year ago, When her husband died nearly a year ago, Jane Cardinale took over Busse Hospital Disposables, which the couple had planned to sell. Staying the course at the Hauppauge business hasn't been easy. (March 12, 2013) Photo Credit: Newsday / Audrey C. Tiernan

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When Emanuel Cardinale died last May, his wife, Jane, found she couldn't do what they had planned: sell his business.

But staying the course hasn't been easy. The Hauppauge-based firm, Busse Hospital Disposables, which sells a range of products such as suture kits and soft-tissue biopsy trays, saw its revenues decline by more than 12 percent last year, to $28 million from $32 million in 2011.

Equipped with an 82,000-square-foot factory, a 29,000-square-foot sterilizing facility and three trucks, Busse lost business, including a large distributor, to suppliers hawking lower-priced imports. To compete, the firm, through the years, has stepped up its own importing efforts, and products from overseas now represent 25 percent of Busse's 400-plus offerings.

"I could've sold the company and had no headaches," said Cardinale, 59, Busse's president. But she worried about the fate of her employees, who are like family to her. "There are a lot of couples working here and single mothers," she said. Last June, she cut her salary 30 percent, not only to reduce costs but to show her commitment to her employees.

WAYS TO EXPAND

According to experts, Cardinale can improve her firm's fortunes in a variety of ways, ranging from expanding the sales team to empowering workers to improve products and processes.

Currently, Busse, whose customers include distributors, hospitals and medical practices, relies on 10 employees and an independent rep to sell its wares. Their efforts focus on a territory stretching from the East Coast to Chicago, although Busse has customers nationwide and exports to places as far away as Dubai and Australia.

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Herbert Greenberg, CEO of Caliper Corp., a Princeton, N.J.-based human resources consulting firm, believes Busse could benefit from an expanded sales force. Rather than hire more employees and increase overhead, the company should assess each worker's strengths, he said, to find people who "might have tremendous sales ability."

Employees are often "misemployed," he said, in jobs "not best suited to them, costing companies a fortune."

Allan Ashley, professor of operations, supply chain management and decision sciences at Adelphi University's Robert B. Willumstad School of Business, said given Cardinale's concern for her employees, Busse is a good candidate for the  Toyota Way, a managerial model that helped the automaker marshal workers' support to build products "considered the best in quality, reliability and safety."

The approach, which requires a "participatory culture," involves organizing employees into teams to provide input on lowering costs and improving quality.

"It's in employees' best interest to help [Cardinale] do that so that the company becomes more competitive and they have more security in their positions," said Ashley.

Cardinale said Busse is "always improving its products and customer satisfaction, and if anyone has a good idea, we're always open to it."

FOCUS ON COSTS, SALES

Under her watch, Busse has already taken several steps to cut costs and boost sales. Last July, it reduced its workforce from 300 to 280. And in a move to avoid additional layoffs, it curtailed its workweek from five to four days while extending the workday by an hour. Employees work four fewer hours a week, which translates into a savings of $26,000 a month, or $312,000 a year.

"These changes had to be made for us to become more competitive in the marketplace," said Cardinale.

In December, Busse became certified as a woman-owned enterprise by the Women's Business Enterprise National Council; Cardinale has applied for similar certification from New York City and New York State. The designations help when government requires contractors to give a percentage of work to women- and minority-owned firms.

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Cardinale's arrival at Busse represents a return of sorts. Nearly 40 years ago, she served as administrative assistant to her future husband; Emanuel Cardinale was a minority partner in the firm then. He later bought out founder Robert Busse.

"I have to make this work," said Cardinale, whose husband died of pancreatic cancer at the age of 72. "There are too many people whose lives are depending on this."


AT A GLANCE

COMPANY: Busse Hospital Disposables, Hauppauge

OWNER: Jane Cardinale

FOUNDED: 1964

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EMPLOYEES: 280

2012 REVENUES: $28 million

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