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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Sunday, Sept. 21, 2014

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Knock-off brands of headphones manufactured overseas have affected Koss' sales.
Knock-off brands of headphones manufactured overseas have affected Koss' sales. (Photo:

Koss Corp. faces steep challenges

From this office, it’s always been difficult to watch good Milwaukee people and companies endure hard times.

That was true when the Koss Corp. and the Koss family suffered through a court case in which a former company executive pleaded guilty to six counts of felony fraud and pay $34 million in restitution in 2010.

Make no mistake. The company and the Koss family were victims in that embezzlement case.

I have always found my limited interactions with members of the Koss family to be pleasant. They strike me as hard-working, honest Milwaukee people with unquestioned integrity. The fact that the family patriarch, John C. Koss, invented the Stereophone in 1958 is one of the coolest milestones in Wisconsin’s entrepreneurial history.

Koss continues as the company’s chairman, but the day-to-day operations of the firm are handled by his sons, Michael J. Koss, president and chief executive officer, and John Koss Jr., vice president of sales. Add a third generation, as Michael Koss Jr. is the director of marketing.

The CEO recently informed employees about the latest daunting challenges facing the company.

"The company had extremely disappointing results in the past fiscal year and in the quarter ended June 30, 2014," Michael J. Koss said in one of the most blunt CEO quarterly report statements I have read in a long time. "We experienced major setbacks in export sales, particularly in Europe. That drop in sales was significant enough for us to suspend operations in Mexico until sales volumes support enough demand for the products being produced there. In addition, with the changes that need to be made to the Striva Wi-Fi headphone technology, we wrote off the capitalized software costs as well as the related tooling and inventory. These three factors resulted in a significant loss in the fiscal year 2014."

The company’s 12-month net loss was $5.6 million, compared with net income of $5.4 million a year earlier. The company’s quarterly sales dipped to $6.2 milli…

Christine Specht, president of Cousins Subs, is one of the speakers lined up for the 2014 BizTimes Get Smarter Talent Development Conference.
Christine Specht, president of Cousins Subs, is one of the speakers lined up for the 2014 BizTimes Get Smarter Talent Development Conference.

"Get Smarter" and jumpstart your career

"The Transfer of Knowledge and Power to the Next Generation" will be the theme of the 2014 BizTimes Get Smarter Talent Development Conference.

For the conference, BizTimes is assembling an unprecedented panel of Milwaukee business and civic leaders who will share their wisdom and lessons learned with the next generation.

The breakfast event will take place at Potawatomi Hotel & Casino in Milwaukee on Friday, Oct. 17.

BizTimes is inviting all of southeastern Wisconsin’s young professionals to attend this "career boot camp" to learn the secrets for jumpstarting their careers and building new skills that will make them more in demand in the workplace and take their organizations to new heights.

The members of the diverse all-star panel of presenters include:

  • Lisa Banner, vice president of global human resources, ManpowerGroup.
  • Cristy Garcia-Thomas, executive vice president, Aurora Health Care, and president, Aurora Foundation.
  • Jalem Getz, president, Wantable Inc.
  • Cecelia Gore, executive director, Brewers Community Foundation.
  • Catherine Jacobson, CEO, Froedtert Health.
  • Richard Leinenkugel, manager of business development, Tenth and Blake Beer Company.
  • Richard Pieper Sr., chairman, PPC Partners Inc.
  • Debbie Seeger, senior vice president and co-founder, Patina Solutions.
  • Christine Specht, president, Cousins Submarines Inc.
  • Laura Timm, vice president of corporate communications and public affairs, Briggs & Stratton Corp.

The accomplished executives will speak in rapid-fire succession, with each given five minutes to speak in the fast-moving forum. Each is asked to bring five great ideas to help young professionals advance their careers. Young professionals are encouraged to take notes and chronicle the 50 great ideas.

A second panel will feature a lineup of "Rising Stars" in southeastern Wisconsin. These young professionals will engage in an unscripted, candid conversation about the best practices for advancing their careers. The conversation will be m…

Bye, bye, bowling?
Bye, bye, bowling?

Bowling centers fall into the gutter

If you do a Google search for the phrase "bowling is a dying sport," you will discover that folks have been predicting the demise of keggling since the dawn of the digital age.

However, that speculation recently turned into reality in South Milwaukee and Waukesha when AMF Bowling Worldwide abruptly closed the AMF South Park Lanes and AMF Waukesha Lanes.

Bowlers had flocked to the two large bowling centers for generations.

American Machine and Foundry (AMF) began in 1900 as a manufacturer of equipment for the tobacco industry. The company invented the pinspotter in the 1940s, revolutionizing and automating the game. After World War II, the company began expanding its bowling business and later turned to manufacturing sports equipment and bicycles. At one time, AMF owned Milwaukee-based Harley-Davidson Inc. and Hatteras Yachts, but it remains the largest operator of bowling centers in the nation, by far.

Bowling peaked as a sport in the mid-1960s with approximately 12,000 bowling centers built mostly in blue-collar neighborhoods across the United States. By 2011, the number of certified bowling centers had shrunk to 5,160, according to the United States Bowling Congress.

The closings in South Milwaukee and Waukesha came in the aftermath of AMF filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in November 2012. It was the second bankruptcy filing for the Mechanicsville, Va.-based company in 11 years.

Last year, AMF merged with Strike Holdings LLC to form a new company, Bowlmor AMF.

Bowlmor AMF put some of its 300-some bowling centers up for sale but apparently could not find suitable buyers for the South Milwaukee and Waukesha sites.

South Milwaukee Mayor Eric Brooks said the closure of South Park Lanes is a significant blow to his community.

"It’s clear that AMF South Park Lanes has a special place in many hearts in South Milwaukee and the South Shore," Brooks said in his mayoral blog.

Brooks pursued an explanation for the closures and received a statement from Bowlmor AMF…

What's needed to build support for a new NBA arena?
What's needed to build support for a new NBA arena?

Arena needs public champions to get it done

The Milwaukee Cultural and Entertainment Capital Needs Task Force today conducted a discussion featuring business leaders from Oklahoma City, Denver and Cleveland, who shared insights about how their communities rallied to build public support to build NBA arenas and invest in other cultural and mass transit infrastructure projects.

The featured speakers were: Roy Williams, president of Greater Oklahoma City Chamber; Kelly Brough, president of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, and Joseph Roman, president of the Greater Cleveland Partnership.

After the discussion, the speakers told BizTimes that it is critical for key publicly elected officials to be champions for public investments in entertainment and cultural assets such as a new arena.

"It’s critical because they have constituents," Williams said.

"We had governors who were very supportive," Roman said.

"The public sector has to part of it," Brough said.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele did not attend today’s meeting.

Aside from lacking a vocal public champion, the Milwaukee initiative faces one other headwind that the other markets did not: The perception that local talk radio hosts, who scream every time the words "mass transit," "trains" or "new taxes" are even whispered, can disproportionately dominate the public discourse.

"People, they hear all that clutter, and they think that reflects the masses, but it doesn’t," Williams said. "Just let it go, because the next bloody accident will take over their show. We go around them to the people."

"We go to the people who vote," Roman said.

Fifty years from now, people in Milwaukee will be assessing the legacy their forefathers left them, Roman said.

"That’s you. That’s us," Roman said.

BizTimes conducted in-depth interviews with Williams, Brough and Roman in advance of today’s forum to document how Oklahoma City, Denver and Cleveland have invested in their cultural assets a…