Jerry Engle

April 30, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — Jerry Engle, president of Computer Products and Resources (CPR) Inc., believes service leads to customer satisfaction, which ultimately leads to longevity in business.

Engle's company was one of the first in West Michigan to focus entirely on service and support of computer systems and equipment.

Though nearly 20 years have passed, his motto then and now is still "Service First."

When he founded CPR in 1982, he recalls, "I knew the industry and really felt I knew what customers wanted — and it was outstanding service. And they still do today. I really feel that our operating principles have driven us and helped us build a great foundation both for our employees and our customers."

He feels CPR's commitment to customer satisfaction, and its people, continues to differentiate his company today.

After earning a bachelor's degree in Business Administration from Western Michigan University, Engle joined Burroughs Corp. (now Unisys Corp.) where he spent 17 years selling adding machines, calculators and what was at that time "very large" computers.

He was promoted to sales manager in Grand Rapids in 1967, was later transferred to company headquarters in Detroit, and then returned to Grand Rapids in 1976 as branch manager. He later turned down a couple promotions with Burroughs that would have taken him to San Francisco and Chicago.

"I made a lifestyle decision at age 40 to raise my family here in West Michigan. With four children, we really liked the area and we liked western Michigan values," he said.

He subsequently took a position with a small software company. Eighteen months later, the company fell victim to a soured economy, and at age 42 Engle had an important career decision to make. Though he could have gone back to a company like Burroughs or Wang, he felt that if he rejoined a large company he would be faced with having to move to another city sometime down the road.

He made the decision to stay in Grand Rapids and start his own business.

"What I saw the industry needing at that time was an independent, third-party service organization, " he recalled.

He did some consulting for about a year while working on a business plan and officially launched CPR after securing service contracts with the former Ottawa Savings and Loan and Grand Rapids Mutual to service their CRT units.

Initially, the company serviced all Burroughs equipment, but Engle felt CPR needed to get involved with another manufacturer that had more opportunities to grow in the market. When the PC was released, his staff went through PC maintenance training through IBM.

In those earlier years, CPR only serviced equipment and had about 18 on staff. As the 1990s rolled around, businesses began to understand that technology could be used as a competitive weapon in the marketplace. The industry started to change and new services were the next wave.

"It was very important and necessary for us to not stay just in break-fix repair and procuring of hardware for people," Engle recalled. "We really transformed into consultants for our clients that needed technology advice both in data and voice."

CPR now offers a full array of services in five major categories: IT services, technology consulting, network solutions, data center services and product acquisition.

Like other successful entrepreneurs, Engle took a risk and it paid off; his company has been profitable 18 out of its 19 years in business. CPR recorded $32 million in sales last year. Its services revenue is increasing significantly, up $2 million last year over the year before.

Today, CPR is the largest locally owned IT solutions provider in West and Southwest Michigan, with a location in Kalamazoo as well as Grand Rapids. It employs 150, about 95 of them technical people.

Engle's company provides services to companies that range in size from a Steelcase to a Joe's Pizza and everything in between. Although big companies represent a larger portion of CPR's revenue stream, on a transaction basis, the company does more business with small and medium-sized companies, he said.

In 2000 Engle moved CPR sales and service to new offices in the Watermark Tech Center on Galbraith Avenue in southeast Grand Rapids. The building's designer, Integrated Architecture, in fact, received the 2001 honor award from the American Institute of Architect's Grand Valley chapter for CPR's interior architecture design.

Engle says the new 32,000-square-foot building itself represents part of CPR's investment in new services.

Four miles of cable winds through the floor of the building. Among the building's features are 24,000 square feet of raised access flooring, customer server and training rooms, a climate controlled server room for Internet service equipment, an application-hosting center and a remote monitoring center 

The good, old-fashioned technical support services, particularly on-site and dispatch service, is still the largest piece of CPR's business but the professional services and technology consulting end is the fastest growing part of it.

"A lot of clients have spent a lot of money and they haven't leveraged their investment enough, maybe because they just don't have the proper design or don't know how to do it, or they needed someone like us to help guide them," Engle explained.

"Today service contracts are a large part of our business and growing because we know how to do it very, very well and we have the infrastructure. For somebody to try from scratch to get in to what we're doing right now would be tough."

A lot of CPR employees go on site, becoming an extension of a client's staff. Some clients, such as Steelcase, Alticor, Spartan Stores and JCI, basically outsource a function or functions of their IT infrastructure to CPR.

In an industry that can see change almost overnight, companies like CPR have to be prepared to make changes rapidly, he said. CPR's customers will help set the direction for the company's future.

"I want to be prepared to go where customers want us to be. There are lots of new and exciting things that are coming, and we want to grab onto those and continue to provide professional consultative services."

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