Hutchinsons transition from corporate world to tool and die

Made in Milwaukee

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Norquist Tool & Die Manufacturing
N57 W39795 Industrial Road, Oconomowoc
Industry: Tool and die maker
Employees: 15

Bob and Pam Hutchinson had no background in the tool and die industry when they decided to buy Oconomowoc-based Norquist Tool & Die Manufacturing in 2014.

The Town of Delafield couple moved to Wisconsin in 2010 after long careers at Cummins Inc. Bob left his position as vice president for parts and service to join Dresser Industries’ Waukesha Engine division. Pam eventually left her position as a senior IT project manager to start her own holistic health business.

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Bob and Pam Hutchinson on the shop floor at Norquist Tool & Die’s 11,000-square-foot facility
Bob and Pam Hutchinson on the shop floor at Norquist Tool & Die’s 11,000-square-foot facility

After GE bought Waukesha Engine, Bob realized he was losing the smaller environment he was looking for and left the company. He looked at some job prospects in other states, but by then the Hutchinsons had fallen in love with the area and wanted to stay.

At the suggestion of their attorney, the couple began searching for a company to buy. They eventually settled on Norquist, despite the fact that neither had experience in toolmaking and the industry has steadily lost firms over the past 15 years.

“The thinking we had was that, as a team, we could buy something that we thought was underutilized and put a different spin on it,” Bob said.

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The tool and die industry had lost companies as business went overseas to China, but some of that work had begun coming back as companies realized they needed shorter lead times and closer relationships with their toolmakers.

The smaller firms that didn’t close often grew and started going after work in metal stamping, too. Their goal became to build the tool and then produce the parts for OEMs.

Hutchinson figured the reshoring of work would bring new business and with smaller firms either closed or chasing larger orders, there would be space for a smaller, almost boutique shop.

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“We want to spend our time on the custom, hard to do stuff,” he said.

He’s going after stamping work, too, but only the lower volume jobs the larger shops aren’t set up for.

After a slow first few months, the plan seems to be working. The staff has grown from six people to 15. The Hutchinsons knew they needed to augment their expertise, hiring journeyman tool and die maker Don Menigoz as vice president of design and engineering and turning to their business relationships to add sales and finance expertise.

The result is revenue that’s up 40 percent year-over-year. Norquist has a customer base that includes companies like Husco International Inc., Rapco Inc., Douglas Dynamics Inc., Johnson Health Tech Co. Ltd., Target Corp. Distribution and Visa Lighting Corp.

The company is expanding its offerings, building bigger tools and investing in additional equipment. Bob also is pursuing minority business enterprise certification, recalling that when he was in the corporate world, he had minority business targets to meet but often couldn’t find vendors with which to work.

The transition from the corporate world to small business hasn’t been all smooth sailing. Updating from a DOS-based system to a new enterprise resource management system was a trying experience for Pam. She’s also had to adapt her project management approach to fit the smaller environment.

Bob said he’s had to adjust to managing in a different style as he is working closer to the shop floor and with employees more likely to have a technical degree than an MBA.

The goal is to have a family environment. Sometimes that means arguments, other times it means meetings across the street at craft brewery Sweet Mullets Brewing Co.

“We just need to make a decent living, have some fun and give back to the community,” Bob said.

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