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Ex-ax maker locks in on state costs as new chief

Keathley will direct the administration office.
Sunday, December 19, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 6:59 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 9, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — As Senate administrator for the past three years, Michael Keathley, 47, has cut the Senate budget by 15 percent, staff salary expenses by 20 percent and operating expenses by 23 percent — all while surviving an eight-month battle with advanced colon cancer.

In January, Keathley will apply his budget-cutting expertise to the entire state government as director of Gov.-elect Matt Blunt’s Office of Administration.

“Nothing is ever good enough; you are always looking for a better way to do something more efficiently,” Keathley said. “It becomes a whole mindset, and that mindset doesn’t exist in government.”

Keathley said that unlike government workers, business people such as him have a mindset of efficiency because they have their own money at risk.

Before becoming Senate administrator in January 2002, Keathley worked 23 years for IXL Industries, the country’s leading manufacturer of ax handles. Ax handles had been the family business since 1867.

It was during Keathley’s time as CEO that IXL went from being the second-largest to the largest producer of ax handles, although he would take no credit for the success. He left in 2001 after U.S. Industries, which bought IXL in 1997, restructured. He would have been forced to move to keep his job.

After retiring from IXL, Keathley planned to take a year off, but that plan was interrupted when he received a phone call from old friend Peter Kinder, a state senator and now the lieutenant governor-elect. Keathley knew Kinder from the Boy Scouts of America more than 30 years ago and met up with him again when they worked on Republican Bill Emerson’s successful campaign for U.S. Congress in 1980. Keathley has worked on several Republican campaigns.

Keathley attributed his success as Senate administrator to lots of little details. His secret, he said, is “an obsessive evaluation of every cost that we do.”

Keathley cited locking up the copy machine and office supplies, bidding out carpet and privatizing housekeeping duties of the Senate as examples of initiatives improving efficiency.

Removing copy machines from the hallways saved more than 1 million sheets of paper per year. The office supplies budget for the Senate has dropped 25 percent every year since supplies were locked up.Keathley said that as director he will use the same tactics.


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