Brothers lead Reliable Plating

Jack, Jaime and Jeff Maliszewski are the third generation of their family to run Reliable Plating Works Inc., a Milwaukee-based nickel and chrome electroplating business.

Julian Maliszewski, their grandfather, bought the company in 1929. His son John, the father of Jack, Jaime and Jeff, started working in the business in 1953.

Jaime is the company’s president, Jack is executive vice president of production, and Jeff is vice president of quality. The company has about 60 full time employees, and its chrome-plating customers include Harley-Davidson, Master Lock, Kohler, In-Sinkerator and many of the other large manufacturers in the Midwest.

“Our dad and grandpa laid the groundwork, and it’s such a great opportunity to carry it on,” Jeff said.

The Maliszewski brothers started working at Reliable when they were young.

“When I was 12 years old, dad made me come down and start cleaning offices,” Jeff said.

John set a high bar for his sons. He started work at 5 a.m. most mornings, setting schedules, firing up the boilers and getting the facility ready for the day’s work. He’d then drive back home to take his five kids to school, and return to work for a full day. After work, John would volunteer for Cub and Boy Scouts, school fundraisers and coach sports.

“My dad always put in our heads the work side of things,” Jaime said. “He made sure we put our time in. But he always told us, ‘I expect more of you.'”

The brothers developed a desire to work at Reliable, to help their father grow and expand the business. And that desire got stronger as the brothers got into their teen years.

“When I was 16 or 17, I didn’t want to leave work because I felt like I could do it better and faster than the other guy,” Jack said. “When I was there, I was an extension of my father, an extension of my family and the place ran better. With every expansion we’ve done, you know it’s your family that has borrowed the money. It’s hard to stay away. You’ve got to check on the new machines. You want to be here.”

The three brothers have grown into their roles at Reliable over time. Jack, the eldest, has worked in the family business the longest.

“Through high school, I was running machines,” he said. “I was the foreman on second shift, working pretty much a full shift (every day).”

After high school, he worked full time at Reliable, frequently putting in 90 to 100 hours per week. Jaime went to college to study business, and worked similar hours when he was home on breaks.

“When Jaime got out of college he came back (to Reliable) in his old clothes and asked me what to do. I told him to go up in the office and learn from dad,” Jack said. “That’s been the case ever since. It was the same with Jeff in the (quality) lab. He knows which suppliers are the best for us.”

The Maliszewskis don’t lose sight of their family connections in the day-to-day operations at Reliable, which prevents conflicts within the company.

“We’re not competing for the same job and all have our areas, which is why I don’t think we step on each other’s toes,” Jeff said.

“And at the end of the day, we’re brothers. That’s the primary thing,” Jaime said. “Work is secondary. Work is work, family is family.”

 “A lot of it with us is competitiveness. We just don’t want to lose.”

In 2001, the brothers started Elite Finishing LLC, a separate company that offers plating services that Reliable doesn’t. The company has about 30 employees and operates in a 30,000-square-foot facility on Milwaukee’s south side.

Because many of its customers are dealing with lower sales levels, Reliable’s sales have fallen about 50 percent over the past six months. The company has been able to avoid layoffs of full-time workers by cutting back on temporary workers.

Its prospects show signs of improvement, Jaime said, because the company has been quoting on many new jobs in recent weeks. It has also gone through a lean manufacturing exercise with the Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership (WMEP), which has given the company significant savings.

“That has saved us about $1 million on our bottom line, so we can still make money at these lower levels,” Jaime said.

Because Reliable is a family business and the brothers share a strong commitment to its continued success, it may be better able to deal with the ups and downs of the economy.

“With all of the stuff we’ve learned over the years, we have the effort and drive to do things better, faster and cheaper,” Jaime said. “You won’t find that in someone without a family tie to a company. An emotional attachment makes it that much better.”

The brothers’ commitment to their family and the company has driven its success over the years, and has ensured its survival in tough economic conditions, Jack said.

“We all put cash back into the business because there are people we want to keep,” Jack said. “I attribute (our continuation) to Jaime’s push. I’ll follow him anywhere. When things get slow, he comes up with something.”

“We all know that we can rely on each other,” Jaime said.

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