Longtime Port-based manufacturer attracts new owner

Kickhaefer Manufacturing Co. purchased by Houston private-equity firm but no changes planned for firm with three plants in county

KICKHAEFER MANUFACTURING CO. was purchased by a Houston private-equity firm last month as the metal stampings business celebrates its 110th anniversary. KMC President and CEO Gerry Schwarz said the company will continue current operations as it seeks to hire more employees. Above, Schwarz (center) stood with punch press operators LeRoy Pinkston (left) and Mike Clarke. Photo by Sam Arendt
By 
JOE POIRIER
Ozaukee Press staff

Port Washington-based Kickhaefer Manufacturing Co. was recently acquired by private-equity firm Main Street Capital of Houston, but there are no changes in store for the 110-year-old metal stampings business.

“The business and the industry have been doing well, and it seemed like a good time with our group of investors to sell,” CEO Gerry Schwarz said.

Main Street Capital finalized the purchase on Oct. 31 from Wing Capital Group, which bought the company 10 years ago after the third-generation family-owned business was sold.

“There are zero planned changes,” Schwarz said. “Their philosophy is very hands off just like Wing Capital was, and that’s why we partnered with Main Street Capital, because the fit is the same.”

KMC specializes in engineered manufactured metal stampings and fabrications for multiple industries, including automotive and heavy and commercial equipment companies.

“A lot of manufacturing has changed over the past 110 years,” Schwarz said. “For us to remain relevant and an important supplier for some of the top original equipment manufacturers in the country is pretty neat.”  

KMC’s clients include Caterpillar and John Deere and auto manufactures such as Honda, General Motors, Ford, Toyota and Chrysler.

“With automotive, we’re on about 70% to 80% of all the cars that are out there in some shape or form,” Schwarz said. “These are some of the top original equipment manufactures, and I think our success is the fact that we have people who are dedicated and have the skill set to handle complex parts and problems.”

The company, which is headquartered at 1221 S. Park St., Port Washington, has more than 300 employees at its four plants in Port, Fredonia and Milwaukee.

“We’ve been in Ozaukee County for a long time,” Schwarz said. “We get a lot of challenges from customers to move down south, but for us it’s the people with the work ethic and skill sets that make us remain local. Our culture is here and we have no desire to move.”

Schwarz said clients are attracted to KMC because all its parts are made in house.

“We have lasers, press brakes, welding and all these other things that are not just a stamping machine going up and down,” he said. “Having it all in one place is an advantage to our customers, and we hear that a lot.”

The company’s success, Schwarz said, is due to its employees, many of whom have worked there for decades.

“Every quarter, we’re celebrating people who have been here for two months or people that have been here 25 and 40 years,” he said, adding there are several employees who have worked there for 50 years.

“Our people take a lot of pride in being able to help solve problems and doing the right thing for the customer, whether it’s staying late to get a part shipped or helping solve a quality or design problem,” he said.   

Sales Engineering Manager Dan Bley started on the manufacturing floor as a slide operator 27 years ago.

“KMC wants to invest in its employees and expand their career paths,” he said. “The company funded my schooling, which allowed me to move into new roles. They recognize hard work and reward those who want to grow.”

Customer Service Lead Vickie Meins, who was born and raised in Port and started at KMC as co-op student when she was a junior at Port Washington High School, has been with the company for nearly 23 years.  

“It speaks volumes about a company that is willing to use their resources to help you advance in different aspects of your job,” she said. “Plus, they do a lot for their employees with quarterly cookouts and summer events. It feels like a family here and not a place where you just go to work.”

When Schwarz took over as CEO 10 years ago, there were about 130 employees. He said KMC is seeking to add more quality employees to address the demand for collaborative metal forming.   

“We’re going to continue the growth we’ve been doing the last 110 years, and we’re going to invest in new and best technology so we have a lot more capital and new equipment coming in,” he said. “We’re going to continue to invest in the best people and partner with the best equipment manufactures out there.”

He said that while the company is growing it will continue using the sustainable business model that has served it well over the past century.

“We’re very thoughtful on how we grow our business. We could chase other opportunities and grow faster, but we want to do what’s best for our stakeholders, employees, vendors and community,” Schwarz said. “With new technology, it’s been the rebirth of manufacturing. It’s no longer the dark and dirty; it’s technical with sensors, interfaces and controls, and it’s exciting work for people.”

 

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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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