On 50th anniversary, core values lead Elgin firm
By Melanie Kalmar For Sun-Times Media October 1, 2013 4:10PM
Haumiller Engineering Co. officials are (from left) Russ Holmer, president; Jim Daffron, applications manager; and Rick Cremerius, CFO. | Submitted
Updated: November 3, 2013 6:20AM
ELGIN — Even though he passed away in 1987, Cliff Haumiller’s core principles for running the business he founded 50 years ago continue to help employees navigate the volatile manufacturing industry of the 21st century.
“Cliff started the company and gave us good direction,” said Russ Holmer, president of Haumiller Engineering Co.
Haumiller designs and builds high-speed assembly machines that put together plastic parts of disposable products that consumers use every day, from lipstick tubes to throw-away razors. The company occupies 40,000 square feet of industrial space at 445 Renner Drive, on Elgin’s southwest side.
A majority of the machines Haumiller builds are used to assemble the dispensing closures on packaging for food (flip-top lids on ketchup), cosmetics and personal care items (the pump on a bottle of lotion), household cleaning solutions (spray tips on aerosol cans), and medical devices (the valves and injection sites on an IV line). All of the machines are custom-made, capable of assembling from 100 parts per minute to 1,000 parts per minute.
Toiling in his father’s garage on Liberty Street in Elgin, a young Cliff Haumiller, with an innate mechanical aptitude, built his first piece of high-speed assembly equipment. A business was launched when the machine he created put the spray tip on an aerosol can faster than is possible with human hands. The household products category that produces much of Haumiller’s work with aerosol cans remains vibrant today.
Incorporated in 1963, Haumiller has always been based in Elgin, because it was Cliff’s hometown.
Holmer attributes the company’s success to Cliff’s core principles for running the business — people come first, always be honest and fair, and focus on profitability and not growth of the customer base. And whatever you do, make sure that each customer generates less than 20 percent of the overall revenue. Don’t rely heavily on any one client.
Making a comeback
Holmer says that for the past four to five years, business has been better than ever. To him, it’s a sure sign that manufacturing is returning to the United States.
“We supply machines to some U.S. manufacturers doing production here,” Holmer said. “It was done overseas in the past.”
By the early to mid-1980s, Haumiller — which had an employee stock plan before the advent of the ESOP (employee stock ownership plan) — became an employee-owned company. The move has been a coup for retention. At least half of Haumiller’s 105 employees have been on the job for more than two decades.
Business hit a low point in the 1990s, when manufacturing headed to China. “It hurt our customers; and when our customers get hurt, we do, too,” Holmer says. Then 9/11 happened, and it was a double-whammy. The company had to downsize.
“We lost some competitors then,” Holmer said. “We were able to sustain ourselves because we were financially very disciplined.
“Most of our competitors overextend themselves and take on too much risk. We’re good at managing risk and finances. We have never been in debt. It was the way Cliff taught us to run the business.”
By 2003 to 2004, business was more solid again.
With the exception of a few overseas clients, most of Haumiller’s customers are located here.
“When people want you to build custom machinery, they want it built near where it will be used,” Holmer said.
Before leading the company, Holmer’s first job was sweeping floors. Gradually, he moved up to building and testing machines, and earned college degrees along the way. Like himself, Holmer says, many of his employees are “homegrown.”
Haumiller’s CFO, Rick Cremerius, started out as an office manager. He has been with the company for 27 years.
“It’s a great group of people,” he said. “Not a lot of politics.”
Applications engineer Jim Daffron has been on the job for nearly 28 years.
“It’s enough of a challenge all the time,” he said. “It’s like an obsession, the challenge of getting it right.”
Despite some hiccups, Haumiller celebrates 50 years in business with an eye toward the future. The plan is to do more work with medical devices, Holmer says, and prepare the younger generation to take over the company.