$300, a Wrecked 64 Ford and a Lot of Dreams

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Metalworking Solutions is the 2011 Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce Small Business of the Year in the 21 – 50 Employee Category.  Sitting in Bill Hewgley’s office talking and reflecting on this honor with him, one might think the story began in 2006 with the formation of the company.  But that would only be a mere chapter of a great story on how a young man from humble means grew to be a leader with vision, passion, integrity, a love for family and friends plus a genuine ability to celebrate and cherish the little things that make life so special.

Growing up in the shadows of Monteagle Mountain, Bill was the youngest of three children.  His mother was a school teacher and his father a wood craftsman, farmer and WWII veteran.  Bill recalls the many life experiences, some joyful and others painful, that have contributed to the success of Metalworking Solutions.  As Bill talks, it is as if the constraints of time have been broken as he sweeps you away to a simpler era growing up in the Battle Creek community, near South Pittsburg on a small four acre farm.  If Bill ever tires of the metal working industry, he could begin another career in storytelling.  He artfully paints a vivid picture with his words of the community, countryside and characters.  He masterfully controls his fluidity of speech, keeping you on the edge of your seat, providing a piece of the puzzle to the man that founded this year’s small business award winner with each story.

As Bill tells his stories, he graciously gives credit to many individuals that have contributed to his abilities and success; however, it is evident that there are two that hold very special places in his heart and that is for his wife, Jan, and his mother.  As I listened I must say that it was pretty awesome to have the opportunity to sit and speak with a man that was willing to be completely transparent, a man where it is quite evident that his love for his wife of 40 years has continued to grow and mature to heights and depths that most have never experienced.

The Beginning

Bill began his manufacturing career working for Jim and Ruffner Robinson at American Manufacturing Company on Chestnut Street by the river, where the Aquarium now resides.  Little did he know at that time that one day he would retire as President from this company to start Metalworking Solutions.  The Robinson brothers had a tremendous influence on Bill.  The opportunities they provided men and women in their employ, the honor and respect they treated each employ regardless of their background, all had lasting and positive effects on the leader Bill was to become.  Bill speaks fondly of the company, “The majesty of such a durable ‘oak tree’ of an organization had a profound impact on my long term goals.  When I became President, I wanted to honor their achievements by helping revitalize the company and help it prosper in the 20th Century.  I desired to someday take their business to a whole new level and create the dynamic manufacturing company of my visions.  That dream would build upon their strong foundation by embracing the future technologies and lean processes to allow us to compete with all comers-foreign or domestic.  I foresaw the sea change as our manufacturing companies’ products were lost to cheap overseas labor markets and hoped to one day show my hometown how we can all adapt and change; to once again regain our manufacturing strength through honoring our heritage, while moving into the future world with courage and enthusiasm.”

Unfortunately due to two mergers and acquisitions, circumstances did not lead to the opportunity for Bill to carry out that dream at American Manufacturing.  Bill continued, “In 2006, at the age of 55, I retired as President of this 108 year old manufacturing operation to follow my dream with the unbelievable support of my wife, family and friends, through all the ups and downs of this great adventure.”

“We developed a business plan, attracted investors, recruited key managers, leased the site, arranged financing and opened for business in only six months from conception.  There were no customers, no equipment, no supplier relationships, only a dream of the impact that we could make in our industry here in the Chattanooga area and then one day scale that to other markets.  In the midst of executing our plan, we seized the opportunity to acquire the assets of TechCraft, Inc., which gave us an initial customer base to survive the first year.  We committed to purchasing all-new equipment from Amada, Inc., the world’s leader in sheet metal technology.  This strategy was instrumental in establishing our viability in a crowded, competitive marketplace.  The capital requirements forced Jan and I to go “All-in” at the age most couples are retiring…failure was not an option.”

Company Growth

So, four years later Metalworking Solutions is recognized with this award.  What was accomplished during those four years to merit this award?  From a business perspective, nothing short of amazing, the company did over a million dollars in its first year.  Revenues grew by 130% in the second year, 9% in the third and another 40% this past year.  The company has grown its employ base by 56% in year two, 21% in year three and 41% this past year.  With this growth came the need to increase manufacturing capacity in both 2009 and 2010.  The executive team had to come up with innovative financing solutions to keep up with the continued growth.

Year Employees Revenue
2008 56% 130%
2009 21% 9%
2010 41% 40%

Based on first quarter results of 2011 the firm is on target for another great year with the potential for an annual growth rate of 25%.  All this during one of the worst economies our nation as well as the global market has ever experienced.

Strategy Execution – Plan Your Work and Work Your Plan

Metalworking Solutions has a ten year plan that they call their 2020 Vision.  Supporting this are 3 – 5 year Vital Few Objectives (VFOs) outlined in a Balanced Score Card consisting of Financial, Customer, Products/Services and People Areas.  Each Objective has defined measurements and associated targets.  Supporting these VFOs are 2011 Initiatives with corresponding team member assignments of how they plan on continuing to improve and change the business in this coming year.  Finally, each member of the management team has a quarterly plan consisting of Initiative tasks, Operational tasks, Personal and Professional Development task to be completed in the quarter.  It’s not rocket science but it’s not easy either.  Thomas Edison has been quoted as saying “Vision without execution is a hallucination.”  I can attest that no one is hallucinating at Metalworking Solutions.

In addition to the strategy execution methodology implemented by Metalworking Solutions, Bill has recruited a bright management team.  It is one of the things that he is most proud of.  He states, “This team has allowed me to pour myself into them.  They ‘get it’ and are accomplishing goals at an accelerated pace.  This team has taken my vision, my dream, made it better, then made it their own.  With this group I am confident that my grandchildren and all of our future employee owners someday will feel the same pride I felt so long ago at American Manufacturing, being a part of an enterprise that had real meaning to real people in all walks of life.”

For me it is a real lift to be around the Metalworking Solutions team.  People of character that believe in each other, believe in what they are doing and have a real desire to see more and more of their customers be able to once again put a label on their products that says “Made in America.

Bill summed our session up by saying, “I hope we have established the next great 100 year old manufacturing company in downtown Chattanooga Tennessee, the city where I was born and the business community which has allowed my wife and I to grow and prosper over the past 40 years, since that June day we got married with only $300, a wrecked 1964 Ford and a lot of dreams.”

As I pulled out of the parking lot I thought, WOW, if I could just bottle that energy, that enthusiasm, that courage, that wisdom, that pure authenticity, what we could accomplish in this country once again.  We need more Bill Hewgleys, men and women willing to do everything in their power to transfer their personal successes into lasting significance for future generations.  I am certain the Chamber’s Small Business Award Judges left with the same feeling earlier this year.

By Terry L. Massey

About the Author:  Terry is cofounder of AmeriStride, a Chattanooga based business growth and management consulting firm.  He serves as an advisor and business coach to the Metalworking Solutions management team.

Terry L. Massey