AERT CEO Tim Morrison on Staying Smart in Springdale's Business Environment

Tim Morrison, 55, joined Advanced Environmental Recycling Technologies as president in March 2008. He was named the CEO in August, succeeding founder Joe Brooks, who became chairman. Morrison previously held positions with OCI Chemical, Dow Chemical, Harris Chemical, Cytec Engineered Materials and Valspar.

Morrison earned a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from the University of Alabama in 1981 and an MBA from the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business in 2003.

What attracted you to AERT in the first place and what helped you to decide to commit as CEO?

My wife and I were in a hardware store when I first saw AERT’s decking product, and I told her that I really would like to work for a company that was able to have a significant impact on the environment while making a great product for consumers. When I visited the plant the first time, I met a very dedicated team and saw the potential in the company. Our family loved the area, I liked the challenge and the associates I met at AERT, and I saw great potential for our company, so making the choice to join AERT was an easy one.

The decision to take on the CEO role was a little more difficult. Joe Brooks and his family have led the company since startup and following Joe is a tough act. When I joined AERT, the plan had been for a smooth transition to CEO once the company was ready. AERT has a significant unrealized potential. We have been through one of the toughest economic periods the U.S. has ever known. Most in our industry failed to survive. AERT has been able to survive due to the dedicated efforts of our associates and the support of our shareholders and customers.

What is the best/smartest decision you have made in business?

The short answer is to hire and keep some tremendously talented people who were willing to work hard for our goals. The process was simple: Find people with talents and skills that I or my other team members didn’t have. Make sure they have a core set of values that will be respected by your team. Key to those values is honesty in dealing with customers, shareholders and other associates. Make sure they are willing to tackle conflict for what is right, but also value other people’s ideas. Make sure that your goals and their career goals are aligned. Then find a way to hire them. Teach them what they need to know. Then let them run and be successful, even if it isn’t exactly how you would do it.

Another good decision by our leadership team, one of the best, was to continue new product development at AERT even when AERT was struggling financially, to get our new product pipeline growing. We found local partners that were willing to lend talent and support. The University of Arkansas provided talent and advice. Community leaders stepped up with financial support. Many of our suppliers of equipment and raw materials provided equipment, materials and research time.

What was the worst business decision you’ve made?

In a prior business, my team was evaluating buying out a competitor. In the end, a strict economic evaluation made me recommend to our board that we pass on the deal. What I didn’t take into account was that the supply and demand for that product was almost perfectly in balance. When an unexpected outage led to a shuttering of another major competitor, the price of the commodity doubled overnight. Had we purchased the first company, it would have paid back the purchase price in months and my company would have been much more profitable. The lesson learned was that sometimes being too conservative lets opportunities slip by. More importantly, it taught me that sometimes you need to brainstorm the less likely scenarios to see opportunities that may be available to you.