You’d be hard pressed to find a better example of the American dream than Michael Conny.
Conny, 35, started his career as a welder. With $8,000 borrowed from his mother and step-father, he worked out of a single-bay garage, and using an 8 by 8-foot outhouse as an office, made trailer repairs. Within seven months, to keep up with orders that started to stream in from referrals, he hired 10 employees.
His first break came when an acquaintance asked him to build a trailer from scratch. The trailer took a month and a half to complete, but the workmanship spoke for itself. The customer then placed an order for 20 trailers, and Conny realized he had to double the size of his business.
“It all happened so fast,” Conny says. “You have to be the type of person that doesn't get disgusted and give up.”
After that first order, Conny says the hardest part was convincing people to leave a company they had done business with for 30 years, and give his MAC a chance. He says the only way he could do that was by offering a higher-quality product at a lower price.
“It was very hard to keep my overhead and my costs down,” Conny says of that strategy. “I had to go a long time before I took any money.”
Watching those trailers roll down the street with his initials emblazoned in red on the side was a good reminder to Conny that he truly was accomplishing something.
In 1998, just six years after he incorporated MAC Trailer Manufacturing, he posted revenues of $37 million. This year, he expects that to jump to $50 million.
But he’s not exactly resting on his laurels.
“I guess I’ve made it in some people’s eyes,” says Conny, “but I’m not happy with my achievements in life yet. There’s a lot of growing left to do.”
Conny’s ultimate goal is to own the market on dump trailers built in the United States. He expects to achieve this with a simple philosophy based on a quality product and an honest work ethic. “You work hard every day, you’re honest with the people you sell to, you’re honest to your employees, and the rest falls into place.”
Ironically, Conny’s biggest competitor, East Manufacturing Corp., is located “right up the road,” as Conny puts it, in Randolph, Ohio.
Right now, East Manufacturing is No. 1 in the industry, leaving MAC with the No. 2 slot. And that's just not good enough for Conny.
One of the obstacles Conny will have to overcome to take over that No. 1 slot is finding and keeping qualified workers. Recruitment has been a constant struggle for Conny, and other manufacturers, as unemployment rates drop to all-time lows. But instead of lamenting the hurdle, Conny faced the problem head-on.
Last month, he opened an on-site training program for new workers.
“I knew I had to personally take charge of that problem and handle it,” he says
Now, he can hire less-qualified but still motivated workers, who go through a three-week training period at the pay level they were hired in at. “We now hire anybody that can come to work and has a good track record,” he says.
Conny’s banking on that investment. Orders are still streaming in to this company that does no advertising. Last month, Kemphart Trucking of Pennsylvania called to place a 30-trailer order another new customer who heard of Conny’s work through a referral.
Conny wants to hire 100 more workers this year to keep up with sales of his current line and two new lines he hopes to unveil in the coming months: aluminum flatbeds and steel dump trailers.
While adding 100 employees will bring his personnel count to 410, the welder-turned-company-president is sure he has what it takes to run a mid-sized company.
“I feel I could run IBM. No matter what the business is, it’s a relationship business: It’s a relationship with your employees, it’s a relationship with your customers. As long as we have open lines of communication ... we can get the job done.”
Judge’s comments: “Mike Conny epitomized for me the American Dream. You can do it. You can start as a farmer and end up with a (multi-million dollar) company. When he walked out of the room, I just wanted to stand up and wave the flag. That is the capitalist structure at its best. That story epitomizes again for me the American Dream. He’s so humble about it.” Diann Rucki