Below is the full interview between Mike Lessiter, editor of Farm Equipment, and Janea and Glenn Danuser — the brother and sister duo representing the fourth generation to run Danuser Machine Company.
Mike Lessiter: So first question, tell us how you would describe Danuser — your niche and what the company does.
Janea Danuser: This is where I get to say that Glenn Danuser doesn’t really allow me to talk to the customers. I’m the back office, so you give the sales pitch.
Glenn Danuser: Alright, so we have about three different divisions at Danuser. We have an OEM division, Original Equipment Manufacturer that we can make parts for all major tractor companies, a lot of tillage, approximately a thousand customers there. And then we have the Danuser attachment line, which it carries our name of course. And that one has about 12 to 14 worldwide distributors, that’s how we go to market, which they set up the dealers and go to the end users. And then the third one is more of a hobby, it’s the recoil reduction devices for the end of shotguns and rifles.
Mike Lessiter: I didn’t know about that one. Learned something already.
Janea Danuser: That’s kind of a jerry hobby business. It was brought on in the 80s and we continue to this day.
Mike Lessiter: Tell us about you have a long story history, more than most of the manufacturers will sit down with. Tell us about the beginnings of Danuser.
Glenn Danuser: Whew! So we started 1910 and one of the first products was a stain thrasher, grain thrasher.
Janea Danuser: And, see, as a little sister I get to interrupt him, correct him, and say — actually our great grandfather, the first Danuser product was more of a farm wagon. He started more in Reedsville, Mo., and moved his family to Fulton in 1910, and then the other.
Glenn Danuser: So, in 1945 Grandpa Henry was the first to mass produce the post-hole digger in the U.S. And from there it went into the 50s for blades, rakes, box blades, log splitters, post drivers, hydraulic post-hole diggers, earth augers, pallet forks, concrete breakers, material mixing buckets. I know I’m forgetting something, so we’ll just stop it right there, but as you can see it gets — really we’re doing innovative tools I would say in the 50s and 60s. He was way ahead of what everybody else was doing. He would travel overseas, find some good ideas and bring them back to America. And so that — he had a very long relationship with Henry Ford, JI Case, used their marketing distribution channels. He went to Henry Ford to talk about a post-hole digger for his 8 inch, 9 inches, said I got something that you need on your tractors. And Henry Ford liked it, said it’s great but it’s got to be pained Dearborn red and it’s got to say Ford Dearborn. Well then Henry Dansuer said well it needs to say Danuser on it and so they argued it out and one side goes to Ford Dearborn, one side goes to Danuser. And then he went to see JI Case and had a 3-point blade for them and they said we like it, it has to be painted the Case, I think it was more like an orange back then, and it had to have the eagle with the globe. No, it’s got to say Danuser. And so there again both sides of the equipment everybody got their marks. And so using those 2 bigger companies with well-known name brand, recognition back then, nobody really knew who Danuser was, Danuser didn’t make anything. So it was kind of new and using those marketing channels got the exposure for the Danuser name out and then Grandpa Henry just took it further and further and started with click pins and ball joints and bar rod ends and clevis ends and so forth, and that’s what sparked the OEM. You can interject any time here, I’m all over the board.
Janea Danuser: I was going to say that actually Henry was also a dairy farmer. He had a well-known dairy in the area, Skyville Farms and it was Skyville Farms, there was an airstrip often so it’s an airstrip to this day, and obviously we’ve been in business long enough before the standardization of the 3-point hitch, and that’s what Glenn was referring to making equipment to fit all of those tractors. And then obviously all of the serial number and model number tags that he was talking about, we have such an odd collection of tags for all the types of equipment that we’ve made through the years. Some of it as an OEM, and some of it obviously carried the Danuser name. But the OEM business, like for instance we’ve supplied John Deere for well over 50 years, probably over 60 years now. It’s primarily linkage type equipment and like Glenn said virtually all the majors and quite frankly a lot of the female members are a lot of our customers as well.
Mike Lessiter: So, that was very fortuitous that he hung in there and negotiated to have the Danuser name and then I imagine showed some courage at the time.
Glenn Danuser: I’m sure that was pretty big to go up against those 2 large companies, but I think he had a vision and he had a dream, and he knew that he needed to get the Danuser name somehow out there.
Janea Danuser: We just keep that Danuser hard-headedness alive today.
Glenn Danuser: Very much.
Mike Lessiter: And this was your grandfather?
Janea Danuser: Correct.
Mike Lessiter: And did his father start the business?
Janea Danuser: Yes, Kasper was Henry’s father, and it was officially established in 1910 in Fulton.
Mike Lessiter: And in the mid-40s was when — that was a big defining moment for…
Janea Danuser: For the takeoff of the attachments line and then it grew and I wouldn’t you say the OEM business really more flourished under Dad, although in the 80s, I mean it started earlier and then it really took off more in terms of the number of customers and people that we were reaching.
Glenn Danuser: Grandpa Henry had to develop the OEM line for his post-hole diggers and his other attachments, the click pins and the clevises and everything. So he needed those anyway. And then I think it was Dad that basically found that there’s a lot of people that could use those type of stuff.
Janea Danuser: Unfortunately we missed out on a lot of our heritage. My grandfather — I was less than 2 when he died. And we were the first ones that really have gotten to work with a parent for a long period of time. I think Henry probably worked on the task for a while, and then he bought the business from his siblings when Kasper died. But there was a lot of history that we missed — we talked to a lot of locals and like ‘oh, your grandfather did this,’ ‘your grandfather would say that,’ and we learned a lot probably about our own family history that way.
Glenn Danuser: And I learned a lot about Grandpa through one of the older employees that retired after 50 years, Jimmy Lawrence. And he drove the semis. We had tractor, trucks and trailers back then, that’s how you hauled it. Your old LTL the wire sea roadway and everybody else wasn’t really there.
Janea Danuser: And before that on the rail. Our warehouse location was actually on the railroad line because we shipped everything by rail.
Glenn Danuser: I did a lot of trade shows with Jimmy and I always enjoyed riding in the truck and saying, “tell me about Grandpa.” And so he’d tell me a lot of stories and I hear it from a lot of people that knew Henry that I have a lot of Henry traits, which I think is great. I never knew the man really, but I do like to have things nice and shiny before it hit the road. I think brand and image is everything, you got to have that.
Janea Danuser: I think the way we look at it, sort of like the photo baster in our front office. Our great grandfather it’s actually a working photo, he’s on a lathe, his hands are dirty, he’s a machinist. He’s in there. And then the Henry photo, he’s actually smoking a cigarette.
Glenn Danuser: He’s got his cufflinks and his 3-piece suit.
Janea Danuser: And the one of Dad he’s actually leaning on some product that was outside the paint line. And then we got our teeny, tiny photo.
Glenn Danuser: Yeah, we get this little picture on the wall.
Janea Danuser: But we’re building a new building this year, so we’ll replace those photos in there.
Mike Lessiter: Tell us the stories about Grandpa that you heard on those drives to the shows and some of the people in town.
Glenn Danuser: Grandpa was always in a full blown suit and tie.
Janea Danuser: I don’t think he’d like us calling him Grandpa. He probably wouldn’t fit a Grandpa.
Glenn Danuser: No, but that’s the kind of guy he was. I heard that he was dressed like that even on weekends, always thanking, always trying to get outside the box. His dairy that Janea spoke of was a first in the whole, was it Midwest I believe, that had stainless steel equipment. And he got that idea I believe from a trip to Australia, yeah, and then had all of it brought over and he knew that this would be a good thing. So he really was an outside of the box thinker.
Janea Danuser: He was very entrepreneurial.
Glenn Danuser: Right, and he could make things and I just imagine the man’s mind was constantly spinning and going. His favorite car was a Mercedes Goldwing and I heard stories that he always had his trips that he made, he had his same hotels, the same doorman, always called him by name, he called them by name, you know, it’s great to see you, oh it’s great to see you. He always knew — had that one-on-one relationship. So, when he found something he enjoyed he would stick with it. He wasn’t one to go out and say well I didn’t quite like that hotel, I think I’ll go here. No, he stuck with one and made it a home.
Janea Danuser: And it better be right.
Glenn Danuser: Yeah, it had to be right.
Janea Danuser: It would be clean one, it would professional.
Mike Lessiter: I’m picking up some traits that I know about you from this conversation is the quality control, lay it out paperwork.
Glenn Danuser: Detail oriented.
Janea Danuser: Our motto is the same to this today. It’s a quote from our great grandfather “Good enough won’t do, it must be right.” And it’s actually on a large crane that would have been Henry’s era of building, and we’ve moved it over — I mentioned that we’re adding on this year. We’re adding on new office space approximately 11,500 square feet, and it’s got this large crane that’s going to be on display, it’s part of our main feature wall. A lot of companies come up with mottos or mission statements or various things, but that really describes it, says it all for us “Good enough won’t do, it must be right.” That’s our heritage, that’s our brand. We enjoy very well respected brand around the world and we appreciate that and honor that.
Glenn Danuser: I think one of my best stories though is one about when he’d go out for dinner and he’d say “Can I see the dessert menu?” “Excuse me?” And he would always order his dessert first in these real nice restaurants because he said you never know when you’re going to die, so he had to have a good dessert.
Janea Danuser: Poor guy, actually he died in the middle of the construction of his office building because my current office would have been his garage. There’s an actual little inset because of course garage doors were smaller then, and so I was going to be where my office is what was going to be his garage and his was going to be upstairs. That’s where we got IT now. We’re spread out all over the place, not all over the place, we have a block and Glenn and I — this will be the first time we’ll be under the same roof in about 15 years.
Glenn Danuser: Yeah, scary times.
Janea Danuser: So, he’s at opposite ends of the building, but it’s a really long hallway, we’re trying to figure out.
Glenn Danuser: Separation will be key.
Mike Lessiter: So was Henry a manufacturing type, a sales type?
Janea Danuser: I think he was both.
Glenn Danuser: Both.
Janea Danuser: Because I think he had a very clever engineering type mind. You see little notes, I found little notepads and things with drawings on it. Apparently, he was always making notes.
Janea Danuser: Because I think he had a very clever engineering type mind. You see little notes, I found little notepads and things with drawings on it. Apparently, he was always making notes.
Glenn Danuser: Or doodling.
Janea Danuser: But he was always the quintessential businessman, I think, if you think of the 1950s and 60s.
Glenn Danuser: He had a real good team, too. He had a very unique group of engineers. Like the click pins. To make the click pin you had to drill 2 holes in the pin head. Well, you don’t just go shopping on the internet back in the 50s, you don’t go shopping through Sears. I mean where do you go to buy a click pin machine? Well, guess what, there was none. And so one of the head engineers, Clyde Ren, built that machines.
Janea Danuser: And those are the machines we use to this day. So when it breaks you can’t call someone for parts…
Glenn Danuser: There’s no manual.
Janea Danuser: We’ve got to figure them out. But I guess that Clyde was sort of what they would — he was one of those geniuses that they’d say the morning buzzer would ring and he’d grab his coat, he didn’t know if it was lunch time, time to go home, was never one that really watched the clock, was just a deep thinker. And yeah, you’re right, we were very blessed to have some really good people through the years.
Mike Lessiter: So, tell me about Jerry and how his path into the business and what he learned from his father and so forth. Tell me about how he grew in the business.
Janea Danuser: Well that’s a father/son thing, so you handle that.
Glenn Danuser: Oh great. Yeah, see, Dad’s still around and I could get punished for this. Okay, so when Henry passed he and Dad got left a big load in his lap.
Mike Lessiter: And how old was Jerry at that time?
Janea Danuser: That would have been 1975 so he would have been, so you do the math for me, 30, 40…
Mike Lessiter: Young man.
Glenn Danuser: Yeah and so obviously — 75? And so you know I was what, 3 or 4 years old by then, and so he had a young couple young kids and I inherited a family business and debt and I, you know, what do I do now? And so I think he really just buckled down and got with the team and kept the focus and continued the projects that I think Grandpa and the team were working on. And then once all that was kind of in the norm and the wheels were up and running, then they kind of got together, said, “okay, what do we want to do next?” And that’s when they started branching out and adding more equipment, more to the splitter line, more to the drivers and so forth, and just kind of expanding on it.
Mike Lessiter: Because Henry died suddenly.
Janea Danuser: Mhmm, eart issue.
Mike Lessiter: And Jerry was working in what capacity at that time?
Janea Danuser: I don’t remember what his title was at the time because I get the sense that it was probably more of… chalking up to European heritage, maybe. It wasn’t the same relationship that we had working with our father growing up, which I think that happens with every generation, you’re somehow more relaxed, more comfortable. Whereas then it wasn’t in the same — so he had mentors that were other people in the company, probably when he was allowed to speak frankly with his own father would be my guess.
Glenn Danuser: Yeah, it’s still different than like us. A lot of the employees in the shop or fathers, sons, brothers, I mean they’ve watched us grow up and terrorize the shop floor with the bicycle and then, oh my god, you’d give Glenn a 4-wheeler and now he’s running that through the shop. And so they’ve been around, it’s just a neat family atmosphere and so I think when he basically relied on the expertise that says you guys were close to father, what do you think we ought to do? Well, probably was expanding on this, was talking about this. Alright, let’s pick it up and let’s go with it.
Janea Danuser: Yeah, he had some good guidance in the early years I think definitely. You know we’re very blessed to have a very strong management team right now in our tenure, and so we meet regularly, monthly, and obviously we’re meeting much more frequently right now. I keep referencing this new building because I really want it to be finished and I really want to move in and I want to move on to something else.
Glenn Danuser: Yeah, I think we’re finished playing Bob the Builder, kind of getting old.
Janea Danuser: About 3 years ago we finished what was over 33,000 square feet of manufacturing space and we’re kind of hoping for one more.
Glenn Danuser: Yeah, one more up our sleeve. Then I think we’ll call it good and maybe should be…
Janea Danuser: Then it’s his kids’ problem.
Glenn Danuser: Yeah, that’s what I told my 10-year-old. I said, “you’re going to have to clear the debt now.”
Janea Danuser: Actually it’s kind of funny because Dad always told — that was the one thing he always told us, he said don’t borrow money because the banks they want it, they want it back plus interest.
Mike Lessiter: Tell us what happened at that point. From that chapter that started in ’75 up until when the two of you got heavily involved in it as you did in the 90s, correct?
Glenn Danuser: Well, I mean, back then things were really moving. Started to see more overseas competitions trying to come in. Product liability, a lot of that was going on. It was a rough time. Of course everybody — in the 80s was just say a rough year. I mean we all say we’re on this agricultural roller coaster and we are and I think darn near fell off the tracks and smacked into a wall back then. 170-year-old company we had one layoff and it was back in the 80s when Dad had to lay off the staff.
Janea Danuser: And obviously that was really tough for us when we hit our 100-year anniversary in 2010, just coming off of the lead in 9-2010 and it’s hard to put on a big smile and celebrate when things were so down. But I think that we definitely learned, and this is something that our father taught us and helped us start, I think it evolved clearly back into Henry’s days, the diversification and not just riding with just the ag market. We’re in a variety of industries throughout agriculture and in construction.
Glenn Danuser: I always remember keep your eggs in different baskets. Don’t pile them all in one because if that basket breaks you’d lose your eggs. So you got to be prepared for this. I mean we would all hate to see everything collapse, but if one thing fell down you got a couple more divisions to keep the lights on and keep the employees, because we got to take care of them, they’re family, too. And so I came back in ’96 after several phone calls from Father.
Mike Lessiter: Where had you been?
Glenn Danuser: Oh, where did I go? I went over to North Carolina, did a couple…
Janea Danuser: A couple schools, you were back in Kansas City when you…
Glenn Danuser: Yeah, and then I moved back to Kansas City, I was enjoying the young night life, and then I said, yeah, this is fun and I was in sales. I was bouncing around doing retail sales and restaurant and bar and just, like I said, just bouncing around as a young man having a great time. Not a worry in the world. He said “Boy, are you going to come back?” Okay, yes I eventually need to come back, I get it. And so I made my way back in ’96 and it’s just been a great ride and great experience and learned a lot obviously. Coming back I was kind of sitting in my office, kind of looking over everything. I said okay, this is what we do. And I think hmm, I said well, I wonder how we can get this really going. So I made a few phone calls to some distributors and said what do we need to do? What’s going on? How are we going to get more product out there? And we had some discussions and it was a while before we had something new. We were really ramping up in the 40s, the 50s, the 60s, the 70s, and the 80s, and then things kind of mellowed out a little bit. And so I kind of thought maybe that’s where it is. Maybe we need something new.
Janea Danuser: They gave us some frank feedback.
Glenn Danuser: Yeah, which was great because, I mean, I like the honesty.
Mike Lessiter: What did they tell you?
Glenn Danuser: “You’re stale. You make the best post-hole digger, you’re an old company, but you’re stale.” I’m like “hey, thanks,” I mean I’m not a tiptoe around the bush type of guy either, so I thought, sit there and thought about that and it’s like that makes sense. And so then we started putting plans together of how we can change it. And obviously you want to add new products, but what do you want to add? You want to make the same old same way, you want to do things different? And so we like to be different and so we really put our minds together with our team and said well, what if we do this and this and make it like this. And a lot of our new products took several years to come out of R&D and several more years to come out of testing and you like to ramp it up quicker, but you got to go back to the old history, good enough won’t do, it must be right. Nobody needs to test our products, nobody. We needed to test, design and perfect it. And then when we send it out there we need to have that comfortable level that says yep, there’s another good piece of Danuser equipment.
Janea Danuser: If it has our name on it, again, it’s got to be right. We’re not going to let it out the door.
Glenn Danuser: We could easily — yeah, we could have short changed a lot of that and just thrown something together and learn them from customers, but that’s not the right way to do that.
Janea Danuser: We’ve had people ask us and encourage us to do that through the years. Oh, if you guys would just do this or just do that and you have to take a good long look in the mirror and say that’s not who we are.
Glenn Danuser: Yeah, we’re not in for the speed race, we’re in for the long haul. Which means we’re going to be a little slower, but we’re going to get it, we’re going to do it right.
Janea Danuser: We’re a little slower sometimes. This one thing I would give our parents credit, they never forced the business on us growing up. I mean we obviously grew up in the family business and you’d like to think that you leave work at home and you don’t talk about it at the dinner table, but the reality is it’s your life and livelihood. So there is a lot of conversation, but they never forced it, and I think we actually had the conversation in high school, because I remember just thinking I don’t think I want to sell post-hole diggers the rest of my life, Dad. And then you grow up and you realize there’s a lot more to a business than selling one end product. And for me in my case it was more a matter of realizing that yeah, we are family owned and operated, but like Glenn said, we truly are a family business in a lot of ways. There’s lots of people, lots of generations in other families that have been tied to Danuser Machine Company through the years. And realizing that responsibility I think was really important for me.
Glenn Danuser: I came back officially in sales, marketing in ’96. However, I grew up in the company and my first job in the company was pushing a wheelbarrow in the basement collecting steel shavings out of a machine and dumping into the recycle pit. And so I would have to push this heavy god awful wheelbarrow around and dump them. And then I eventually moved up to assembly, I did assembly work, I did warehousing work, I actually was in tool and die for about 3 to 4 years to learn how to read the different gauges in thousands of an inch and run mills and lathes and so forth. That was pretty important because I wanted to be — didn’t want to be the kid that came back into the family business and went straight into the office and said I’m here. I wanted to be the guy that did all the work, all through there. I did everything in the shop except for production work. And so I didn’t do that, but nowadays you get younger people in there that says well, we just can’t do it like that. I’m like well, hang on a sec, and I say I’m going to go top off my coffee and I’ll be right back. And I said show me what you’re doing. And he’s showing us. Now hang on, I said what if you tried this, this, this. He goes well how do you know how to do that? I like I’ve done this, this is one of my jobs I did when I was younger. Oh. And I said what did you think I did? I just figured you came on in and went straight to sales. And that was the reason, wanted to learn everything from the ground up. And so I liked that and I’m a credit to the same thing. I agree with Janea Danuser that Mom and Dad never pushed the company on us. They just left it there and said if you want to work there fine, you don’t fine. I mean we were mowing the yards outside of the shop and getting paid for that, too, when we were young.
Janea Danuser: My first job was getting flies.
Glenn Danuser: Yeah, you were the fly killer.
Janea Danuser: Yeah, and when it went up to like 10 cents a fly, I started going outside.
Glenn Danuser: There’s not a safe fly.
Mike Lessiter: What was your path into the business?
Janea Danuser: I came back fulltime in ’99. I graduated college in ’96 and I moved out to Seattle for a couple years and had some work experience there and I like to think I learned a lot of good lessons working for other people, some things to do and a lot of things not to do as an employer, so that was really good. And I remember a particular, a tragedy that happened to an employee and that was part of the pull and Glenn and Dad were calling me and letting me know that’s news and said, do you have an interest in coming back. And we kind of joked to this day, he was telling me yeah, you said you were just going to come back and clean things up for a few years. I don’t think it was quite that way.
Glenn Danuser: Right, now she’s built a house in town.
Janea Danuser: But I do remember thinking, well I don’t know I’ll stay in Fulton. I mean I was in Seattle, there’s…
Mike Lessiter: You were needed to come back and to…
Janea Danuser: Oh yes, he desperately needed my help. I think that there was certainly — I could contribute on a certain level there and add to some things that we needed and my background in organizational management leads you to think that you can do some things in a family owned business and we could, you know, hang in those early years.
Glenn Danuser: We have a very unique skillset with each of us and it blends well.
Janea Danuser: That’s a good one.
Mike Lessiter: How would you describe that, unique skillset.
Glenn Danuser: I just made that up.
Janea Danuser: That’s why it’s unique.
Glenn Danuser: I really like to deal with people. I like to see people. I do all the trade shows, I travel to dealers, I like to listen — what’s the need on the farm, the house, what’s the problem — and try to think hmm, and I kind of tend to do a little doodling myself and say what if we made something like this and throw it to the engineers. And so I’m kind of good with that. I really enjoy the sales aspect and the marketing. I was pretty good in marketing in school. And Janea’s very detail oriented and she can keep us all on the straight and narrow path.
Janea Danuser: I can crack the whip.
Glenn Danuser: Yeah, sometimes I tend to go left and right.
Janea Danuser: I mean I think it’s interesting because I think a lot of people assume that maybe some employees are more fearful of me, or I don’t know exactly — that’s not the right word because I would certainly say that’s not the case. When they come to me with their wide variety of personal issues, sometimes very personal issues, I’m like they’re not that scared of me if they’re going to tell me all the things that they do. But again, that’s part of being family owner-operators. We think that that’s what’s different, you treat people differently. You listen, there are situations that happen in people’s lives sometimes outside of their control, and you deal with it as best you can, and in a fair way by listening to each person.
Glenn Danuser: So we have fun but we also get the business done.
Janea Danuser: He’s front office, I’m back office. We have our management group and so it’s a diverse group, but Glenn’s technically has more of the manufacturing, sales side where again I’ve got the back office of IT, accounting, HR, payroll. But we really do most of the major decisions together.
Mike Lessiter: If you were going to describe for our listeners what they would see if they walked into your operation, a brief description of what they would see if they walked into your…
Janea Danuser: Because we’re like a one-stop shop. I mean a lot of people think that we just make a certain end product. They associate us with the Danuser post-hole diggers, but we run maintenance and tool and die departments, we’ve obviously got a variety of steel storage areas because we’ve got plate, bar, tube, a wide variety of raw material that we’re bringing in to make our products. We’ve got fabricating, welding, machining. Are you over the counting for me?
Glenn Danuser: No.
Janea Danuser: Assembly, powder coat painting. We’re just again the one-stop shop. We do have to send outside for services such as heat treaters, ink plating or things along those lines. But otherwise we’re doing all the manufacturing inhouse.
Glenn Danuser: But you’re going to see history. I mean when you walk in you’re going to see the family history. You’re going to see the portraits of all the generations, the calendar that was used back in 1910, you’re going to walk out in the shop and you’re going to see the “Good enough won’t do, must be right” on the crane. You’re going to see automated machinery, you’re going to see CNC computerized, robotics.
Janea Danuser: And you’re also going to see some older manual machines.
Glenn Danuser: Yeah, and you’re going to say what is that? Well that’s a homemade machine.
Janea Danuser: Well that, too. But I also think like say a screw machine, a Wickman screw machine, those Wickman’s were from the early 60s I think, or maybe one was moved in ’68, I found photos of it being put into service. And those machines, I mean those are good manual machines that work. Sometimes you prefer those to those computerized brains that don’t always work. But there’s a lot of high tech equipment as well. I mean we’ve got a laser and a lot of CNC equipment.
Mike Lessiter: When was it — so I’ve known Jerry I don’t know, 12, 13 years or so, but even early on it seemed he handed the wheel over the company to you guys. Was it about that time period?
Janea Danuser: He’s still our president and chairman of the board, but obviously the day to day operations for many years we’ve been handling. But we certainly didn’t take it over any time soon. We were there…
Glenn Danuser: Yeah, like you say, once we were back and kind of in the business, then he didn’t really need to come in every day and he didn’t really want to come in every day.
Janea Danuser: And we can pick his brain whenever we want.
Glenn Danuser: Yeah, we can call a board meeting and really screw up the shooting.
Mike Lessiter: What do you think that you’ve learned from Jerry and Mom about business principles that you want to — that are embedded in your DNA and you hope to pass…?
Glenn Danuser: I would say ethics, morals, shoot straight, don’t ever lie. If you don’t know the answer, get the answer, get back to the people. This industry is built on relationships, that’s what it is. People buy from you because of who you are and how you deliver yourself. We’ve been with vendors for, I don’t know — suppliers for 50 plus years and we know we can get the parts cheaper, but we don’t have any problems. So it’s not necessarily driven by cost. You got to ask yourself, why are we sitting here, why are we a 4th generation, 107 year old family company. And I can only come up with one word and that’s quality. So don’t ever forget the roots of good enough won’t do, it must be right. We don’t need to go out and shop all the components and start saving pennies, nickels and dimes and sometimes dollars. Because what happens if the life of the product then is shortened and things start to fall apart? It’s not about the cost, you got to keep the quality.
Janea Danuser: And I would add the lessons we talked about earlier that he’s told us, don’t borrow money, the banks want it back plus interest. Being good stewards of our money and making sure that we’re comfortable and we can make payroll and saving up for a capital improvements and things that we need to do. So we can be fairly conservative probably when it comes to our financial matters. And I think actually some of our longer term employees were pretty nervous in ’09 and 10 coming up. We knew that business was going to come back and we made some significant capital investments at that time that I think typically the hunker down mentality of some of the older generation they were a little nervous, but as soon as it came back we were prepared. And we really have not slowed down since.
Glenn Danuser: That first building, what was that, 4 years ago and the expansion 3 years ago, I mean we decided as a group that we needed to start a nest egg and just get the account going and we had meetings, and you know how much money does the account need to have and how much life or term if something, everything falls apart, how long you want to make your payments. And so that was — we just stuffed that account and we said okay, now we feel a little better. We’re going to go ahead and sign on that line and we’re going to borrow that money, but…
Janea Danuser: Yeah, we’re grateful to our city and obviously our area, we used a bond for that, it was a manufacturing expansion. But that was over quite a period of time that we just got prepared for that. So you can’t do something like that in just a couple of years. I’d say something else that I particularly learned from Dad, and this is where be balance each other, and I call it a pro and you might sometimes call it a con, is the ability to sit on the fence sometimes. Sometimes it’s just listening, you don’t have to make a decision, sometimes being quiet actually empowers others to make a decision that needs to happen. But I think that that listening and stopping and thinking as opposed to just okay, let’s make a decision and roll. I mean obviously there’s a time and a place for making a decision and moving forward. I think there’s times to just sit and think until he pokes me and says pick a direction.
Glenn Danuser: I’m sitting there and think, I’m kind of a Ferrari, I’m sitting there vroom, vroom, let’s go.
Janea Danuser: And like just painting all the lines for him so he stays within the yellow lines.
Mike Lessiter: So, if we have listeners out here who had not met Jerry, how would you describe your father?
Glenn Danuser: The first thing you’d realize is he’s going to sit there and look you in the eye and he’s going to talk to you. He’s not the type of executive, CEO that you can’t approach. We all have an open door policy. Anybody can come see us at any time, and so I think you would just start to talk to him about either your equipment needs or what you have going on or what you’re thinking about and he could relate to you and quickly streamline it and help you overall achieve what you’re looking for. I don’t know, you got anything else?
Janea Danuser: I think people do find him surprisingly approachable. They might look at a man in a suit and he’s probably known for his cowboy boots. You probably remember seeing him in a cowboy hat and cowboy boots. But he’s pretty down to earth.
Glenn Danuser: He is. He’s passionate, too, though. He can get wound up.
Mike Lessiter: What were some of your earliest memories with the company?
Janea Danuser: I remember smacking the tennis ball up against that wall in tool and die. No one told me it used to drive Harold nuts. I never thought about this side of the wall, I mean, I was into tennis and so I thought whack, whack.
Glenn Danuser: She was using the brick wall in the tool and die as a backstop. The machinist in there I think was about ready to come out.
Janea Danuser: At least I wasn’t riding my bike through the shop.
Glenn Danuser: Well, yeah.
Janea Danuser: You know, after hours.
Glenn Danuser: But I really loved it. There’s a huge concrete ramp coming out of the basement, and I had this great idea, had my 4-wheeler and I said if I hit this ramp, if I hit this hard enough, I think I can sail all the way into the steel room. That’s a good 30 yards clearing concrete. And I said, “I can do this. Hey, watch the traffic up there, watch the traffic” — and I hit and I cleared it and I ended up sliding and smacking the wall. And then here comes Dad, and I was trying to get that bike restarted and get it out of the, it was too late. So but had a lot of fun.
Janea Danuser: You know it’s funny because I have friends who will sometimes come by and visit and they’re like ooo, what’s that smell. I’m like coolant, oil. I just…
Glenn Danuser: Money.
Janea Danuser: Yeah, that’s the smell of our life. It’s on your clothes, it’s in this fro hair, I mean it’s who we are, we’re metal manufacturers. And I’m always amazed that people come through and go “wow, you really have a really clean shop.” Because I know that Henry would be turning over in his grave, our grandfather, because I think he was probably pretty pristine in those days, and we’re not a pharmaceutical company, we’re not you know this nice pretty retail environment. We turn raw steel into products and that can be a messy process. But obviously a clean shop is a safe shop.
Mike Lessiter: Both of you weren’t sure exactly whether you were going to back to the business. What is it that, ultimately, when that lightbulb turned on so this is something I got to be part of — take us back to that point.
Glenn Danuser: Yeah, you watch your parents’ life and they were fortunate, did some traveling and some hunting. And I thought you know I’d like to have that freedom, like to be my own boss, but…
Janea Danuser: Well you got snowed, didn’t you.
Glenn Danuser: Yeah big time, yeah, now look at me. I’m in the same building now with her and that was not part of the plan. But no, it’s just to create the future. I mean to actually think that hey, I’m not just going to work from 8 to 5 or whatever, 9 to 5, and just you’re sitting there, you’re actually doing something and you’re changing it and you’re making it go. And you can control the ship. I mean if you want to go slow, fast, hard turn, u-turn, whatever, you’ve got that power to do it. And so it’s kind of exciting to see it just take off and spread its wings and it’s starting to glide now. And so I don’t know, I don’t really know what brought it out just thinking that okay I was sick of the retail, the restaurant, the bartending type stuff. It was like I want to do something different, you know. In those type of positions you’re always catering for those people and it’s right there. Don’t get me wrong, I do the same thing today, but I get to do it on a different level, different scale. The bar, you know, they come and they sit down and they wait for a table to get a drink. Well now they’re coming into the booth at the trade show and they want to know more about your product line, they want to know more about your company and how you do things, and that’s your opportunity to get up and go.
Janea Danuser: For me it was more of thinking of the employees, all the people that we’re associated with. Not just obviously the customers and maintaining a business and obvious Glenn’s married, has two kids, and so we can think of a 5th generation and try not to pressure them.
Glenn Danuser: I don’t.
Janea Danuser: And luckily Corban is very fortunate, he has a younger sister…can I talk about…
Glenn Danuser: I’ve seen very similar traits because he’s kind of like me, I’m going to call him the little Porsche, he likes to get up and go. But sister, I’ve been watching her, I think…
Janea Danuser: She can keep it straight.
Glenn Danuser: I see an engineer in her. She likes to tinker and the little 6-year-old’s been putting puzzles together from when she was a little kid and you know I always use the top of the box to cheat, right? See how it goes together? Yeah, she just throws it aside. And I’m like what is she doing? I come back 5, 10 minutes later, it’s finished. I’m like she’s detail oriented, she might make a good product engineer.
Mike Lessiter: So you’re 4th generation, that’s about as old as we’re going to find in this group out here. Do you come across many companies that are in their 4th generation?
Janea Danuser: I think actually like in this association there are several obvious family owned and operated businesses and that’s neat. Out in our regular dealings, no I don’t. And I think we’re very cognizant of the fact that we’re an American manufacturer. We make things, we’re creating jobs in this country, we don’t want to see everything outsourced. Of course we could have all our products made everywhere throughout the world, across the pond, down south, wherever. It would be far less expensive than it is to manufacture it in Fulton, Mo., but we have committed roots there. When you look at our building and our outline, we talk about that giant ramp, we’re not the traditional manufacturing layout where you have this big nice flat piece of property with big buildings and they all get connected and it’s a nice logical flow. We have to do a lot to design with the block that we have, but we own the block and it’s there and it’s paid for and that’s where we’re going to be. It’s where we have been since 1910.
Mike Lessiter: It seems that looking forward, there just doesn’t seem to be like we’re going to continue to see this kind of thing. It’s very unique. Some of the older companies we’ve seen have sold out to other companies. What do you think are the keys to those who want to see it passed on to that, in your case 5th generation?
Glenn Danuser: Change, don’t be scared of change. You have to think outside the box, you have to take your blinders off. What you’ve been doing for several years, like building quality pieces, that shouldn’t change, but building the same pieces, that should change. And so you need to address what’s happening, what’s changing in the world. How is farming changing? How is construction, utility, all these industries are changing. I mean you got drones and you got automated tractors and so forth, and so you’ve got to keep going forward and you can’t be scared. And I think that’s where some people like well I don’t really know if I want to go here. And I was like get in there.
Janea Danuser: And I think it’s also not just business model in terms of products and what you’re selling and your vision in your company, there are a lot of logistics involved in passing on a business — politics and finances and taxes and all that sort of stuff we could all talk for a long time. There a lot of logistics involved in taking over a business.
Mike Lessiter: So we know that statistics most companies never get to the 3rd generation. So, if you were doing a Harvard business case study on how you — the reasons why you guys not only got through 3, but are in 4 and can see 5. What would you say it is?
Janea Danuser: We’re just lucky.
Glenn Danuser: Yeah, rolling the dice. You know a lot of companies… Customer service seems to be a dying breed. They get really big and it’s an automated system and before you know it you’re pinging all over the world and you get to somebody that doesn’t really know what you need and it’s just frustrating. Or you send an email to a company. So I kind of think the bigger they get the less customer service. I haven’t really found a good, large company that has pristine customer service. And so I’m an end user shopper as well, I send an email, I don’t hear from you. Boom, I’m moving on to the next competitor. And so we have to pride ourselves in customer service. Don’t forget what got you here. What got you to the 3rd, 4th generation, and you stick with it. You can’t say well we’re just getting so busy we just can’t do that nowadays. No, you need to figure out how to do it and how to incorporate and how to streamline and maybe automate it, make it better.
Janea Danuser: But stick to your values.
Glenn Danuser: Yeah you got to stick to it because that’s what I always get upset with companies, it’s like alright, now how did you get this big? You worked hard, you had excellent customer service and then you get this big and how what’s suffering? Your customer service. And so it’s huge and I get frustrated all the time dealing with other companies like that.
Janea Danuser: We also very cognizantly try to limit our growth. We don’t have ambitious goals, we don’t want to be 50% growth in one year, that’s not really us, and we want to do what’s manageable and what’s right for us. Obviously we wish to grow our business and we’ve been fortunate to do that, but we’re trying to do it at a very reasonable, manageable pace that again sticks to our principles.
Glenn Danuser: Slow and steady wins the race. I mean we could go out there and buy companies and acquire them but that’s — you got enough problems with your own. Okay, so just fix your own home and then if that home is spotless and very efficient, then go out there and get more.
Mike Lessiter: Our audiences are often farmers, dealers. What do you think that many people do not realize about running a short line equipment manufacturing operation?
Glenn Danuser: The time, the energy.
Janea Danuser: The gray hair.
Glenn Danuser: Yeah, look at that one. The time away from your family.
Mike Lessiter: He doesn’t have to work with himself, right?
Glenn Danuser: Yeah, there you go. I don’t argue a lot with myself.
Janea Danuser: A lot of these are named Glenn, I definitely have named each one.
Glenn Danuser: But I think a lot of people think it’s just easy street. It was like oh, you guys you know get to do what you want and it’s not. I mean you really have to think about it. Right now we’re in the mid 90s of employees or something like that.
Janea Danuser: Between 95 and 100 fulltime employees.
Glenn Danuser: That’s the next family you got to worry about. Of course you’ve got your own family, but then you get them. You have to take care of them because they have children, they have wives, girlfriends, and they need the stability and you need it too. And so it’s a compromise, you got to work this thing through and it’s our job to keep the lights on, keep the machines running, finding new things to put on them. If this machine’s only running at 20% production, well let’s find some other stuff to put on this machine and let’s get it going.
Janea Danuser: You know, along the lines of perceptions that’s one extreme. “It’s easy, you’re running the show.” But I think there’s also that other extreme, and this is not to alienate our audience, but I think that we could all look in the mirror and go sometimes in agricultural we get a little doom and gloom, and you know it’s raining too much or it’s drought or it’s this or it’s that, and we’re — I like to consider it more realistic than pessimistic. But those challenges sometimes I think that we can get a little down on the challenges, when in reality there’s a lot of optimism and there’s a lot of moving forward, and there’s a lot of innovation and still entrepreneurial spirit alive in our industry.
Mike Lessiter: What keeps each of you up at night?
Glenn Danuser: Hmm, yeah, I was up at 4 this morning still thinking. The mind just doesn’t seem to want to shut off. But nothing really. I mean I don’t feel like…
Janea Danuser: Hence the gray hairs. You were sleeping fine…
Glenn Danuser: Yeah, see I’m curled up, all with my pillow and I’m sleeping great.
Janea Danuser: The city administrator asked me that earlier this year. He said “hey, do you ever just go home at night and have a glass of wine and sit back and think man, this is really great?” Yeah, I frequently go home and have at least one glass of wine and think about our business. I think there’s just — there’s a lot of stress and pressure like we say of just thinking about everybody, all the employees. On the whole I think we agree on our business model and philosophy. We know that if we’re doing right by the company and we’re doing right by the employees, the customers are going to be taken care of, because we’re making the products. We know that the customers will be fine. We’re more concerned about the other side in terms of making sure that we’re doing right by our company and our employees.
Mike Lessiter: Part of the secret to family run 4th generation is getting along and you both have, I’ve known you both for a number of years, both strong personalities. Father, Mother I think have strong personalities as well. How do you manage this together? Was this difficult to do what you’re doing or was this natural…
Janea Danuser: Well we said a glass of wine, but…
Glenn Danuser: That went to the bottle. No, I mean, you know we can complement each other, we work very well together. I kind of think back, you know, boy them childhood days, I still remember her throwing that big cast iron piece me that went through the door.
Janea Danuser: You slammed the door in my face first and…
Glenn Danuser: I don’t recollect that.
Mike Lessiter: Who won now?
Janea Danuser: It was a draw. The door definitely lost.
Glenn Danuser: Yeah, the door cashed out. But and you kind of go back and it’s like, can we work with that? But now that we’re older, I’m not going to say how much older…
Janea Danuser: 11 months, 7 days and about an hour. Nobody really cares. We basically say he’s roughly 2 years older.
Glenn Danuser: And so it’s pretty easy, you know, and I think we both get along. We bounce things off of each other and we have an understanding that things are going back in, we’re not going to — she’s not running off buying lavish things, I’m not buying lavish things. Keep it back, reinvest in the company. A lot of people would want to take things and go and we’ve made a commitment to put it back into the company and reinvest in the equipment, the facility and of course that means just more jobs.
Janea Danuser: But again, the balancing of each other. Even if we get angry or we disagree, which never happens.
Glenn Danuser: Never!
Janea Danuser: You know bottom line is we’re related. Thanksgiving is going to come around the corner every year, you know. So, I mean it’s just not taking it personally.
Glenn Danuser: Yep. No yelling in front of employees, no arguing in front of employees, stuff like that.
Mike Lessiter: Is there much friction?
Glenn Danuser: No. Well, I say no.
Janea Danuser: No, I mean on the whole I think we actually do have pretty good senses of humor and we…
Glenn Danuser: We got to.
Janea Danuser: To me if you don’t laugh…
Glenn Danuser: I mean if you want me to just be a stiff and go into work, I’m going to be bored. I’m going to have fun. I’m very much work hard, play hard. And we can do both.
Janea Danuser: There’s no way that I think that I could do it on my own. And you might be my brother and I don’t really want to compliment him while he’s sitting next to me, but he does a good job.
Glenn Danuser: I hope the cameras are really getting this.
Janea Danuser: I really like to work with him. No, I mean, and we do — I mean you asked about the holiday season at the Danuser home. All of our birthdays are in the fall, I kick things off with Halloween, some years Glenn’s on Thanksgiving or Mom’s before then or Dad is in December and then there’s Christmas. It’s great shopping once a year, it’s over and done with. But I mean we see our parents virtually every day, them coming by the office, stopping, somebody’s calling, talking to somebody. I’m frequently finding out where there’s a free meal. It’s going to be a late night at the shop. Hey, Mom, do you have any leftovers? That sort of thing.
Glenn Danuser: Oh like we talk a lot of shop. I’ve bound to have not too long ago, a few years ago talking to Dad and he’ll explain us from frustration. You kind of get that deer in the headlight and I was like okay, yeah, he doesn’t know the employee because that’s a new employee, that machine wasn’t around when he was, and that product wasn’t. Okay, yeah.
Janea Danuser: But you can still feel his blood pressure rising. It’s like, that’s really not nice to do, we probably should stop this or pretend…
Glenn Danuser: We just go get a drink and just talk. The Thanksgiving dinners, the Christmas dinners, we do all that together. We just have a good family time really. We don’t need to sit at the table and talk shop. And that’s who we are.
Mike Lessiter: I’m going to ask Glenn this question, too, but three words or less that describe your brother in the business. You’re getting a head start I guess.
Janea Danuser: Three words that describe — I mean the first one that popped in my head because you used it earlier is you’re the Ferrari, I’m like the…
Glenn Danuser: I was thinking good looking, but…
Janea Danuser: Well people have often said we look alike. But no woman wants to hear that she looks like her brother or her father. People tell me all the time, too, you look like your dad and that’s great. Let’s see, three words to describe Glenn.
Glenn Danuser: Oh this is killing me.
Janea Danuser: He’s very friendly, he’s a good people person, he gets along with people really well and there is no better sales person, there’s no better person to market and sell Danuser equipment than Glenn Danuser. Obviously he knows it the best, he’s really — look away, don’t listen. He’s an excellent vehicle operator. You know skid steers, he can get in any model skid steer, he’s not afraid to jump on anybody’s tractor or anything else and get dirty and get out there and get it done. So there’s a real level of comfort to know that he’s taking care of the customers. So that wasn’t three words, that was a lot of words.
Mike Lessiter: I’ll get you a recording of this Glenn as well. What are your three words describing Janea’s strengths in the business?
Glenn Danuser: Three words, well — very detailed, oriented, level-headed. Can…it’s kind of like you know I run wild and she can help pull me back and you know get me focused when I like to just go, go, go. And so…
Janea Danuser: So would you like me to give you three words? No, just kidding.
Glenn Danuser: Yeah, that’d be good. See there’s the detail oriented.
Janea Danuser: I can come up with three words…
Glenn Danuser: Ah, no, but she is very level-headed, she’s got a very professionalism about her.
Janea Danuser: I’m practical.
Glenn Danuser: Practical, yeah. And she can help defuse or come up with suggestions and stuff like that.
Janea Danuser: And actually you have that skill as well. Whenever my tensions are running high in something that’s happening in my end and he can come over and help talk me down.
Glenn Danuser: We do that together and so.
Janea Danuser: So you’ll have to come up with three words on your own.
Mike Lessiter: There’s three in there I can find. When you’re your parents’ age and we’ll say that your kids and your niece and nephew — but what would you like to be remembered as the 4th generation of management of this company, what will be your mark?
Glenn Danuser: Risk taking, change, diversification.
Janea Danuser: But I think your kids will probably be grateful that we took some of those risks. I think that it’s kind of cyclical through generations in terms of risk taking, and the fact that we have gone to great lengths to really add some of the infrastructure and physical footprint that we needed to do now that will allow for growth for years to come. And I think that they will very much enjoy that.
Glenn Danuser:Yeah, I mean we’re not building these buildings for us. Right now we are, but we’re also building for the next 100 years. Keep the name alive, keep the company alive, and just…
Janea Danuser: We would love to think that they thought we were very wise and…
Glenn Danuser: Very, yeah, smartest business people they ever knew, that would be a good one. Always looked up to Father and Aunt, so I can just keep going with this.
Mike Lessiter: The 4th generation was about building for the future.
Janea Danuser: Yeah, we’re very cognizant of that, yeah, definitely.
Glenn Danuser: If we didn’t really think this was going to go anywhere and we really didn’t want to do anything with it and we wanted to just cash out, then we wouldn’t be expanding.
Janea Danuser: We actually, just his kids just put their handprints in where our flagpole is going to be at our new business, and so we’ve got their initial and the date and handprints in there. So I like to think man, 20 years from now, when they’re there and they come back and they look at that and can do the hands in with their hands. And we all look at our hands these days and go wow, there’s a lot of change, a lot of wrinkles in these hands and I imagine them doing that.
Glenn Danuser: It’s interesting to listen to the kids now because Corban’s like well I’m going to — he wrote a little article in his school paper, the teacher said oh you got to read this. And I was reading it on the wall and it says “I want to work with my dad when I grow up. I want to work with him and to run the company.” The teacher’s sitting there grinning. I said, “what?” She goes turn it over and it says “when he’s dead.” I was like wow, okay, appreciate that, Son.
Janea Danuser: Definitely a family tradition.
Mike Lessiter: He’s making room for you though.
Glenn Danuser: I guess so, or he’s getting my office early. So I don’t know, but I would hope that we’re both able to work with them and that they’re going to come in and do it and they actually have good heads on their shoulders. I’d like to just kind of sit back and enjoy the ride and just kind of be there. Because we can’t sit there and just tell them you got to do it this way, you got this — remember, the change. The times are changing, you got to let them change. I mean if Dad would try to distill everything that he did through the 80s and 90s, would we be where we are now? I don’t know. So he realized we got to give that freedom to let them fail, let them succeed, let them try.
Janea Danuser: And then in the early years we were kind of aggravated in the beginning. We’d hear that “oh, we tried that, we did this, we can’t do that.” And it’s like no, this, you know, we’ve taken a different look. And sometimes it’s just really hard to see your own tree through your own forest. And so we bring a breath of fresh air.