Corporation of the Year: Milwaukee Tool

BizTimes Best in Business 2020

Milwaukee Tool’s Brookfield campus.
Milwaukee Tool’s Brookfield campus.

Ask Milwaukee Tool group president Steve Richman for an update on the company’s expansion projects and he’s quick to turn to why the projects are needed and what has made them possible.

“When you grow 20% per year like we have for over 10 years, you have a choice as a business,” Richman said. “Your choice is either stay where you’re at and take away from resources that are currently working on the areas of the business we’re working on, or continue to grow and expand to really drive that objective, which for us is delivery of solutions towards our core users on a global basis.”

In recent years, Milwaukee Tool has continually chosen to continue growing. Growing its sales. Growing its facilities. Growing its workforce. In the past year, the company announced plans for a new hand tool manufacturing facility in West Bend and a $100 million multi-purpose campus in Menomonee Falls.

Richman said the West Bend project is on track to be up and running in January 2022 and employees are already moving into an existing building on the Menomonee Falls site. He added the company continues to invest in people and resources for its Brookfield headquarters and in its Empire Level facility in Mukwonago, which is also making Milwaukee Tool-branded construction equipment.

For its continued growth, hiring and focus on innovation, Milwaukee Tool is BizTimes Milwaukee’s Best in Business 2020 Corporation of the Year.

Milwaukee Tool has a history of innovation, having launched products like the first right-angle drill and the Sawzall reciprocating saw in the 1940s and ‘50s. Its more recent success was kicked off by innovations in cordless power tools and expansion into new markets and verticals.

Richman doesn’t see the company as being defined by those products, however.

“We are a technology growth company,” he said. “Not a power tool company, not an accessory company and we will continue to grow and flourish to be able to solve our users’ needs and partner with distribution outlets throughout the globe to be able to accomplish those objectives.”

People and culture are the two fundamental pieces that have fueled the company’s growth, according to Richman. Even with the pandemic, Milwaukee Tool grew sales 13.3% in the first half of the year.

The company’s workforce has also grown dramatically. Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. records credit Milwaukee Tool with creating 821 new jobs as part of its 2016 tax incentive contract. The contract was updated last year with the Menomonee Falls project, setting a new job creation goal of 1,872.

Richman said the company is currently recruiting 500 people for positions across software and firmware development, electrical and mechanical engineering, concepting, quality, reliability and more.

“Our needs right now, our appetite for people is larger than what is readily available of people in Wisconsin, no question about that,” he said. “That continues to be a challenge for us, and we’re looking at different ways to be able to deliver on that challenge.”

Milwaukee Tool’s culture has also been challenged in 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic has limited the ability to innovate and collaborate in person.

“Our teams, the creativity that they have used to be able to figure out how to get feedback from the various user segments, how to work together through social distancing … has been absolutely amazing,” Richman said. “Our new product flow has not stopped at all. Our ability to innovate has not stopped at all. Has it been more difficult and more challenging? Absolutely.”

The company’s Brookfield headquarters has remained open with employees taking precautions and some working remotely. Richman acknowledged the company would prefer to have everyone on the same campus but the rise of remote work may change that.

“The reality is the world’s changing and we need to figure out how we’re going to adapt to make sure that we deliver on the objective of the most talented people with a diverse group, (the) most knowledgeable group, that fit our culture. We’re evaluating what does that mean in 2021, 2022 and beyond,” Richman said.  

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Arthur covers banking and finance and the economy at BizTimes while also leading special projects as an associate editor. He spent also five years covering manufacturing at BizTimes. He previously was managing editor at The Waukesha Freeman. He is a graduate of Carroll University and did graduate coursework at Marquette. A native of southeastern Wisconsin, he is also a nationally certified gymnastics judge and enjoys golf on the weekends.

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