WAUCONDA – Nicole Wolter has a huge challenge facing her and HM Manufacturing – the business she and her father, Ken Wolter, now own as partners.
That current test is similar to those business owners face every day: how to fulfill a customer’s latest demands.
Nicole Wolter is finding a way to nearly double the speed and efficiency of the multinational company’s food-processing machines in order to meet their customer demands.
It’s a good challenge, Wolter said. One she plans to meet.
“We’ve been expanding our customer base, going from just the automotive industry into food and beverage processing, packaging, aerospace, marine and medical,” she said. “That means more shafts, more gearboxes, more demands, and more business.”
Wolter’s vision for HM Manufacturing to expand and reach new production levels is even more inspiring considering all the company’s been through in the past nine years.
HM faced bankruptcy in 2011 after the Wolters discovered several of their longtime employees were using company materials and machinery to establish a competing entity.
“I came to HM when my dad asked me to join him in 2009,” the 32-year-old told News Bulletin.
Wolter had worked a year after college at a commodities firm at her dad’s suggestion and was ready for a job change. Wolter joined her father at HM and started doing shipping and secretarial work, which led to quoting job costs and time estimates. When jobs failed to meet deadlines she promised customers, she began asking questions.
“I found materials and packaging missing, and delays that couldn’t be explained,” she said. “I kept hearing about a competitor. Customers would say they just ordered from a competitor that beat us by a couple of cents – by pennies – and in a slightly shorter time.”
Losing one job after another led Wolter to a private investigator that found what was going on. He found HM’s new competitor was working out of HM Manufacturing early in the morning before Nicole or her father arrived.
“They were chipping away at our business, using our materials, packaging, tooling and customer list,” she said.
2011 was one of the toughest for the power transmission components business her father founded in 1979. Besides the automotive industry going through hard times, HM had only three months of capital to survive. All that HM had left working was office staff and the shipping clerk.
The situation called for hard work and sacrifice on the part of the Wolters.
“My father and I would come in at 5 in the morning and stay until midnight, going through machine manuals, reviewing how to code them to get those jobs we had done. I was tasked with calling customers and getting them back. I was helping my father salvage the company and learning the industry at the same time,” she said.
It became clear the automotive industry’s gears and shaft work was beginning to taper off, so the Wolters looked for the next big industry they could serve.
“We decided we would go into food processing machine parts – everything is processed these days,” Wolter said.
The hard work and investment paid off. In the past seven years since those dark days and nights, things dramatically changed. HM’s business grew from $80,000 in 2011 to $3 million in 2017. They now have 20 employees.
Now HM is challenged to find skilled people to run their new machines. “We need two machinists right now, today,” Wolter said.
During those rebuilding days, Wolter took classes to learn precision machining, Autocad and SolidWorks. Now she sends employees to TMA to improve their skills and grow the company’s services. She’s also invested in promoting manufacturing education at local high schools and through TMA’s Education Foundation Board.
“Germany provides a good support system for those going into the trade,” she said. “We need more of that here in America – and we need more girls to pursue STEM careers.”
Wolter, now HM’s president and CEO, said her five-year plan includes adding a subsidiary to build fully assembled units.
“We’d like to mill, turn, hob and produce more gear boxes, then ship them the way customers need them,” she said.
Wolter’s father, Ken, stepped away at the beginning of 2017 from his daily work at HM to launch a research and development phase product line for quicker hobbing and turning machine changeovers.
Wolter’s father, the company founder, emphasized to News Bulletin the company survived those tough times due to “perseverance” and his daughter, Nicole.
Not only was she crucial in saving the company he founded, he said, “she is my partner.”
HM Manufacturing is located at 1200 Henri Drive in Wauconda and features a new e-commerce section on their website at HMManufacturing.com.