Alex Josefson is third generation president of oil business
Spectro Performance Oils has been part of Alex Josefson’s life since he was born. It seems there’s a chance some oil might even flow through his blood.
Josefson was the first grandchild of Spectro founder Robert Wehman, and by the time he was born, Spectro had become a real family business. In addition to his grandfather, Josefson’s grandmother Barbara Wehman, father Thomas Josefson and uncle David Miller were all full-time employees, and his mother Barbara Wehman Josefson worked at Spectro full-time until a week before he was born. Now the third generation has taken over, as Alex Josefson was named president of Spectro’s parent company, Intercontinental Lubricants Corp. (ILC) in July 2014. His brothers Chris and Mike joined the management team shortly after.
Growing up with Spectro
Being that Spectro is a full-fledged family business, Alex Josefson spent a considerable amount of his childhood at the company’s Brookfield, Conn., headquarters.
“I’ve been around it quite literally my entire life because it’s always what I’ve done. Even as a kid, I was helping out around the offices, cleaning up,” he said. “I was sweeping floors at 14 during the summer, and I always got to do all the ‘fun’ jobs that nobody else wanted to do.”
One summer he was asked by his father to come for a few weeks to help dump old bottles of blend samples to make room for the new ones. Pouring out 4- to 6-ounce bottles one at a time, so the oil could be properly disposed of, Josefson filled two or three 55-gallon drums in those few weeks.
“That was a crazy summer,” he recalled.
Another time, Josefson was charged with putting braille warning stickers on bottles after a regulation requiring them was passed in Sweden. Now Spectro’s bottles have the braille imprints in the mold, but that wasn’t the case right after the law was enacted.
“I have done it from the ground up,” he said.
Josefson also recalls many visits with his grandmother Barbara Wehman, who served as president for nearly a decade from the mid-1990s to 2003. He appreciated his time with his grandmother so much that when given a choice of office after his promotion, he chose her former office as his.
“I remember that whenever I went to visit, that was my first stop. My grandmother and I were really close, so I just remember her sitting in that chair while she was doing her work,” he told Powersports Business.
Third generation steps in
Though Josefson had been around Spectro his entire life, he wasn’t automatically hired after college. His uncle David Miller was president when Josefson left Western Connecticut State University, where he studied small business administration and management. Miller and Josefson’s father, Thomas Josefson, vice president of Spectro, told Josefson he shouldn’t expect to work for them right away.
“They said, ‘What you need to do is go out and learn how to work.’ So that’s exactly what I did. I went out, and I worked retail jobs; I worked all sorts of different jobs that really taught me the base foundation for who I am now,” Josefson said.
He gained experience in retail at NAPA and served as an assistant store manager at RadioShack, learning from his co-workers and superiors along the way.
“There’s one former boss that I had, Matt, who really exemplified one of the biggest traits that I try to go for, and that is he would never ask anybody to do something that he himself was not willing to do,” Josefson said. “I try to carry that in every day when I go into work because I cannot ask somebody to do something that I’m not willing to do. It sets an unfair precedent, if you ask me. There’s been days, where, if we’re a man down on the production line, I’ll put on a dirty shirt and go back. It’s just there’s a job that needs to get done, and we’re a small family business. It’s all hands on deck. We do what we need to do to get everything done.”
Josefson joined Spectro full time in 2011, spending time working both in the factory and in sales.
In the summer of 2014, Miller decided he would retire, and the family had a choice to make about the direction the business would take next. Josefson and his father Thomas sat down and discussed the future of Spectro. Thomas pointed out that he could step up as president, but he had been in his VP role, running purchasing, manufacturing and the warehouse for nearly 30 years and was comfortable staying there. Also, knowing his own retirement will likely come within the next decade, he wanted more stability for the company.
Josefson recalled, “He said, ‘I’ll support you 100 percent on the back end. I’ll give you all the information you need. I’ll be there to help guide you, but let’s look at the long-term viability of the company and really focus on having one figurehead and one direction instead of having a changeover [again in 10 years].’”
It was decided that Chris and Mike Josefson would join the company full time as well because Miller had covered so many aspects of the business that one person alone could not replace him.
“When my uncle left, that was a huge void to fill. Anyone who knew David knows what kind of a man he is, and he is somebody that has more talents than most people knew,” Josefson said. “From a mechanical sense, he’s one of the most brilliant men I’ve ever known. Part of the things that’s kind of helped us financially, in terms of staying afloat, is we kept a lot of our own machines running, and a lot of that was David. He had that keen mechanical sense to make sure things worked right and kept the business going. So when he left, it wasn’t like one guy left; it was like three or four had gone.”
While Alex Josefson has taken over as president, Chris is responsible for quality control and warehouse management, while Mike focuses on plant operations.
“Chris, my middle brother, is very quality control-centric. He’s very focused on making sure that anything sent out of our building is of the highest possible quality,” Josefson said. “My youngest brother Michael is extremely smart and has that mechanical sense, like my uncle has, so he’s really taking over keeping the operations up and running and working to make our production line even more efficient.”
New to the job
Though Josefson was more than familiar with Spectro before being promoted to president, he was only 26 years old when he took over, so he knew he had a lot to learn.
“I feel I need to prove myself even more. I look at it, and say I’m 26 — at that point — what do I know? I’m not foolish enough to think I know it all,” he said.
Before even accepting the position, Josefson talked to several longtime employees to see if they’d support him in his new role.
“I went to guys like [sales manager] Ken Ciocci and Pat Arsen, who’s our treasurer, and John Dunne, who’s in sales as well — people who have been with us for close to 30 years — and said, ‘Hey, will you work with me? Can we work together? Can we move forward? Can I count on you to support me and to help out because obviously you’ve got more time in this building than I have on this earth.’ That is the experience that I need, so we’ve had this type of relationship where we work together, and for me to have those advisors to really help me along, has been phenomenal,” Josefson explained.
He refers to Spectro’s staff as co-workers, not his employees, as the group that only totals 20 is a close-knit team, and even those not part of the Wehman lineage are treated like family.
“We’ve always strived, just like we support the whole industry, we try to support our people. So we’re very fair to our employees; we have a very low turnover rate. A lot of our staff has been there for 10-, 20-, 30-plus years, and that doesn’t happen,” Josefson said. “We’re all in it together; it’s a group effort. I’ve got co-workers that quite literally used to change my diapers. It’s a really surreal experience, but if it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t be here. If I did not have that support, I do not believe I would’ve taken the responsibility of running the company.”
Josefson has also reached out to others in the industry to increase his knowledge base and better manage Spectro.
“The very first task I did was to call each and every one of our distributors that we’ve worked with and explained what happened — David retiring and me taking over — and basically tell them we’re moving forward,” he said. “Those relationships have also been really important because they help me with a lot of information.”
Peers from other similar-sized powersports companies have also offered insight on things such as marketing, events and other aspects of the business. Josefson pointed to Brian VanKoevering at Design Engineering, Inc. (DEI) as just one person who has lent him advice on the industry.
“We all kind of work together. This is an industry that has kind of always been about supporting each other, and it’s no more true now than it was 20, 30, 40 years ago,” he said.
The Future of Spectro
As Josefson continues what could easily be a lifelong career for him, he will also continue to seek out knowledge, advice and information from others.
“It’s just building my knowledge, taking it one day at a time. The biggest thing is my parents drove this into me when I was young: ‘If you can listen to somebody; you can learn everything you have to know.’ And you don’t always have to be the one that knows it all. You take the knowledge that you’re given; you work with it, and you go forward from there.”
Though his father Thomas has been at the business longer and still serves as VP, Thomas told Josefson upon his promotion that his decisions won’t be questioned.
Josefson recalled, “He goes, ‘We’re doing this together. If I disagree with you on a decision, I’ll let you know my standpoint, and I’ll explain why, and I’ll give you all the information you need to make an informed decision. I’ll let you know what I think from my side, but if you decide to go in a different direction, as soon as that decision is made, I will not second-guess you.’”
Still, Josefson has no plans to make any dramatic shifts any time soon. The company will continue to be strongly based in powersports, not selling to any companies on the outside, not distributing through major auto parts retailers or national chains.
“We support dealers, and they support us,” Josephson said.
He added, “There’s a reason we’ve been in business for 50 years; we’ve always been a somewhat conservative company. There are some things that I think we can do better, but there are some things that we do great at. I have things I would like to grow, and I have different little pet projects, but the core of the company will pretty much be the way it is.”
With his family’s legacy on the line and a slew of family and non-family co-workers backing him, Josefson plans to have the company on track for the long haul.
As he put it simply, “For me, it’s so much more than a job.”