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Spring 2011

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BY TODD NELSON

Quote from Elizabeth AbrahamElizabeth Abraham made her transition into the business world when she left the practice of psychology to go to the Carlson School. Abraham got her MBA in 1981, in the first class of what was then a new, two-year program focused on preparing students who were transitioning into a second career. She worked at Pillsbury and then in banking before she and her husband, Al, purchased Minneapolis-based Top Tool Co. in 1987. The company, founded in 1966, makes precision stamped microcomponents for companies in the medical, defense, energy, electronics, specialty consumer, and other high-tech industries. Top Tool has 30 employees and revenue of more than $5 million in 2010. Abraham, who has become a vocal proponent of maintaining a strong U. S. manufacturing base, is a past president of the Carlson School’s Alumni Board and recently made an estate commitment to support MBA scholarships. She recently shared some lessons she has learned:

1. Education and training.

We invest a lot in training. Continuous education is important because 20 percent of what we know now is probably going to be obsolete next year in our industry. If you don’t continue to learn and constantly change, you’ll be out of business in five years.

2. Surround yourself with the best people.

Some people are intimidated by surrounding themselves with others who might be better at doing something than they are. I feel just the opposite: The more I can find people who are better at doing things than I am, the more I want them to work for me.

3. Stay healthy.

Three years ago, driving back from Nebraska after visiting Al’s family, an 18-wheeler hit us, injured both of us, and almost killed Al. It’s taken him a long time to recover. Both of us were very healthy. If we weren’t, Al would not have survived.

4. Manage risk.
There’s risk in everything we do. The secret is in knowing how much risk to take for the reward. Not doing something also can be risky. About 10 years ago our company had an opportunity to get involved in platinum stamping. Platinum is quite expensive, something like $1,800 for a troy ounce. So there’s a huge risk. We now have become an expert at platinum stamping, and one of our major customers told us we set the standard.

5. Delay gratification.

Good things take awhile to achieve. One vision Al and I had with Top Tool was to have the company become a family-friendly, team-oriented, innovative place to work. This took a lot of hard work, education, and delaying some immediate gratification for future rewards.

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