by F. Andrew Taylor
“We are one of the best companies in the industry,” says Mike Ebert, president of CEP. “I’m biased, but we really are. We have a rock-solid reputation for adapting to all industry scenarios, demanding quality and being very client centric.”
Despite the pride he has in the company, he has a deep respect for his peers in the industry and recognizes that it is a golden age for exhibition and exhibit companies. When the industry faced hard financial times a few years back, several entities had to shut their doors for good. Ebert contends that those that remained were flexible enough to reformulate products and services to meet the new industry tapestry.
“Everybody needs to be able to do design very well, and that is one of our strongest assets,” Ebert says. “Everybody ought to be able to build things really well, and we do…our carpenters are some of the best in the world. So, what defines success and how do you remain in the industry? Stay true to your unique position, visualize your brand, constantly strengthen client communication by listening and responding with solutions, and finally, building a strong company culture.”
He maintains that there is an ineffable quality apparent among CEP’s staff that outsiders recognize when they see the team in action or visit the offices. He says it’s something you can just feel; you don’t even have to talk to anyone to be aware that something wonderful is happening. He touts the fact that the CEP staff is totally focused, knowledgeable and always project prepared. “Five years ago, we set out to develop the best Standard Operating Procedures in the industry, which provide our internal teams with a consistent roadmap that can be followed in the dark,” explains Ebert. “And like any roadmap, there must be flexibility built in; our team knows that at times they might need to take a detour to get the job accomplished.”
“Maybe it’s because we’ve got a good mix of people who have been in the industry a long time along with some new people in the mixture,” Ebert says, “It’s like you have that great championship team where everyone gels. From every level, employees share a passion for servicing clients from all business categories…it is a shared vision based on pride. That’s where we’re at now, and it’s an enviable position.”
The company has been around since 1985 when it was founded as Chicago Exhibit Productions. It was built on “solid Midwestern ideals and a belief system that held high the concepts of relationships, accountability, value creation and family,” the company profile states.
Those principles are still an asset CEP’s staff and management are proud of, along with steady growth, an extraordinary rate of employee retention, an impressive client list in a diverse array of important industries, a nationwide presence and a global footprint.
Ebert came to the company seven years ago when Werner Koos, owner and CEO of CEP, felt the company needed some changes. Ebert quickly ascertained that there was room for improvement in communicating with and appreciating employees, collaboration across all departments, inspiring new ideas and self-awareness, focus on staff development and strengthening long range planning.
“The company had always set new goals and met them, but there came a time when our goals needed to be more aggressive to bolster the company’s financial position and industry leadership,” explains Ebert. “Werner said it was time for fresh ideas, organizational restructuring, new solutions and hands on leadership. He led the company exceptionally well for 28+ years, but realized that, change is inevitable, and that time was here. He recognized and appreciated my successful business management experience and I was recruited from Michigan. The one thing that stood out in my mind during our initial phone conversations were the questions Werner would ask were about my family. How were they? How would it affect them? How can we make it easier for them during the transition? When a man cares so much for an employee’s family, you will do whatever it takes to carry the torch. After so many years of guiding the company, ‘letting loose’ for Werner was a process he embraced from day one. He trusts his senior management to make the correct decisions…he trusts us as leaders.”
“When Werner hired me, I presented a long-term business plan and vision,” Ebert continues. “I’m proud to say we’re on track and in great shape. I’m very happy, with where we’re at as a company right now, but there is a lot more to accomplish. Our drive for improvement is never-ending.”
Over the years the company has expanded its operations in Orlando and Las Vegas by establishing full-service operations to meet coast-to-coast business demands. CEP LaborSource, their field services division which completes their integrated concept-to-installation offerings, has also been steadily expanding annually. Additionally, CEP’s international sector has grown dramatically. By offering one source, one point of contact for turnkey exhibition services, CEP currently has extensive business in more than 50 countries. The international division, led by Allison Trost, has created a strong foothold in international business through integrated procedures and great relationships in the international community. Global sales have tripled under Trost. Ebert sees expanded international business as a very strategic part of CEP’s overall plan and a major contributor to incremental sales for the company and adds, “Allison is an exceptional talent with an amazing connection to details, she will be a great leader for CEP well into the future.”
Ebert takes a special interest in all CEP employees, both personally and professionally. He fosters a healthy work/life balance that employees appreciate. He professes that a content and motivated employee has a much greater penchant of making significant contributions to the company. To display his dedication to employee esprit de corps, Ebert has instituted many internal employee programs including individual anniversary recognitions, employee appreciation days, seasonal parties and fun activities outside of work. He feels this type of support and recognition is a major contributor to team strengthening and success.
“It’s a magical thing that’s going on right now,” Ebert says. “I’m proud of CEP’s success, and especially proud of the people that wear the CEP brand so proudly. Stay tuned, there is a lot more to come.”
This story originally appeared in the July/August issue of Exhibit City News, p. 72. For original layout, visit https://issuu.com/exhibitcitynews/docs/ecnflipbook_julyaugust_2019_web