Aaon: When Cool Heads Prevail

Aaon, an air-conditioning and heating-systems maker, has a plum niche and a list of prestigious clients

When a corporate giant that accounts for 25% of sales leans on a tiny supplier for better prices, the only solution is for the supplier to knuckle under, right? Not if you're Norman H. Asbjornson, CEO of Aaon Inc. (AAON ) Indeed, in 1991, Asbjornson, a 65-year-old former tank mechanic for the U.S. Army who's tough as nails, turned down a request from McDonald's Corp. (MCD ) to slash prices on Aaon's rooftop air-conditioning and heating systems. The upshot, he says: "They did just what they said they would do, and we lost all of the McDonald's business."

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