Riding high: Steel tubular products manufacturer driven by owner workforce
In 1970, in the kitchen of his small Hanover apartment, a German tool and die maker named Hans Leonhardt Sr. began making light covers for Westinghouse elevators.
His first customer was Hanover’s McClarin Plastics Inc.
Today, Leonhardt Manufacturing Co. is a multimillion-dollar business that supplies such well-known companies as Harley-Davidson, Manitowoc Crane and Polaris Industries, the Minnesota maker of snowmobiles and other vehicles.
And Jason Jacobs, Leonhardt’s president and CEO since 2010, is the leader overseeing the proud employee-owned company that is becoming well-known for manufacturing parts that are useful, well-made and decorative.
Jacobs, 50, a Hanover native, recently discussed what makes Leonhardt and its 110 employees tick:
Q: When people ask you who Leonhardt Manufacturing Co. is, what do you tell them?
A: Leonhardt Manufacturing is a world-class manufacturer of steel tubular products, ranging from highly decorative motorcycle parts to off-road truck crane jibs.
We supply our customers’ assembly lines on a ‘just in time’ basis, and are known for applying lean manufacturing techniques in our daily operations and supply-chain management.
You are 100 percent employee-owned. What does that entail?
As a 100 percent employee-owned company, our employees are vested in the success of the whole company, not just their particular jobs. We create an “ownership culture” by sharing with them key financial information and company plans. For our customers, this shows up in the quality and level of service. We care, because we’re not just employees. We own the company.
Harley-Davidson is your largest customer. What do you supply for them, how did that partnership come about?
Hans (Leonhardt) started making custom motorcycle accessories for local dealers. His son, Pete, was able to get an opportunity with Harley-Davidson in the late ’70s.
The Harley business took off. Today, we supply Harley-Davidson with two trailers a day of both original equipment and after-market accessories such as handlebars, luggage racks, engine guards and oil lines.
All of these products have very high cosmetic standards, whether they are chrome plated, powder coated or stainless steel. They not only have to be functional; they have to be beautiful as well.
What are you most proud of in the work Leonhardt does, and what is the biggest challenge you face?
I’m most proud of our skilled people. In diverse processes from tube bending to welding to polishing, our employee-owners compete in a global marketplace every day.
The biggest challenge I see is finding more skilled workers and getting young people interested in careers in manufacturing.