This month we celebrated the careers of two Hamilton legends: our President Dave Lippert and our Executive VP Steve Lippert. Over the last 40 years, Dave and Steve have worked tirelessly to nurture a culture of innovation and collaboration here at Hamilton, and they will be sorely missed. As they prep to pass the torch to the next generation of leaders and Lipperts at the end of the month, we thought it would be fun to get together for one last chat about the legacy they’re leaving behind, the promise of the future, and who would make the best orchestra conductor.
First question, Dave and Steve: What will you miss most about the job?
Dave:Working with the same people every day.
Steve:I agree. The team that we've assembled and the collaboration we have together is tremendous. Now, don’t get me wrong: I will never stop crawling under equipment and looking at casters out in the field. I am totally addicted to casters.
What are you most proud of?
Steve:I’m most proud of this new plant and corporate headquarters we built. In my mind, it’s our gift to the next generation. It’s not only a more efficient and productive space, but it’s almost a more comfortable space. I mean, it’s air-conditioned!
Dave:I would say the culture we’ve built. It wasn’t always this way. We were a family business when I started back in the 80s. But the vibe then wasn't the same as it is now. I still remember the very first labor contract meeting I went to. I was such a novice. I had no idea how the world worked. But the meetings between us and the labor union were very contentious. In fact, they were so bad that our dad stopped going to them because he didn’t want to make his blood pressure worse. Steve and I just did our last one about a year and a half ago, and it was the exact opposite. Almost pleasant to attend.
Steve:It’s really a culture built on trust and respect now.
Dave:That’s it exactly. Steve nailed it.
How did it change? Is there a time you can pinpoint when you saw that sea change?
Dave:It definitely happened over time. But I would say in 1995, when we started our Lean [manufacturing] journey. That was like an accelerant to the good culture. There were about ten of us, some from the union, some from the office. And that really helped to break down some of the barriers that existed. We started to see each other more respectfully as people.
What has been your biggest challenge?
Dave:My biggest challenge is succession planning. About a third of our company could retire today if they wanted to. And we’re also growing, so how do you plan for that? We also have a lot of institutional knowledge that isn’t on paper or on any computers. So how do you get all your plans and processes out of people's heads and hearts and into a form that we can pass on to the next generation? We've been working on that.
Steve:Our most immediate challenge is training within the plant. We've got state-of-the-art equipment and we ‘re doing a lot of internal training so everyone can run these machines properly and well.
Dave:Yeah, there’s been so much change with people coming in and also moving around within the company that the training curve is much higher than it used to be. Thirty years ago, we used to have people in the job for an average of 10, 15, even 20 years.
Steve:And now I think a third of our workforce has been here under five years, which is unprecedented in our experience.
How about your favorite product release of all time?
Steve:For me, that's easy. It's our Workhorse series caster.
Dave:We came up with the same answer.
Dave:Yup. We took an industry generic caster that was rated for 1,000 pounds and we Hamilton-ized it with our drop forged steel process that basically doubled its strength.
Steve:I mean, it's our #1 product group.
Dave:It’s huge. It's so popular, we almost can't make enough of them.
Favorite customer story?
Dave:Mine is a recent one. It was for one of the custom trucks that we did for a government entity we’re not allowed to talk about. Basically, the whole thing had to be designed to shoot at a target—some kind of weapon testing deep into a hole in the earth. It took a lot of time because the customer kept changing the design. So, there was frustration on both sides. But I watched our lead designer, John Yater, who Steve and I hired 30 years ago, deliver something that was way beyond anything the customer ever dreamed of from an engineering standpoint. It involved limit switches, electrical power and remote controls. The final product just blew the doors off in terms of our customer service, in my opinion. And the good news is they’re reordering another set.
Steve:I have two stories. The first is for a truck we built called an 820-M. It’s a premium model with a high price tag. We were furnishing this to a big national distributor, but they replaced us with a competitor who had a much lower price. Well, about a year later the competitor’s product got returned to us by mistake. So, I got a chance to look at it and it was just a hot mess. There were spaces in between the slats and you could see splinters sticking up. Our product was so superior in terms of build and finish. I sent the customer photos of our truck with a note and they agreed to go with ours instead. This was maybe 20 years ago, and to this day they are still using our carts.
My second story is for another cart with another major national distributor. They were basically having a competition among vendors, so we had to go to Chicago to explain why our cart was the best. While we were making our case, the product manager told us one of our competitors said he wished our truck was his. Ours was clearly the most robust—highly engineered and more rugged, and it did have a higher price tag. But it ended up getting selected. Both of these stories are a testament to the quality that we stand for in the marketplace.
Any funny stories you can share about working with family?
Steve:Dave and I worked with the third generation, which was our dad and two uncles. Well, they didn’t always agree. They communicated in memos a lot. My dad he put everything in writing and he was very passionate about things. They were all prolific writers. And they'd highlight things with red pencils, you know? Anyway, it was crazy, but they got along.
Dave:A funny story about the memos with the third generation. We used to send out a packet of papers and filing from the previous day filled with quotes and other things. It would be about a half-inch thick wrapped with rubber bands and it would be passed around maybe 25 people’s desks. People would invariably spill a little coffee on it. Well, Dad wrote a memo about not spilling coffee on the filing and then our uncle Larry proceeded to drop coffee all over the memo.
OK, so random question: In another life, what would you be doing?
Steve:I would love to be an orchestra conductor. We have season tickets to the Cincinnati Pops and there is nothing better than music well-performed.
Why conductor? Why not rock star?
Steve:I love a full orchestra. It’s phenomenal.
Dave:Mine would be two things. I flew planes in the Air Force before I came here to work so there’s that. I also could have built houses. I built the one I’m living in, which thankfully after 40 years is still standing.
What’s next for Dave and Steve?
Dave:For me, it's travel. We have a camper we haven't used nearly enough. We'll camp in Myrtle Beach and Maine and probably out West. We’re going to Israel next year. And I know we want to go to Antarctica at some point. We started a bucket list and, tragically, it keeps growing.
Steve:Well, one is more time with the grandchildren. Two of them live in Georgetown, TX, near Austin and the other four are in two different locations in North Carolina so we don't get nearly enough time with them. And two is also travel. We have a trip to Alaska lined up to rent RVs with some friends and explore and we're also going to Ireland and Scotland later next year.
What would you say are your hopes for the future of Hamilton?
Steve:I never want them to lose sight of building a great product and shipping it fast. If you can keep executing on those two things, you can be successful moving forward. Everybody knows they’re going to pay a higher price for the quality, but when you can add quick shipping to that, it’s a powerful place to be in the marketplace.
Dave:I hope they can continue with our culture. People here just go above and beyond what’s expected of them. It might not happen every day or you might not always see it but it’s there and it’s very inspiring. I don’t want to see it squandered because it’s really special and it’s taken a long time to build.
Dave and Steve, thank you for all your tireless years of service to build Hamilton into what it is today. We wish you all the best in your next adventures. And we hope we can continue to make you proud as we take Hamilton into the next generation of leadership and excellence.