At some point today, you'll probably touch one of Michael O'Connor's products.
It might be at home, when you mow your lawn. Or it might be at the gym, as you're doing reps on a weight machine. Or it might be at work, when you need to adjust your chair or desk.
Innovative Components Inc. 1050 National Parkway Schaumburg, 60173 (847) 885-9050 knobsource.com Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Best known product: Plastic knobs, locking pins, spring loaded pins Top Official: Michael O'Connor, president and founde
You don't notice that knob, quick-release pin, or handle on the various machines you encounter until you need it. But they're made somewhere, and the odds are pretty good that they were made by the Schaumburg company O'Connor founded 25 years ago, Innovative Components.
"Nobody ever thinks of our products, and when they do, they're surprised that they're made domestically and in Cook County," said O'Connor, president of the company.
Innovative Components produces more than 3,000 types of knobs, quick-release pins, handles and other pieces in the "quick release hardware" industry for more than 1,000 commercial customers.
"I've never really counted it, but it's a lot," O'Connor said.
The parts can be found on a wide range of devices, from lawn mowers and weed trimmers to office furniture and desk stands, automobile roof racks and bike racks or medical equipment like hospital beds and IV stands. O'Connor's customers include John Deere, Toro, Caterpillar and Stryker.
In fact, it was a lawn mower knob that got O'Connor into the business. A new product development manager at an aerospace fastener company at the time, O'Connor said he was mowing his overgrown lawn when a knob vibrated off his mower. He found the knob on the next pass, but not until after he ran over it, damaging both the knob and his mower blade.
"I said to myself, 'why can't they make a knob that won't vibrate loose off a lawn mower?' We make fasteners that won't vibrate off helicopters. Then I realized we can do this, but no one had thought of it yet," he said.
He designed a vibration-resistant knob and presented it to a lawn mower company, who loved the idea.
"I recognized a weakness in the marketplace where manufacturers were selling old technology, so I started the company and went from there," he said.
O'Connor said his company's strategy for growth focuses on selling his products to all companies in the segment that particular part is made for.
"If we sold to one company that makes widgets, we'll then call on every other company that makes widgets," he said.
"What we found was that when it comes to the simple components like a knob or plastic handle, companies that compete against each other tend to copy each other," he added. "That's how we marched our way through a variety of industries."
O'Connor also said the company constantly upgrades its equipment at both its plants in Schaumburg and Costa Rica to assure they have the latest technology in order to remain innovative and competitive. The oldest piece of equipment is about two years old, he noted.
The company also invests heavily in its employees. The average age of Innovative Components' 100-person staff is under 30, and many came into the company through an apprenticeship program O'Connor has developed in conjunction with local school districts and Harper College. They will recruit interns from local high schools, who get the opportunity to become part of the company's apprenticeship program when they graduate, O'Connor said. Apprentices are given a full scholarship to Harper College, where they earn an associate degree in manufacturing technology. With that degree, O'Connor said, they become a supervisor with a team of fellow employees they are responsible for.
Apprentices also spend one summer at the company's Costa Rica facility, where they learn to live and work on their own.
"We give young people an unusual amount of responsibility and authority early in their careers, so that they are challenged and they are having fun," he said.
The company also works with District 211's Adult Transition Program, giving special needs students the opportunity to be exposed to the manufacturing environment and learning a skill that can translate into a well-paying job, O'Connor said.
"That says so much to our employees and tells them about our culture as well," he said. "That we're interested in helping these kids in our community and it gives us all something to strive for."
It all translates into a work culture that gives all employees responsibility and authority to be a part of the company's innovation process, O'Connor said.
"We have a high tolerance for ambiguity and a high tolerance for failure, because from failure, people learn and get better," he said.