Tim and Carol O’Keeffe were originally from Hastings, Nebraska, where they went to the same high school and married in 1984. Tim worked at Procter & Gamble while Carol was a teacher. In 1985 they moved to the Kansas City area where they started a business brokerage. From 1985 to 1992 O’Keeffe, Inc. (now O’Keeffe and O’Malley) sold 300 businesses. Tim became interested in building an organization and purchased Huyett together with Carol in 1992.
O’Keeffe invested the early years in product expansion, updating technology, and building a promotional infrastructure. The business grew rapidly. The company printed its first invoice from a computer in 1993 and published its first catalog, specializing in retaining rings, in 1994.
In 1997 a new 25,000 square foot plant was built in an industrial park on the northeast side of Minneapolis. The town and state were generously tendered free land and a series of incentives to support the development. Another 25,000 square feet was added in 2001. In 2002 Huyett started manufacturing key stock and expanded production capability to milling and turning through the remainder of the decade. The company continued to grow.
In 2006 an additional 21,700 square foot warehouse was purchased and refurbished in the West Industrial park of Minneapolis, giving the company a total of about 80,000 square feet of space. By 2008 employment peaked at 134 people. The market crash in late 2008 came quickly, and the firm reacted, laying off 30 people in January, 2009.
Tim vowed to never experience similar layoffs again and initiated an internal assessment process. He hired an executive coach and studied his own management style and the management process at Huyett. What he saw and realized was not good. He knew he had to change, and in the process, change the manner in which the Company was led.
Tim explained, “We had to move from a Culture of Comfort, where people do what is good for them in the moment, to a Culture of Excellence, where we do what is excellent. Doing work to high standards is not easy, but it is more rewarding. Execution to high standards means that you assess your work based on what is right for the team, and you are sensitive to the requirements and needs of downstream process owners.”
Tim assumed the role of Human Resources Director in 2010 and began installing World Class talent management practices into the firm. He wrote job descriptions for positions throughout the company so they were consistent and accurate and posted them to a Job Bank. He instituted a performance management process and linked a profit sharing bonus and employee pay to performance. Testing was instituted to screen new hires, and the recruiting process was revamped. As Tim said, “we hire slowly and fire quickly.”
At first, the company suffered. Managers left the business because they did not want to do the work of managing, and most notably, to provide coaching and feedback to employees. Later, employees left because they were now being held accountable for their work. Tim noted, “It was pure hell.” But results soon followed. Employee satisfaction started to turn the corner. Productivity skyrocketed. Even today, the firm is three times as big as it was in 2008 while the employee count is lower than in 2008. Profit sharing soared, moving from just $25,000 in 2010, to upwards of $800,000 today, plus the addition of Huyett+Care benefits.
By 2013 the firm had largely made the transition to professional management, and Huyett was poised to leverage its Culture of Excellence to a new and exciting chapter.