July 26, 2023
I wrote last time about family and company history because it is fascinating to see how things came to be what they are. Some of the “movers and shakers” in our trade were serial entrepreneurs and started several companies along the way. In some metro areas important people worked at many different gear firms and helped spread valuable concepts and ideas. In the Chicago area there was much trading of people between firms, a practice that still occurs today to a lesser degree. Family relationships seem to have fractured at some point and siblings went off in different directions. This is why Foote Brothers and Jones Foundry became Foote-Jones and Brad Foote Gear Works went its own way. Very few people just woke up one day and decided to open a gear shop. I was told a prominent Milwaukee firm got started because the founders’ cartage and storage firm got stuck with some Great War surplus machines and they decided to see if they could make money with them. At least one prosperous Chicago area gear firm was started by the disgruntled foremen at another shop; their carefully developed launch plan was almost derailed by a used equipment dealer trying to deliver their first machine to them at their “day job.” There is a lot to learn from these foundation stories. It is never easy or risk free to start a new venture. Most founders that I have met did so because they just couldn’t get their idea, their invention, or their process established any other way. In recent years some “start-ups” have been midwifed by large companies looking to exit a market while still getting some value for an asset no longer crucial to their “mission.” It might empower, or at least forewarn, the managers being pressured into ownership roles if more was known about the results of similar ventures.