Of course, you all remember that scene of Tom Cruise air-guitaring in his living room to the tune of “Old Time Rock ‘n Roll” in the movie Risky Business. And no doubt, there a few more scenes that come to mind in recalling the 1983 comedy (Was it really that long ago?) 

Bernie Pacyniak
Bernie Pacyniak

But I’m not here to reminiscence about flicks from the past, although that’s fun all onto itself; I’m exploring the topic of risk-taking in business. Earlier this month, I had a chance to interview Craig Leva, president and ceo of Arway Confections in Chicago.

We featured Arway in our 2008 August issue, a time when the company was doing about $20 million in sales and Leva was vice president and a partial owner of the company. During the next five years, Leva was able to purchase the company outright from his step-father and nearly double sales to the tune of $35 million.

Adhering to his “perfect triangle” philosophy, one that focuses on keeping customers satisfied, suppliers well taken care of and employees happy, Leva found himself on a double-digit growth curve hard to duplicate.

As Leva and his close confidants, Rick Johnson, general manager, and Rick Perkins, sales manager, explain, “It’s really not rocket science.”

No, but it does have a lot to do with respect.

It first begins with respecting the process. There had to be a commitment to quality sourcing of ingredients, an understanding of the processing involved, an appreciation of the individuals involved in doing the work or processing, and a critical evaluation of the items produced and packaged.

Then comes the part about respecting customers — the raison d’etre for being in business. It starts with meeting their demands and then continuing forward with exceeding their expectations. Not always easy today with individuals and businesses stretching out payments, negotiating down prices and/or changing parameters midstream.

And then there’s the part about respecting suppliers. Without the ingredients, without the equipment, the packaging, the services, it would be mighty difficult to run a business. More importantly, it’s surprising how much love suppliers provide in return when they find a customer who respects them.

So here’s Leva, actually beginning to reap the rewards of respect when he encounters another R word in entreprenuerialship: risk. 

Arway Confections
Craig Leva, Arway Confections' president, holds some seasonal Long Grove Confections products in front of the covered bridge in Long Grove, Ill. 

As we and others have reported, Arway Confections purchased Long Grove Confections last month. The September issue of Candy Industry will provide you with a fascinating behind-the-scenes account of just how the deal went down.

In that accounting, you find out how Leva had to make a decision without proper due diligence whether he should or shouldn’t acquire Long Grove. No matter how you add up the pluses and minuses, it was a risk.

Given Leva’s track record and personality, I’m confident this acquisition will work well for Arway. I also know he’ll be very busy during the next several months integrating the two operations. As anyone who’s ever gone through a merger or acquisition knows, the process is often unsettling and unpredictable.

But given Leva’s understanding of how respect factors into running a business, including a respect for risks involved, I wouldn’t be surprised if the company continues its growth surge.

In reflecting how the Long Grove opportunity unfolded, Leva says he feels great about the outcome.

“I had been looking for the next step, and really didn’t know what it would be, what the next chapter for Arway would be. In the end, Arway and Long Grove are a great combined entity.”

By the way, Risky Business turned out to be a classic.