Tell us a little about the company’s background, and also the path you’ve taken toward attaining your current position.
My father, Kenneth Wolter, founded the company in Wauconda, Illinois, in 1979. He wanted to produce innovative power transmission components such as gears, timing belt pulleys, splines, shafts, chain sprockets, sheaves, and other related parts. He is currently our COO. I studied chemical engineering at the University of Kansas, but my real education began when I joined HM in 2009 and set out on a self-designed curriculum in manufacturing. I started out in shipping, receiving, and inventory then moved on to purchasing before becoming a production manager, and then an account executive. Six years later I was named vice president of operations before becoming president and CEO two years after that. That was a pretty well-rounded training program on the business side of how HM operates.
But you also worked to understand machining at the operational level.
I needed to understand the mechanical side of things. I’d grown up around manufacturing, of course, but I needed some hands-on experience, so I began working toward various licenses and certifications, beginning with AutoCAD Design, which I received in 2017 from Harper College. From there I moved on to the National Institute for Metalworking Skills (NIMS), where I studied Measurement, Materials and Safety, as well as becoming a CNC Milling Operator. I completed my training for both in 2018. So that is why I say that my education has continued throughout my career, as it still does today. We are a vibrant group of people here at HM. We’re motivated, curious, and we’re constantly challenging each other in positive ways that benefit the company, and especially our customers. It’s a very unique and innovative environment and one that I thoroughly enjoy.
You are known for your civic and professional activities both at the local and national level. How do you find the time, and what motivates you?
I think it’s right in line with what we’ve just been discussing. I’m a “Type A” person, and I enjoy challenges. I like being surrounded by other creative people, and I want to support the manufacturing industry in any way that I can. I serve on the board of the National Association of Manufacturers, as one example, and the Technology and Manufacturing Association as another. Closer to home, I’m on the board of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, and an advisory board member to McHenry East High School. What unites all these efforts is a desire to awaken young minds to the possibilities that exist when you consider a career in manufacturing.
It’s important to be a mentor.
If you can reach a young person right at the time when they’re overwhelmed by all the directions they can choose in life and at least make one path clear, then you’re really making a difference. Looking back, I think we all can relate to that. It’s also why we established the internship and apprenticeship programs at HM; but only part of the reason. The other part is that we benefit from the energy these young people bring to our enterprise – their enthusiasm and fresh thought processes. This balance between young people just being exposed to manufacturing and experienced veterans result in an incredibly creative environment.