LHS students in the Entrepreneurial Management Achievement Program recently toured Linden’s Cutting Edge Industries as part of the program’s reality-based business education.
By Gary Miller
A group of Linden High School students recently took a field trip to a world-class manufacturing operation – but they didn’t have to go far.
Students who are enrolled in the Entrepreneurial Management Achievement Program (EMAP) visited Cutting Edge Industries, on St. Georges Avenue in Linden, which creates lighting, furniture, awards and promotional items, gifts and souvenirs, and other manufactured items that are sold worldwide.
The students were accompanied on Feb. 6 to Cutting Edge by Sy Mayerson, the c0-founder and chairman of EMAP, as well as their faculty advisers Lee Gaskins and Debra Heffernan, and Dianne Blazier-Jiossi, EMAP co-founder and president.
“This is a world-class company sitting right here in Linden,” Mayerson said. “And it’s not known, even by residents.
“All-day seminars such as the one given at Cutting Edge Industries give students ‘reality’ – hands-on experience of the real world of responsible, successful adulthood to look forward to.”
The students met company officials, including Dan Adelberger, director of sales and marketing, who told them about his job and took them on a tour of their 40,000-square-foot manufacturing facility to see artisans and craftspeople designing and creating various products.
“It’s was amazing,” said junior Allan Pierre. “I really liked it. I spoke to a lot of the executives there and I felt like I learned a lot. They were really intelligent people and I felt really at home. I was able to go out and ask them questions and shake their hands and learn a lot about the business world.”
EMAP is an independent program that has worked closely with the city and school district for 11 years to give LHS students a reality-based education that prepares them for entrepreneurship after high school. It also focuses on character development as a key to success in all walks of life.
“EMAP gives our students hand-on training and terrific exposure to the real world of business,” said Superintendent Danny A. Robertozzi. “When they graduate the program, they have the confidence and business knowledge that will serve them well no matter where they go after high school. We’re happy that they get the chance to learn from someone like Mr. Mayerson, who knows the ins and outs of being an entrepreneur.”
The program runs over two semesters, during which students create a fictitious company out of $100,000 of phantom money. Each student plays a specific role in the company, whose goals are to make a profit, to maintain ethics, and to fill societal needs.
This school year’s company is called Shareshack, whose aim is to help the homeless and needy by using profits from such things as housing rentals and clothing sales to help shelter and clothe those in need. Pierre, who is the CEO of Shareshack, said EMAP has taught him more than just how the business world works.
“I’ve learned a lot of things about leadership and what it takes to run a company and really rally people together to do something in a way that it benefits everybody,” he said.
That’s the idea, Gaskins said.
“It’s really not about knowledge and information,” he said. “It more about self-worth, being more confident, and personal character — how they speak up, how they address other people. They learn more about themselves than even about business.”
During the students’ trip to Cutting Edge, Adelberger spoke to students about the company and his job in particular. He told them that he travels a lot and is the public face of the company, meeting with customers to let them know what Cutting Edge can do for them.
A few years ago, Cutting Edge bought the Stiffel lighting brand, which has been around since 1932. It was Adelberger’s job to rebrand Stiffel for today’s market, while emphasizing the continued quality of the product. “Made in America” – and in Linden – is a big selling point.
“Everything we do on this is done right here,” he said. “The metal comes in here in raw form. There is no aspect of this that is done outside of this facility. That is very unique in this day and age.”
Adelberger told the students he must develop outside relationships to sell the company and the products, but he also relies on co-workers to make sure Cutting Edge comes through for the customers.
“When you’re part of a company, you’re part of a team,” he said. “And everyone on that team is very important and instrumental to everyone else. I can’t do my job unless customer service does their job, and unless production does their job, and unless shipping gets it right as well.”
That lesson resonated with LHS junior Damian Martins, who works in marketing for Shareshack. He said teamwork is key for EMAP participants, too.
“It teaches you how to run a business, but if you’re assigned to one thing, you work with everyone,” Martins said. “You don’t just learn marketing, you learn everything.”
Blazier-Jiossi said EMAP aims to give the students a well-rounded look at business.
“The students are our focus,” she said, “to educate them in the realities of business and design.”
The students toured the production facility at Cutting Edge, watching as molten metal was poured into some of the thousands of molds that the company owns.
The students also got to talk to Patrick Chimento, an artist who creates molds in his small studio on the upper floor of the Cutting Edge production facility. The room was crammed with tools, reference materials, and pieces that Chimento has made over the years.
“I thought it was interesting to be in the warehouse and see step-by-step how an item is made,” said LHS junior Jannice Quevedo, a division president for Shareshack. “As we saw the lamps being made and how the metal was melted in, I thought that was really interesting. I gained insight into the business and production.”
Linden Mayor Derek Armstead stopped by while students were visiting Cutting Edge, and offered praise for Mayerson and EMAP.
“We’re so proud of you [students] and we want to continue to do whatever we can to see that you guys are successful in life,” Armstead said. “Sy plays a tremendous role in that.”
He also offered his own advice to the would-be entrepreneurs.
“If you want to do something, you have to keep on forging ahead,” Armstead said. “You may fall flat on your face, but you don’t measure a man by when he’s down, you measure him by how he picks himself up.”
EMAP holds a graduation for its students each June, attended by Armstead, Robertozzi and members of the business community, where students “get to show what they’ve done throughout the year,” said Gaskins. The program has been recognized by the City of Linden, Linden Public Schools, Cutting Edge, and Philips lighting company for its innovation in education, and by the Special Operations Warrior Foundation and Smile Train for creative fundraising. The group is also planning another field trip in March, to Philips lighting in Somerset.
Mayerson brings students together with professionals and executives so they can learn from the experience of their elders.
“Remember, anything you hear from executives or senior people around me, is not theory,” Mayerson told the students. “Those are facts.”