HUSCO International CEO sets goal to double sales in next few years

By Katherine Michalets - Freeman Staff

July 3, 2015

HUSCO International President and CEO Austin Ramirez in the automotive products manufacturing area on Wednesday morning.
Charles Auer/Freeman Staff

WAUKESHA — Manufacturer HUSCO International may already be going “gangbusters” with its automotive division sales, but CEO Austin Ramirez has his eyes set on even higher goals.

“We are spending the majority of our energy thinking about growth,” he said Wednesday morning from the company’s Waukesha headquarters.

Innovative growth

HUSCO manufactures hydraulic control valves, integrated systems, such as PPCs and joysticks, and cartridge valves. The automotive division of HUSCO continues to grow, while the off-highway division that includes tractors and agricultural equipment has slowed.

Ramirez said the automotive division is going “gangbusters. We are near record highs.”

Much of the automotive division growth for HUSCO is related to its valves that allow vehicles to operate with more fuel efficiency. Companies are increasingly installing fuel-efficient technology in their cars because that’s what the end-consumer wants, Ramirez said.

Of the off-highway sales, North American sales remain the strongest. While the home construction market has picked up, it hasn’t yet had much of a ripple effect for HUSCO.

“As an enterprise, we are operating at record sales and profitability,” Ramirez said.

The company continues to gain and grow and has set an ambitious goal for the future. In 2015, sales are anticipated to be around $400 million for HUSCO, but Ramirez wants to double or triple that amount in the next five to seven years.

“North American automakers’ demand for our product should increase,” he said. Going forward, HUSCO wants to reach into European markets it hasn’t fully tapped.

HUSCO employs about 1,400 people at three campuses, of which more than 300 are engineers, Ramirez said. “The lifeblood of our company is innovation,” he said.

Finding the right employees

HUSCO brings in technical college students and works with them for about three to nine months while they are studying so there is the possibility of an already trained worker getting hired at the end of the internship.

Defining the company culture is important at HUSCO, Ramirez said, but it can feel esoteric for some of the workers who tend to deal more with numbers. The culture is one that allows the workers to be creative and helps them to be successful, he said. The company also distributes documents on what it means to be a successful HUSCO employee. In addition, Ramirez will hold meetings with new managers or employees with high potential to discuss corporate culture and to help them become company leaders. Ramirez said he holds about two to three of these sessions with a group of five people in his office each year.

At the end of the talks, the managers are able to “be the champion of the culture we want to be,” Ramirez said.

The company’s work has caught the eye of area groups, such as the Waukesha County Business Alliance, which named HUSCO the top Business of the Year in southeastern Wisconsin. HUSCO International also received a Grand Award in the Mega category of the Wisconsin Manufacturer of the Year Awards from Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce.

Employment challenges

HUSCO, like many Waukesha County companies, still struggles with the skills gap and finding qualified skilled trade workers to operate and repair the machines. Ramirez said HUSCO collaborates with area technical colleges to help bridge that gap, but it remains a constant issue.

In his opinion, it’s the K12 system that needs some fixing, especially low-income urban schools, Ramirez said. In fact, he feels the issues at urban schools puts the nation’s success at risk.

If these urban schools would extend the school days and increase expectations while reducing the level of politics at play, Ramirez feels that strides could be made.

His father, Gus Ramirez, executive chairman of HUSCO International, is part of a team seeking to build a $40 million private school on Milwaukee’s south side. Ramirez said lands need to be rezoned for the property on Harrison Avenue.

“I’m so inspired by my parents, Mom and Dad, and especially the work they are doing on this school,” Ramirez said. “I hope I can leave a similar legacy.”

While HUSCO has a strong commitment to the betterment of the community and its employees, Ramirez said the number one priority is running a great business.

Going forward, Ramirez thinks a breaking down of the imaginary lines that separate Milwaukee County and Waukesha County would be beneficial to both counties. He referenced nonprofits leading the way, including United Way of Greater Milwaukee and Waukesha County, and the YMCA of Metropolitan Milwaukee.