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The fastest bill counter in town: Cummins Allison

Most companies would be happy to succeed in just a few of the businesses the Jones family has left behind at Cummins Allison Inc. Computers, loan-coupon books, power tools and shredders all have come and gone in the 125 years since B.F.


Cummins started making perforating machines on Chicago's North Side. “You don't survive doing the samething,” says Bill Jones, a third-generation chairman and CEO who's in his mid-50s. “It's like surfing: You have to keep catching the next wave.”


Today, the Mount Prospect-based company is a top maker of currency counting and sorting machines used by banks, casinos, retailers, sports stadiums and theme parks. “Any place there's money,” Mr. Jones says. Cummins Allison makes massive machines that are found in bank vaults and cost $250,000 or more. Its smaller equipment is what's attracting attention. The JetScan iFX i100 desktop machine, launched in May 2011, electronically scans 1,600 bills of currency or 400 checks a minute; it can also sort casino tickets. The 20-pound device sells for about $5,000.


“That turned a lot of heads in banking,” says Bob Meara, an analyst at Celent LLC, a research firm in Boston.


“Typically there's a low-speed check scanner next to a high-speed currency counter. Having a machine that fast, and being able to handle both, is a very interesting thing.”

 

Cummins Allison designs and manufactures its own equipment, including the optics that are key to identifying and counting currency and checks as they speed past in a blur. Its engineers developed a way to remove wrinkles and other distractions from crumpled checks when creating digital images of them, which makes them easier to verify. Its new desktop machine took 18 months to develop.


Management spends 20 cents of every dollar on research and development. The company has been awarded 350 U.S. patents, including 15 last year, which isn't all that surprising given the current corporation was founded by a patent attorney, and Mr. Jones himself holds more than 25 patents. The company guards its intellectual property fiercely: It won a $12.9 million judgment against a Korean competitor in 2009. To avoid pirates, it stopped doing business in China about a decade ago. Mr. Jones' grandfather, Paul, bought the Cummins' perforating-machine business in 1942. He later bought Indianapolis-based Allison Coupon Co., which made loan coupon books. Mr. Jones' father, John, moved the company into check processing in the 1970s. Later it got into coin and currency counting.


Mr. Jones grew up working at the company, starting his career in field operations. He graduated from Northern Illinois University in 1979 with a bachelor's degree in finance. He received an MBA from Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management. He became CEO in 1994.


He never forgets why his grandfather bought Cummins Allison: Granddad was in automobile lending and got out when Alfred Sloan and General Motors Corp. got in. “If you don't replace yourself, someone else will,” Mr. Jones says.

 

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