Sachin’s story of success in manufacturing started with growing up in Wisconsin with his parents, who had emigrated from Bangalore and Mysore, in south India, during the Vietnam War. At this time, jobs were plentiful in the United States and his parents lived in various parts of the US. Looking for a quiet place to raise Sachin, his brother, and sister, his parents settled in Wisconsin. When Sachin went off to college and grad school, he planned on being a lawyer. While in school, he read a story about a man that runs a steel mill and was really struck by it. He decided, after one summer at a law firm, that what he really wanted to do was work in metals. So Sachin wrote to a steel company and they agreed to hire him as an intern. He worked there during the last year of law school and loved it. He rejoined that company after finishing law school and passing his bar exam. After that, Sachin moved to Mexico with the company, living there for four years with his wife, but always wanted to go back to Wisconsin, where his parents still live, and work in metals.
While Sachin uses other lawyers when the company needs external counsel, he finds his legal degree helps him when reviewing contracts. He says, “So I do review contracts but I don’t think that’s actually putting my law degree to use. I think where it comes actually to use is not in the certification itself but in the way of thinking. In law school, you learn a very structured way of thinking, putting together your thoughts, and then communicating them. That’s a skill that definitely helps in business.”
The company is Wisconsin Aluminum Foundry , based in Manitowoc County, WI since 1909. The family-owned business has been in operation for 113 years and is in the 5th generation of family ownership. The main foundry is in Manitowoc, WI where there are two foundries: a sand plant and a permanent mold plant. There are two other locations in Manitowoc, one being a machine shop division and one a consumer products division. There are two locations out of state, one in Wabash, IN, and one in Crookston, MN.
Wisconsin Aluminum Foundry has a total of 750 employees today, most of whom are in Wisconsin, and there are three unions at the WI facilities. They primarily make aluminum castings, but also procure and machine ductile iron and gray iron castings as well. There is, additionally, a consumer products division where WAF makes a proprietary line of kitchen equipment including a machine that cans beer for microbreweries and pressure cookers for various sizes for canning applications. They also make griddles and light cookware. For the medical field, they make a device that sterilizes items for medical applications, parts for a robotic surgical machine, and parts for MRI machines.
Wisconsin Aluminum Foundry broadly serves the heavy motor industry but not in the traditional sense, more in the passenger automotive industry area, specializing in after-market parts and add-ons. They also serve the electric vehicle market for charging that is used in buses, trucks, and other vehicles just going into production. The marine industry is perhaps their largest customer and WAF makes motor parts for them. Additional industries served include the power generation electricity transmission market and aerospace serving companies that make satellites. All in all, the company has secured quite a bit of success in manufacturing.
The Key to Maintaining a Company for Five Generations
What’s worked for Wisconsin Aluminum Foundry is financial prudence and building equity in the company. Secondly would be having a strategy to develop a niche in the marketplace, which is in urgent need in a short lead time for parts that may not run for many years or the situation is a one-off the customer needs. These projects are specifically around aluminum and bronze castings. Being distinctive has really been what has enabled the company to last and stand the test of time.
Sachin’s Biggest Business Challenge
Sachin says his most recent challenge was a company they had acquired in Indiana. The company’s previous owners had not made a profit for 72 straight months and decided to sell. Wisconsin Aluminum Foundry bought it because they saw the promise of the technology and the solid hardworking people that had the skills, longevity, and passion. Sachin admits now that he didn’t understand the depth of this company’s problems. The first month, they lost money. They made revenue but also incurred expenses, so it evened it out but they were basically hemorrhaging money. In the second month, they lost even more money. The Chairman seemed unfazed and assured Sachin that the company was “going to be around for a long time.” This reassured Sachin, who went about turning this company around with a methodical approach.
They raised prices, let go of top management the company felt weren’t doing their job, promoted people from within, and gave out raises. He knows it is counterintuitive to give out raises when the company is losing money, but they decided they needed to “give a more compelling place to work that was safer, paid better, and was happier.” So they raised wages, hired new people, increased production, won new sales, moved sales to this new plant from Manitowoc, and just chipped away at the net loss. In January 2022, they made their first profit at that plant. The company turned around and gave it back to the employees as a bonus. Even though it was a small bonus, they wanted to reward the people that made the turnaround happen. That first month’s profit became a better profit the next month and the next month. Finally, last month, they made their highest profit. They are on track to deliver major sales from that plant. Sachin credits the huge turnaround to the team they have, their ingenuity, and their dedication to creating an environment where they can do what they do best. He adds, “…this is how we overcome, not one single insight, not one single person, not one single sale but a daily accumulation of successes that build on themselves.”
Sachin Talks Success in Manufacturing
Curiosity and Knowledge
Sachin feels he is consistently the person that knows the least about everything: “Not knowing can be disconcerting. For most people, if you are in a room and everyone knows more than you it can be a very scary position. But if you flip that on its head and use your knowledge and naivete as a sort of spark for curiosity and asking questions, actually you find that people that have knowledge want to share, and you can benefit tremendously from that. And then you develop yourself as a person who doesn’t bring knowledge but what you can bring is the ability to create an environment where knowledge is shared.”
Sachin also believes there is value in the old adage “Follow your passion.” He says that “life is too short to do work you don’t love.” He sees a lot of passion in the people working in manufacturing, along with joy, love, and curiosity. He thinks it’s “easy to love manufacturing.”
Besides passion, Sachin thinks dedication is the third thing people need to set themselves apart from others if they are going to be successful. There is caring and passion in dedication, from Sachin’s perspective, and when you care you work hard.
The fourth thing that helps people be successful in manufacturing is their education. “I think informing yourself with skills and knowledge that are relevant to your job. That’s fundamentally important. As much as you love something, as much as you care about it, you’re not going to be good at your job unless you know something. So education I’m going to say is the key enabler.”
Getting Excited About Manufacturing
First of all, America is in a rebirth of manufacturing, it’s being rebuilt. If people want to be part of growth, Sachin believes manufacturing is the place to be.
Secondly, manufacturing is so tangible and hands-on. People working in manufacturing get to see products being made and then go out into the world to see those products in use.
Finally, the positive relationships that come from manufacturing work. Sachin says “There’s no greater joy in life than having positive relationships.”