Steve Romnes, President of VMI

Romnes at the Golden Gloves boxing tournament with the Circle of Discipline team

The Vertitron Midwest, Inc. leader weighs in on the economy, his company’s future and why boxing helps his perspective.

Steve Romnes, president of Vertitron Midwest, Inc. (VMI), a designer and manufacturer of microprocessor-based
elevator control systems based in Mankato, Minnesota, never shies away from a challenge. Whether it’s guiding his company through a recession, making the most of his family time or going three rounds in the ring for charity, Romnes welcomes a fight, sometimes literally. “I tend to be more of a competitor when things get tough,” Romnes said. “I wouldn’t say the recession is fun, but we’re all having a hard day. We all have to dig deep and find ways to make it work now. I wake up to that challenge every day, and I’m ready for it.”

Romnes credits his father, Johm Romnes, with giving him a can-do, never-give-up attitude. “My dad has his personal commitment to God and his faith at the core of every important decision he makes, and I admire that,” Romnes said. John Romnes started Minnesota Elevator in 1971, and Romnes joined his father’s business straight out of high school in 1983. He enjoyed the variety of work (from installation to troubleshooting) and felt there was always something to learn. He looked to both his father and brother, Ron, for mentoring and guidance. “I’ve always admired my brother’s talent for figuring things out mechanically and how he always looks for a way to keep making progress, rather than letting things stop him,” he said. According to John Romnes, he was gifted with two uniquely talented sons. “Steve never ceases to amaze me with some of the creative, ‘out-of-the-box’ ideas he comes up with,” John Romnes said. “And he has passion for what he believes in, and people with real passion stand out from the crowd.”

Romnes became a National Elevator Industry Educational Program mechanic and spent 12 years in construction with Minnesota Elevator Inc., working with his father and brother in the family business. From there, he went to work for VMI, another family-owned company, where he has served in various capacities over the past 15 years. With VMI, Romnes worked in the sales and marketing department for six years, followed by seven years in operations. For the last two years, after he and Ron purchased VMI from their father, Romnes has been president of the company. He credits all of his past experience with making his latest position more manageable. “The 12 years I worked as an elevator mechanic have been very valuable. I think I do a good job of seeing things from the installation/maintenance and end users’ point of view. VMI does a great job of designing things with the elevator mechanic in mind,” he said.

VMI recently released an elevator iPhone® app called Appello, and Romnes is already seeing additional markets into which to expand the product. In 2010 VMI saw the opportunity to bring elevator technology in building controls for the industrial door market, and Romnes hopes to continue to find ways to diversify into other industrial control markets. “I like seeing an idea turned into something that people both appreciate and are willing to pay for,” Romnes said.

While Romnes and VMI have plenty of ideas brewing for the future, he credits trips to New York early in his career for opening his mind to the possibilities. “Growing up in rural Minnesota, I spent a lot of time working on two- to three-stop elevators in schools and churches. It wasn’t until my first trip to New York City in 1991 that I realized how big our industry is and the value we provide,” Romnes said. “The elevator industry has such a variety for employment – from engineering, construction and project management to sales, service and consulting. If I could give any advice to those coming into the industry, I would say wherever you start in this business, stay connected to those areas.”

Work experience and mentors, like Romnes’ father and brother and MEI president Rick Lowenberg, have influenced how Romnes operates VMI. “Rick Lowenberg was the key in turning MEI around in 2006, and since then he has become very involved in the elevator industry. He is very respected and liked by the office, plant and MEI field employees. He is a lot of fun to work with,” Romnes said. These mentors played a role in Romnes’ success, he says, and as a result, he has more easily taken on the role of mentor himself, both professionally and personally.

Outside of work, Romnes enjoys a full life with his family, made up of his wife of 20 years, Cindy, 11-year-old daughter, Jordan, and three-year-old son, Ty, adopted from Thailand two years ago. The Romnes family participates in a variety of volunteer activities together. Last year, the family traveled to Peru to visit the children they sponsor through Compassion International. Locally, Romnes serves on the board of the Circle of Discipline, a youth organization working to create physical and spiritual balance for the young people of South Minneapolis through mentoring and amateur boxing. Romnes even keeps a boxing ring at the VMI shop for the Circle’s local fights.

After several years of being asked to participate, Romnes agreed to fight in a Golden Gloves boxing tournament last summer. Representing the Circle of Discipline, Romnes stepped into the ring in the master’s division at the Ringside National Tournament in Kansas City, Missouri. After three months of hard training, he weighed in at 152 lbs. by the fight date and had only one opponent at the tournament, a 44 year old with a record of 54 fights – 50 wins, 32 of them knockouts, and four losses. Romnes, despite some past experience and wins in the ring, did not have nearly the number of recorded fights, and he was two years older. In the end, he won the bout, but says that was not the highlight of the experience for him: “I got to spend the weekend with my dad, brother and a great group of kids. I was able to share with them how my faith in God has brought me to the place I am today. They needed to know that no matter the circumstances they are facing there is always hope, and you can always count on God.”

This belief translates to Romnes’ work philosophy as well. He is hopeful for the future, despite the tough economy of the last few years. “When construction slows, the modernization market picks up. I feel this market will continue to be strong and as technology advances in our industry, it will open even more doors in the modernization market,” he said, advising others to “stay lean with your workforce, continually look for ways to make improvements and provide a profitable product at a fair price.”

The fighter in Romnes welcomes the challenge of the current economic climate, but he also believes in a bright future for the industry and VMI. He plans to work hard to increase the company’s product line and get people excited about what VMI offers. Retirement is so far in his future that Romnes laughs at the thought: “I haven’t even quit boxing yet.”

To see Romnes in the ring, visit this month’s Online Extras by clicking their link at www.elevatorworld.com.

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Elevator World | January 2012 Cover