Many small businesses distrust big business. So how was it that corporate-behemoth Motorola taught Bruce Bendoff's little company how to grow by trusting the giants it served?

Well, it didn't start that way. In the late 1980s, when Motorola announced that it planned to pare down its supplier base and turn the survivors into "partners," Bendoff feared that that was yet another ploy by a cost-conscious corporation to strong-arm its suppliers. Still, his sheet-metal-bending company, Craftsman Custom Metal Fabricators, in Schiller Park, Ill., had no choice but to start sharing its secrets with its huge customer: It depended on Motorola for roughly half its business.

Eventually, Bendoff started appreciating the benefits of the "unequal" marriage. With the two companies collaborating on parts design--from sketches on a napkin to shipment--cycle time dropped dramatically. "Something that took five weeks before," he said, "could now be produced in literally one or two days." And an adversarial, arms-length relationship slowly turned mutually supportive; Motorola even invited the Craftsman night-shift workers over to see how the company used its parts, and they obliged, roaring up on their motorcycles.

Bendoff was converted. In a fitful moment of bravery, he decided to make partnering a way of life, dragging his other customers and his own suppliers to the altar. The move was a good one: Craftsman has grown fivefold in the past decade, to $30 million in revenues.

Copyright © 1999 G& J USA Publishing