From small business to global player
Celebrating 60 years in business, Generac expands advanced manufacturing, connectivity

By Cara Spoto

Feb. 5, 2019

Generac Power Systems’ headquarters are located at S45W29290 Highway 59 in the Town of Genesee in Waukesha County.
Submitted photo

TOWN OF GENESEE — To drive past its sprawling, newly remodeled corporate headquarters off Genesee and Hillside roads southwest of Waukesha, it’s hard to imagine that Generac Power Systems was once a small business with only five employees.

Although the company is still known best for making backup power generators, today it boasts a product line that includes light towers, an array of mobile generators, and a manufacturing footprint that spans several continents.

As it celebrates 60 years in business this year, the company is looking back at the legacy of founder Robert D. Kern, and towards a future that calls for further advancement and more staff here in Waukesha to help put those innovations into action.
 

Growth and acquisitions

While the company has been steadily growing since its founding back in 1959 in the tiny village of Wales, President and CEO Aaron P. Jagdfeld says the company really began entering the world stage about 10 years ago when it began acquiring similar companies in locations across Europe and Asia.

Today the company employs 5,600 — 3,800 at plants in Jefferson, Eagle, Whitewater, Berlin and Oshkosh, and its headquarters in Waukesha.

The rest of its employees can be found in plants in Mexico, Brazil, Poland, Italy, Germany, India and China.

“We have done 12 acquisitions in the last seven years,” Jagdfeld said.

Those acquisitions have given the company, which made $2 billion in revenue last year, an immediate presence in those countries, he said. “I think once we became a public company (in 2010), it really started to raise the profile of the company,” he said. “It’s fun to see the growth firsthand. Looking toward the future we just see a ton of need for the types of products we offer. If you think about it, if you don’t have power things in life can get pretty primitive, pretty fast. A lot of our products are used in life and death situations, backing up hospitals and clinics, and critical infrastructure, like wastewater treatment plants.”

Gordon Michaelson, VP of advanced manufacturing for Generac Power Systems, poses Monday next to a company timeline inside the manufacturer’s corporate headquarters in the Town of Genesee.
Submitted photo

Adding jobs

As the company continues to grow, it will be adding jobs to facilitate that growth.

“When we announced in August 2017 that we would be investing more than $70 million in our Wisconsin facilities over the next five years, we said we were going to create over 400 jobs,” Jagdfeld said. “Some (of those jobs) will be manufacturing, but a good chunk will be in professional, technical and engineering areas.”

The company plans to add about 200 of those jobs right here in Waukesha County, he said.

“We have been heavily investing in our (research and development) facility here to improve our capability and speed to market,” he said. “We used to outsource a lot of product testing work. That works, but if you want to get your products to market faster you have to be able to do a lot of that in house. A lot of engineering talent is going to be needed to operate those facilities and to do the product designs that are going to be needed. There is also quite a bit of advanced manufacturing (that is going to be done).”

Some of those new employees will also be working on connectivity and remote access advancements, developing software and applications that can connect to generators the companies other products.

“We are doubling the size of that team this year,” he said.
 

Sprucing things up

As the company works on those goals, it will also be putting the finishing touches on the multi-year renovation of its 100,000-squarefoot headquarters.

Constructed in 1965 as one of the company’s first manufacturing plants, the building has been expanded nine times over the years, and is now home to the company’s operations, engineering, supply chain, inside sales, information technology and research and development departments.

Areas that were once home to assembly lines now boast community work spaces, broad hallways, and wings full of busy employees seated in front of computers and design equipment. The building also boasts a 308-seat auditorium that was recently used to host the Next Generation Manufacturing Summit in October, an employee gym with visiting instructors, and a room for webcasting tutorials and other videos for dealers and customers.

“We used to go ‘don’t judge a book by its cover,’” Vice President of Advanced Manufacturing Gordon Michaelson said while giving a tour of the facility on Monday. “Now people come in here and say ‘Whoa!’”