To Be an Optimist

Kinion Dunn stands by heavy industrial equipment

By Susan Robertson  |  Photos by Adam Brimer

Kinion Dunn believes, if you own a business, you have to be an optimist.

Dunn (Knoxville ’79) and a partner bought the facility where his company, Dunn-Bybee Tool Company, is housed. Dunn-Bybee was established in 1991 and designs and builds special equipment primarily for the automotive industry. Dunn, a mechanical engineer, says the company’s primary product is engineering, and everything else in the facility supports that.

In 2007, Dunn bought out his business partner, “mortgaging the house, business and everything.”

Then came the national economic downturn in 2008. Financial markets started to falter in early 2008 because of inflated mortgage lending and frailties in the country’s monetary system. Consumers stopped spending, the unemployment rate increased and many businesses closed. During what was dubbed as the Great Recession, nearly 8.7 million jobs were lost, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Dunn relied on his own optimism to help keep the doors open to his Sparta, Tennessee-based business.

“We lost 70 percent of our business at the end of 2008. Our business is automotive-based, and at that time capital purchasing and automotive disappeared,” Dunn says. “At the onset, I was thinking it was a typical recession. I hung on to all of our staff as long as I could, but in early 2009 I had to make a reduction in staff.”

Close up photo of a pressure valve on machinery in Kinion Dunn's shop. A 'Made in Tennessee' decal is slapped on the side

A lot of similar businesses weren’t as fortunate and closed their doors as a result of the recession.

“We persevered and held on,” Dunn said. “It was a tough time.”

He also turned to a division of the UT Institute for Public Service—its Center for Industrial Services, or CIS—for help finding business.

Dunn first called on CIS, which provides consulting, training and connecting opportunities for companies across the state, in the mid-1990s. CIS helped Dunn-Bybee Tool put together an International Organization for Standardization management system, which helps companies improve efficiency, reduce waste and save money. Since that time, Dunn has worked with CIS on various projects, and he has been a member of the CIS customer advisory board for the past 15 years.

During the Great Recession, Dunn turned to CIS and its Procurement Technical Assistance Center. The center helps Tennessee businesses navigate government contract processes.

“CIS is an exceptional resource available to small- and mid-sized businesses in Tennessee,” he says. “They have a wide variety of services available to improve and make a business successful. They are in the business of educating—taking part of the university and extending that outreach to businesses across the state.”