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A vote of confidence for Keller

The new management team at the Keller Manufacturing Co. got a huge vote of confidence recently when high-profile Louisville investor J. David Grissom spent about $1 million to buy almost 422,000 shares of Keller stock ‘ or 7.7 percent of the company.
Keller stock had sunk to $2.25 a share before the new management team, led by Keith Williams of Pekin, was brought in last month. When Grissom bought his shares in late August, Keller stock was selling for $2.75, and on some days none was traded at all. Yesterday, it was at $3.90 after 11 straight days of volume in the tens of thousands. The volume was 4,100 Monday, and 500 shares had been traded by early afternoon yesterday.
‘I really appreciate his investment,’ said Williams, 47, who took over in early August. ‘It’s great news for us.’
Grissom called Williams the day he made the purchase, as a courtesy, to tell him that he had purchased more than five percent of the company.
‘He’s an extremely savvy investor and an extremely good entrepreneur. When he made that purchase, I felt very good about it,’ Williams said.
‘It raises the bar for the management team and all of us here, I can guarantee you that. I’m a great respector of David Griffin. If someone puts their faith in you to that level, it adds an extra incentive to perform. It’s a big vote of confidence, and I hate to let people down.’
By buying more than five percent of the company, Grissom was required by law to file a statement with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Grissom, 64, is the multimillionaire chairman of Mayfair Capital and Glenview Trust Co., a private trust company, and he’s on the board of directors of Churchill Downs, Providian Financial Corp., Humana Inc., PNC Financial Services, and Yum! Brands Inc. (formerly Tricon, which includes Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and KFC). Grissom is former president and CEO of Citizens Fidelity Bank in Louisville.
Grissom said last week that he invested $1 million in the dining and bedroom furniture manufacturer for two reasons: First, he has ‘enormous respect and regard’ for Williams and his management team.
In the mid-1990s, Grissom, Williams and five others started bCatalyst, a venture capital fund and business accelerator based in Louisville. Williams was CEO of bCatalyst and is now chairman of the board.
Grissom also has faith in David T. Richardson, Keller’s new chief financial officer. ‘I have the utmost regard for their ability and integrity,’ Grissom said.
The second reason, Grissom said, is that ‘Keller has a wonderful reputation, maybe a little tired right now, but I believe this management team can restore that image and that reputation.’
He noted that Keller is responsible for many jobs and is ‘an important player in the Southern Indiana economy.’
Grissom said he’s confident the Williams team can turn Keller around, after several years of losing money and business. He said Williams has a strong background in furniture manufacturing (12 years with Child Craft Industries in Salem) and ‘he really loves the furniture business. It’s close to his heart, and he has assembled a first-rate team. I have every confidence he will succeed with that deeply experienced team.’
Grissom said he did not purchase the stock to boost the price and then sell, for a quick paper profit. He said he’s in it for the long term ‘ a ‘three-to-five-year horizon.’
Grissom bought registered shares of Keller stock from an individual, not the company. Keller is not issuing stock now. ‘That’s an avenue we haven’t explored at this point,’ Williams said.
‘The old joke is, now it’s just a simple matter of execution … We’re all working very hard. If we try our best and don’t make it, it won’t be for lack of effort.’