Yes, It's Worth It
Usually we go through the workday, head down, noses to the grind stone trying to do our jobs with our best efforts. There are good days and not so good days.
Often, feedback is hard to come by because we’re doing our jobs and that should be sufficient. However, occasionally something happens that breaks that routine and results in a new burst of renewed dedication for the work we’ve chosen.
Earlier this month I had such an experience, and I wanted to share it with you. We who toil in mines of trade journalism experience a lot of time staring at a blank screen waiting for the muse of writing to speak into our ear. And as professionals getting our articles produced and distributed requires that we sometimes must goose the muse a bit to meet fixed deadlines.
When that article is written and sent out to the reader, we occasionally hear back something—sometimes it’s about a decimal point in the wrong place or a misspelled company name or incorrect phone number. The muse hates being goosed.
There are days, however, when the blood, sweat and tears writing about precision machined parts technology is rewarded with unexpected feedback and unexpected impact from the work, such as the letter here that I want to share with you. Please understand, I’m not trying to blow my horn here. Rather, I think the take away is that on occasion, doing our jobs as well as we know how may result in unforeseen and positive consequences beyond the expected.
Dear Mr. Koepfer,
I enjoyed reading your February Production Machining article about Highland Products. After reading it, I decided to send you this note which has been in my draft folder until tonight. My company actually got started in CNC Swiss machining because of the article you wrote back in September 1999. Let me explain.
In 1997, my family separated from my father’s company which had been taken over by my sister and brother-in-law. It was an ugly situation. Speaking of the small $160k business that I grew up in from 1969, I was the only son who wanted to take it to the next stage. The shop had 11 manual machine tools mostly mid-1940's war production board, but we were doing high-end tool and die manufacturing for the hot steel forgings industry. Although I owned 51 percent of the family S-Corp., in May 1997, I signed everything over for a $10,000 check to my 5-year-old son, which bounced when deposited. My father and sister worship the almighty dollar to this day and haven't spoken to us in over 13 years, but God has blessed me beyond measure.
My wife and I were convinced we wanted to be in manufacturing, so we formed a company with only a blank sheet of paper. I wasn’t even able to retain a 6-inch scale from my 20 years of work in the shop. The one thing I did retain was the years of experience. I didn’t want manual machines and the problem of trying to locate qualified machinists. In 1998, I went to IMTS for the first time to search for a technology around which to build my future business. IMTS was overwhelming, but I had narrowed my search to turning and milling to leverage my past experiences. A year later, I was reading the September 1999 Modern Machine Shop and happened onto page 70 about a company called Highland Products. I can tell you that your article hit me like a lighting bolt. I remembered seeing the Swiss lathes at IMTS, but they were way too expensive for my business plan. However, the article made me realize that the technology was a perfect fit for my skill set and I could automate production with a lights-out operation. The only problem was money and customers. I had neither. Nonetheless, I started to study the market and settled on Hardinge Swiss machines.
Well, I set my sights on a Hardinge machine, but it took just over 4 years to get one. It turned out to be the last Swiss Hardinge made. Hardinge exited the business in 2003, and on the day after Christmas, I called my Hardinge salesman to see if Hardinge had any machines left. They only had one 2002 remaining in their training room and it was on a year-end clearance sale for $55,000 down from their original list price of $198,000. I immediately took a home equity loan that same week and sent them a purchase order with deposit. I didn't have a single customer or even know how to run a CNC machine in 2003, but I bought the machine and finally was able to start my business.
Originally, we were called APEX Design Inc., but I tried to grow too fast in 2008 and had to declare Chapter 7 bankruptcy in May 2009. Our new company APEX CNC Swiss Inc. was formed in June 2009. I maintained an executive level job in the chemical industry while building the shop over the last seven plus years, but lost my day job this last January. So, I'm now full time working for myself and expanding the shop.
I'll be at PMTS on April 20 and will look for you and will bring the 1999 magazine along for your signature. I was able to meet Mark Erickson in 2007 and admire him for his relationship with God, as well as his company.
Thank you for writing that article in 1999. You changed the direction of my business planning with one simple story in a magazine.
APEX CNC Swiss Inc.