Heiden grapple adapted to save lives


Manitowoc manufacturer custom fabricates variety of metal products

By Charlie Mathews, Herald Times Reporter

MANITOWOC — A 2008 CNN Hero, Tad Agoglia is convinced a product made on Expo Drive is a lifesaver.

"Our first line of attack is the truck with the Heiden grapple," said Agoglia, whose Tennessee-based Disaster Recovery Solutions team responds to natural disasters across America, including tornadoes, floods and hurricanes.

Agoglia's humanitarian efforts earned him "Hero of the Year" honors from the Atlanta-based TV news network.

"We are proud to have a Heiden grapple be the first tool we pull out to open up roads to emergency vehicles," said Agoglia who said he has changed his company's focus from helping clients save money to aiding communities ravaged by fierce winds or uncontrolled rivers.

Crane attachments — including the 42-inch wide "trash grapples" used by Agoglia — are only about 10 percent of Heiden Inc.'s business, explained Matt Jacobson, its president and chief executive officer.

It also makes Heiden-branded railroad tie grapples as well as "Super Dumper" boxes and pallet forks that attach to cranes, including those made for one of their customers, The Manitowoc Company.

"Primarily, we manufacture parts for original equipment manufacturers," said Jacobson, including those in the communications, construction, food and dairy, lab and medical equipment, refrigeration, security, water treatment and other industries.

"But not appliance or automotive," said Karen Jacobson, Heiden's senior vice president for sales, marketing and administration, of those volatile sectors know for intense pricing pressure on suppliers.

That was one of the key pieces of advice given to the brother-sister combination by their father, Bill Jacobson, who sold out his majority share to his children before retiring to South Carolina.

"We are cautiously optimistic about the future of our company," said Matt Jacobson, 45, who like his year-older sister, came from the insurance industry and has a bachelor's degree in economics. He also has a master's in business administration from Marquette University.

The Jacobsons stress several factors as crucial to their current and future success.

"We went to our union, the Teamsters, and they have worked with us to help reduce our expenses," Karen Jacobson said. "We wouldn't be in the position we are now if they did not help us … we recognize and thank them for that."

She said Heiden benefits from a stable, experienced veteran workforce who embrace the attitude and actions necessary for its earning last year ISO 9001:2008 certification.

The quality management system, Karen Jacobson said, "has opened some doors and given us a leg up on competition if they're not certified.

"Internally, it has been a godsend … helps us keep our eye on the ball," she said of the constant cycle of internal audits, management review and corrective actions.

Communication critical

In the current recessionary economy Heiden Inc. reluctantly laid off seven employees. It now has 55 employees, with about 40 men and women on the production floor of the 40,000-square-foot facility as shop workers, machine operators and welders.

"We're small enough that we can all fit into our lunchroom," said Matt Jacobson who shares information about the company's goals to make sure "we are on the same bus moving in the same direction."

Karen Jacobson said voluntary layoffs by union members have helped Heiden get through slow periods.

They said Heiden has attracted younger employees who join their co-workers in working four 10-hour shifts weekly, staggered to create three-day weekends beginning Friday or Saturday.

What all employees focus on is giving customers value-added products and services, including engineering expertise.

Matt Jacobson said Heiden engineers often can help clients figure out a more economical way to manufacture a part.

They said their largest customer represents about one-quarter of their business. Karen Jacobson said they strive to have customers in a variety of sectors so that when one is slow another may be experiencing growth.

A member of the board of directors of the Economic Development Corporation of Manitowoc County, she would like to form strategic alliances of different manufacturers in the Fox River Valley, Green Bay, Sheboygan and Manitowoc markets.

In addition to the Jacobsons, two individuals have small shares in the 51-year-old company, including Khushrow Madon, Heiden's vice president of strategic business development, engineering and quality. They have an advisory board including three individuals not part of ownership.

Matt Jacobson said that his respect for his father's acumen increases with time.

"He said to stay involved, know your business and have a passion for it," Matt Jacobson said.

The son said he used to sit in meetings and internally question whether he might be able to tackle a problem more effectively than his father.

But now, as co-owner and president, he has a much better appreciation of the challenges and responsibilities that go with sitting at the desk where the buck stops.


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