July '19

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JULY SPECIAL SECTION 44 • RV PRO • July 2019 RV PRO: ALL IN THE FAMILY M ike Hesse, Blue Ox's chairman, is proud of the history of the family-owned company supplying premier towing products for the RV and commercial towing markets. Blue Ox's parent com- pany, Automatic Equipment Manufacturing, was founded in 1925 by his great-grandfather Rollie McQuistan designing and building livestock oiling equipment. The line was expanded by his grand- father, Myron Hesse, to include grain roller mills to feed cattle and other livestock. The company con- tinues to manufacture both lines in a plant located on the former family farm in Pender, Neb. Under the direction of Mike's father, Jay Hesse, the company began diversifying into recre- ational towing in the early 1980s. The Blue Ox brand began pro- ducing the innovative products that make up the company's cur- rent lineup of towing products: tow bars; baseplates; braking systems; weight distributing hitches; and fifth wheel hitches. Mike started with the family business in high school on the production floor. He attended Briar Cliff University on a basket- ball scholarship. In college, he juggled academics and basketball, while also contributing as a key member in the Blue Ox sales staff. After graduation, Mike decided to go a different direction and took a sales role at a company in a completely different industry. A meteoric ascent through the company landed him in an executive role by his late 20s. He was a key driver in exponential growth that saw his company reach annual sales totaling a billion dollars. "I felt it was important to gain different perspective by starting my career outside of the family business," he says. "Building national and international brands allowed me to broaden my overall understanding of business concepts and culture both positive and negative. I feel culture is vital to a successful com- pany. If the company does well and grows, all those impacting that growth should have an opportunity to elevate themselves both professionally and monetarily. One person does not grow a business. It takes a team. Character, integrity, and creating a positive working environment is something I took very seriously when coming back to the family business. I have seen the impact a negative culture can have on a workforce and it was paramount to me that a 'family' environment was felt at Blue Ox." Mike went on to become the youngest president and chairman of the North American Meat Institute, which is the largest protein organization in world. His understanding of the agricultural industry was a perfect skill set when coming back to Blue Ox/Automatic Equipment. Taking a page out of Mike's grandfather's book, Auto- matic has gotten back to its agricultural roots and has taken the cattle industry by storm with its innovative roller miller technology. "I knew we had something special in that space and we are providing a value add to our farmers that is vital in making their operations viable. We are proud of our rural roots and providing our customers with American made equipment," Mike says. BLUE OX MIKE AND JAY HESSE "Two of my dad's biggest innovations are the motorhome mount tow bar and vehicle baseplates with removable tabs," says Mike. "He felt that RV towing was a mess with the equipment mounted on the front of a car and baseplate brackets that ruined the look of your car when it was not being towed." Mike points out how Blue Ox also has found ways to bring improvements to traditional trailer hitches with the SwayPro weight distributing hitch and the Super Ride Fifth Wheel Hitch. "SwayPro has become an industry favorite," he says. "Unlike traditional weight distributing hitches equipped with friction sway control that stops working in wet weather, SwayPro uses spring steel spring bars that prevent trailer sway in any weather with no friction points to fail in wet conditions. Super Ride Fifth Wheel Hitch eliminates bucking and stress on the pickup with the help of rubber springs built into the twin shock towers." Under Mike's direction, Blue Ox/Automatic has more than doubled in size over the past two years. Mike points to his father's memory and the opportunity to sit on the board with his mom, Sandy, as a special experience for him. "I know Dad would be proud of the exponential growth we have realized over the last couple years. He would probably be most satisfied by the hard work and effort we have put in. My mom being able to witness our goals come to fruition has been most gratifying for me. I enjoy our walks and updating her on all the unique things going on with the company." Jay Hesse (left) and son Mike Hesse (above)

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