Milwaukee Tool’s Steve Richman on helping supply chain teams and recruiting talent to Milwaukee

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Brookfield-based Milwaukee Tool has been one of southeastern Wisconsin’s fastest growing companies for years now. The maker of power tools has posted 20% or greater sales growth for 14 straight years and all of that topline growth has translated to a lot of hiring in the region.

Most of the company’s job growth has been concentrated in engineering, new product development and marketing roles, but the company also has significant manufacturing operations at its Empire Level facility in Mukwonago, its Imperial Blades plant in Sun Prairie and teams working on operations in Brookfield. The company also plans to open a plant to make hand tools in West Bend next year and has massively scaled up its operations in Mississippi to keep pace with its growth.

Steve Richman, group president of Milwaukee Tool, joined BizTimes Milwaukee associate editor Arthur Thomas on stage at the Next Generation Manufacturing Summit earlier this month to discuss the company’s growth, managing supply chain challenges and recruiting people to southeastern Wisconsin. The conversation is available as the latest episode of the BizTimes MKE Podcast.

Here are a few highlights:

On helping teams manage supply chain challenges

Manufacturers everywhere are dealing with supply chain and logistics challenges. Richman said some of the ways Milwaukee Tool is managing them include regular calls with top executives at key suppliers and new product development teams pivoting their work to look at alternative designs for products.

“We’re doing everything we can to be proactive about what could happen and we’ve been doing that not for the past month, but since July right after COVID first hit,” he said.

The company also makes a point of holding more product inventory than competitors.

“We do that because we are a growth company and our belief is that if we’re not betting big on that growth then we’re not going to be able to deliver to our customers, our distribution partners to supply those users,” Richman said.

BizTimes associate editor Arthur Thomas moderated the keynote conversation with Steven Richman, group president of Milwaukee Tool.

“Even with 14- and 16-week delays, we’ve got inventory to be able to get us through the battle,” he added. “Not to say it hasn’t been painful. Our supply chain team is a wreck, our sales force has been battered, our manufacturing locations have had to deal with the peaks and valleys because of it, but together they’ve come through to be able to deliver just unbelievable results.”

Richman said Milwaukee Tool uses skip-level meetings to help leaders take the temperature of employees in the organization. Those conversations help leaders understand when people are burnt out and need to be encouraged to take time off.

“Leaders in our company have to do that,” he said. “We have a lot of people who are really passionate and put their blood, sweat and tears into the business every single day and sometimes they need to be told to turn it off,” Richman said.

On recruiting people to Milwaukee

Acknowledging that recruiting today is “an absolute battle,” Richman said it is important for employees in engineering, operations and supply chain to be part of the process along with the teams leading recruiting efforts.

He pointed out that Milwaukee Tool will have more than 1,000 interns this year and knows it needs to recruit students while they are in school to get the best and the brightest.

At the regional level, Richman said it has gotten easier over the years to sell young people on coming to Milwaukee.

“What the Bucks have done, the growth of downtown Milwaukee has clearly changed the perspective of bringing people into Milwaukee,” Richman said. “Before the Bucks did that, I’ll say 14 years ago when we brought people on the tour of Milwaukee, it was difficult, it felt almost impossible to get young people to want to come. It’s turned since then.”

He said the company is working with universities in the state to help them raise the level of their graduates to match top universities in areas like computer science, electrical engineering and operations.

Richman also said diversity is one of the challenges in recruiting and retaining people for the company.

“Making Wisconsin a place where everybody feels comfortable and a part of the community is absolutely essential to be able to recruit the best and the brightest,” he 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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