For the first installment of the new “Cornerstone Stories” series of programs (focusing on local individuals who are “cornerstones” of our community), RCFC member Bill West interviewed local businessman and RCFC member Carl Maxey, Vice President and Western Region General Manager of MGS, the “parent company” of the local Maxey companies.  Bill started by pointing out that Carl is a leader, not only in the Maxey companies, but also in a number of local, state, and national business organizations as well as in his church. 
The Maxey companies were started in 1969 by Carl’s dad, Loren, an engineer and inventor, when he acquired a small company with four employees that had a contract to build 10 center-pivot sprinklers.  By the third sprinkler, the company who contracted the manufacturing was going out of business.  Loren had designed and built a trailer to haul the sprinklers he had built so far and several customers commented on how well built it was.  From that low-key beginning, he started building trailers for other uses.  He then expanded into truck bodies for local lumber companies for delivering lumber, which included Bob Everett’s group of companies.  In that same year, he took on a contract to design and build a snow mover for Winter Park, which quickly expanded to supplying similar equipment to other ski resorts in North America and expanding to 15 employees. 
In the years since, the Maxey organization has found its niche, designing and building a range of trailers, commercial trucks, and other mobile equipment for commercial customers and expanding to its current 47 employees in Colorado and 180 companywide.  He is currently looking for six more employees in the skilled trades. In addition to their manufacturing arm, they now sell trailers and they now outfit commercial trucks and provide trailer and truck equipment parts.  The organization maintains a good contact with the community by, among other things, supporting the Boy Scouts, CSU, and a wide variety of non-profits. 
Bill asked a series of questions about the business of running a business.  Carl started by saying that it takes both determination and grit.  When presented with a problem, find a way to solve it and then find someone to buy that solution.  One of the greatest challenges in manufacturing is to know and understand the customer’s customer’s customer, each one’s needs, and how that might change along that path.  In response to a comment about declining manufacturing in America, Carl said that you need to start by supporting industries that are important locally and nationally, be patient, and aim for establishing a national footprint, whether by organic expansion or by joining with other entities from across the country (as Maxey did several years ago).  A company has to be well capitalized and have good relations with its banker.  Nothing very good or very bad happens for very long: as an example, he said that, in the rebound from the COVID lockdowns, he is currently sold out of virtually everything, but that boom will certainly end and does not justify any large-scale expansion.  In the event of downturns, you should know which of your assets are liquid so you can intelligently downsize to get through to the eventual upswing.  Maintain a good reputation, both by the quality of your products and by your relationships with such organizations as the local Chamber of Commerce.    Finally, not all great ideas are financially viable. 
Carl talked about the trajectory of a couple of the company’s projects.  Following up on some of their earlier forays into snow-handling equipment, they were contracted to build a snow-melt machine.  Due to a miscalculation of the amount of energy required to melt snow, the original effort melted too little snow.  They had to come back, beef up the chassis of the truck and significantly increase the capabilities of the equipment – all on a short fuse because it had to be delivered before the first winter snow.  In one of their most fun efforts, during the 2008-09 financial crisis (before the current food-truck craze), a young man came in with a desire for a trailer-mounted wood-fired pizza oven.  In what looked risky at the time, they partnered with him to design and produce the original product and are now turning out some 65 to 70 per year including several for international delivery. 
The value of patents has significantly evolved over the years.  His father’s first patent was for the original snow mover, followed by one for a snowmobile trail grooming implement.  More recently, however, patents are not worth the time and expense since they routinely get knocked off almost before the item can hit the market.  The important thing now is the process that produces the quality product and intellectual property associated with it.  As an example, Maxey has a lift in their paint facility so that the underside of new trailers can be efficiently and safely painted, since that is where the rust damage is quickest and most damaging – a process that most trailer manufacturers don’t provide. 
His central employee staff is the skilled trades, welders, painters, mechanics, etc.  The company has the facility to design anything but needs the skilled trades to build it.  They invest in education and training (including a heavy emphasis on safety) and in relocating skilled staff.  Training never ends: of their current staff, some 60% is in production, the other 40% in supporting the production efforts; they constantly work to move that mix toward more production without any compromises.  
What does it look like for the future?  A company has to recognize that risks change and that it has to be willing to risk making changes in order to plan for a sustainable future.  It has to be prepared to counter downside risks and to take advantage of upside risks and changes.  For the self-employed, they have to have a plan B.  All along, the source of much of his company’s business has been from referrals, both from satisfied customers and from competitors.  His relationship with his customers is such that, on receiving a large military contract, he was capable of getting his other customers to agree to delays in their contracts or to moving to another competitor. 
His own history with the company gives him some insight into the future of the company, including the possibility of his sons joining the company.  His first serious involvement with the company was when his father was so seriously injured in a plane wreck that he spent three months in the hospital.  That was followed by two arson attacks on a couple of their facilities.  Ultimately, he felt ready to join the company full time and has really enjoyed the relationship ever since.  On joining the company, his biggest challenge was managing the business of being the son of the boss: there is only one chance to make a first impression.  He figures that he will welcome his sons into the company if they feel interest to join after spending their first 10 years out of college working outside of the business. Being family does not make you a leader in the business.  That is something that is truly earned.  Whether his sons join or not, he and his business partner will not rely on family to continue the business.  They have the people in place to continue the business after he leaves full time work.  At this stage in his life, you run a small business building value in it every day, positioning it for sale, but you do not get to pick the day you fully retire. 
Summarizing, in response to several questions, he acknowledged that, in order to make the company a success, you have to have a tolerance for risk, a willingness to work hard, have creative and innovative ideas, be well capitalized (be willing to bring in someone else for both capital and direction), develop a great staff (in both production and administration), have some mechanism away from the job for stress relief, and, perhaps most importantly, have a healthy and supportive relationship at home
“Cornerstone Stories will feature local companies and individuals that have built Fort Collins and Northern Colorado.  We will weave a narrative journey of our best local companies  featuring successes, some failures, and what they learned from that.  The Rotary Club of Fort Collins will produce this series four times a year.”