Passing the torch

by Arvin Donley
Share This:

Bill McLean, longtime president of Essmueller Company, Laurel, Mississippi, U.S., announced on Feb. 1 that he was moving to the position of chairman of the board and CEO and that his son, Matt, had been promoted to president and would oversee the day-to-day operations of the company.

“We’ve been heading toward that direction,” said Bill McLean during an interview with World Grain at the GEAPS Exchange on Feb. 23 in Omaha, Nebraska, U.S. “I’m almost 70, and I want to play more golf and do some other things while I’m still in relatively good health.

“Matt had been in the position of vice-president of operations, and if you can do that job you can do any job in the company. In that job you are working with customers, engineers and employees — you are right in the middle of everything. He did a good job at that for the last 3 or 4 years and I knew he was ready.”

Essmueller, which was founded in 1878, is a leading manufacturer of grain handling equipment. Bill McLean has been associated with the company for 45 years and has been president since 1986. He said it’s been amazing to watch the industry evolve over the past four-plus decades. He said the computerization of equipment has been the biggest change.

“When I started you just had an on and off switch with a breaker in there in case something went bad,” McLean said. “Now you can run an entire feed mill from your phone. Then, if you have trouble, a guy at home can bring that system up on his telephone and fix it at home. That phone right there that Matt is holding, the things it can do … that’s Dick Tracy stuff.”

Matt McLean began working at the company at age 18 doing assembly work, left briefly several years later to pursue other interests, but then returned and has been with Essmueller in various capacities the past 16 years.

He said adding a “personal touch” to customer service has been one reason the family-owned business has been so successful over the years. Matt McLean vowed that the family-like atmosphere that his father has created with customers and employees will continue under his watch.

“We try to treat everybody like family,” Matt McLean said. “We take care of customers just like we would want to be taken care of. That has gotten us ahead in a lot of places. That’s the way we’ve always done it, and as long as I’m here we are going to keep doing that.”

One change that is occurring with Essmueller is the globalization of its business. In 2012, Essmueller opened Essmueller Australia outside of Melbourne with Bill McLean’s other son, Christopher, as the managing director of the 40,000-square-foot facility.

Although Bill McLean is handing over the day-to-day operations to his son, Matt said he and his brother will still seek their father’s advice on a regular basis.

“My brother and I have grown up in the business,” Matt McLean said. “We sit around the dinner table on Thanksgiving and talk business. It’s part of who we are as a family. Dad will always be willing to let us bounce things off him.”