This Story Needs to Be Heard special guest, Ed McIlhon, is Founder & CEO of Assembled Products, Inc. (API). Ed got his start in the fastener industry at the age of 14 working with his father and has had a lifelong commitment to the fastener industry.
Ed expanded his dad’s fastener distribution company, Iowa Industrial Products (IIP). As general manager and then president, he took IIP from a $3 million company in 1986 to a $56 million company in 1998. Along the way, Ed played an integral role in negotiating a functional version of the Fastener Quality Act serving as Co-Chairman of the Public Law Task Force and testifying before Congress on behalf of the industry. Additionally, he served as president of the National Fastener Distributor Association in 1995.
His success with IIP led to the sale of the company to Bossard in 1999. Ed served as president of Bossard Industrial Products until 2005 when he purchased their Kits and Bundling unit. He took that unit and created what is today Assembled Products, Inc.
Ed explains that working with family has been a very positive experience. He has 11 brothers and sisters, 10 of whom worked at the business at one time or another. His father was his best friend and mentor, and appreciates the fact that his father trusted him, both as an individual and businessman.
In 1976, Ed started a branch office of his father’s company in Waterloo with his father remaining in Des Moines. He identified the ag market as having potential to grow the business. His dad was skeptical as he claimed that they don’t buy from “the little guys.” The world was changing with “just-in-time” delivery and “value-added” philosophies. Because Ed steered the company to meet these needs, the company went from $3 million to nearly $60 million within 12 years.
The McIlhon family sold the company business to Bossard in Switzerland, a company with which they had become great friends. Over the first five years, most of the McIlhons were gone because of the Bossard transition and “cleaning house.” Bossard likely thought it was less expensive to hire younger, cheaper employees. Ed worked for Bossard and was head of all 11 U.S. companies. Ed claimed he “ran out of gas being told what to do,” just as his dad had predicted. His dad felt that Ed would never want to work for somebody else.
As a result, Ed bought part of the business in 2005 (about $2 million in sales at the time). He brought in family members for every key position and had a good relationship with his bank. Assembled Products, Inc. became a viable family business.
Customer service has always been a key focus for the company and Ed gave several interesting examples of that in this podcast.
He explained that four key stakeholders are important to a successful business.
- Banks, insurance, legal, and outside professionals
Business usually fails in the 3rd generation, according to Ed, but he is dedicated to making sure his family is qualified and prepared to lead in the future. As a cohesive unit, his family works and plays together.
Ed’s mission statement is a simple four-word statement: Have fun, make money. The vision statement is similar: Ship good parts on time.
When Ed was asked about the impact of COVID-19, he commented that they follow the rules and wear masks and social distance. Being the type of person who thrives on relationships, Ed misses the social connections, longer meetings, and coming together for celebrations. He has tried to establish a positive employee experience, maintaining bonuses and other perks.
API, Inc. not only demonstrates charitable giving, but also community involvement. As a company, they sometimes can buy certain things more economically to help a nonprofit. Ed believes strongly in giving back.
Ed shares the story of a very special organization, The Andrew Giving Fund, that was established to celebrate the life and death of his grandson. Experiencing the death of his grandson, Ed recalled the saying, “As God brings you to it, he’ll get you through it.”
When asked to give any final thoughts, Ed shared that personally, the following things are of utmost importance:
- Everything else
“I ran out of gas being told what to do.”
“Hire good, smart people who know what their jobs are, then get out of the way.”
“Create an environment where employees feel empowered.”
“The family part of the business is secure as long as I am alive.”
“The first rule here is don’t get me in trouble. Period.”
“If you can eliminate stress, we have done that here.”
“Relationships are the most important factor.”
“We use the term around here…love.”
“We call our customers every Monday morning and tell them we love them.”
“I’m a relationship guy.”
“COVID-19 has screwed up my relationship experiences. It will change. This too shall pass.”
“When that happens (losing a grandchild), you are scarred for life. But scar tissue is tougher than regular skin tissue so you are stronger.”
“We’re heavy in the community and we’ll remain that way.”
“I truly believe that you’ve got to lead with faith.”
Assembled Products, Inc.
The Andrew Giving Fund
Holy Family School