Innovating the largest machines on Planet Earth keeps L&H Industrial on the leading edge of technology, but culture is the real driver of their continuing success story
When Leon Wandler and Hank Barney founded L&H Industrial in 1964, the concept of organizational culture didn’t exist. It would take almost two decades before the notion got the attention of scholars, and another few decades before American business and industry — particularly manufacturers — warmed to the idea.
“The way we’re doing things would make my dad roll over in his grave,” Mike Wandler, president of L&H, said of the company’s modern take on leadership. “Culture is everything.” Perhaps seeing the way culture contributes to quality, productivity, safety, and competitive advantages at the global powerhouse that is L&H in 2021 would elicit a much different reaction.
The Gillette, Wyo.,‐based company is a leader in state‐of‐the‐art technology innovations, custom manufacturing, and comprehensive services for heavy industrial machinery, engineering and building the assemblies and machinery needed that keep the world’s biggest pieces of industrial equipment running for a lifetime. Industries L&H serves include mining, oil and gas, aerospace, railroad, and construction.
“We're always looking for growth, trying new things and seeing where our customers need us,” the younger Wandler said. “Right now, the big growth we’re experiencing is in mineral processing; we’ve been focused on that for quite a few years and it’s finally getting traction.” The company is also focused on the energy sector; one project as L&H diversifies into the nuclear industry involves TerraPower, which is undertaking a Natrium™ clean energy reactor demonstration project at a retiring coal plant in their home state of Wyoming.
Three generations of Wandlers have carried Leon’s legacy into a frontier of constant change, expanding the founders’ vision of providing excellence in everything they do with honesty, integrity, loyalty, and respect. “We’ve had this in our core values for quite a few years; taking care of our people is one of our first priorities,” the younger Wandler said.
About a decade ago, he noticed the company’s 30% turnover rate had dropped to 3%. “I was really interested in why that was. I asked HR, ‘Is this sustainable? Have we accomplished something here, or is it just that there's no other jobs?’ It ended up being sustainable, and the only thing I saw dramatically changing at the time was leadership and the leaders who truly cared about their people.”
A big part of that caring is the firm’s commitment to safety, which threads through every aspect of their work. “That starts with our employees, but it extends to our customers and to our vendors,” he said. By creating an ecosystem of people who are excited by working on mammoth machines, some of them one‐of‐a‐kind, in an environment of trust and collaboration.
L&H takes a self‐managed approach to work, giving workers the freedom and support to perform at their best. “We're the ones who will always do the right thing, and it's really rare. It's basic principles that anybody could copy, but very few people do. I'm really excited and happy about our culture,” he added. “We're almost 60 years into it, and in my opinion, we’ve really gotten it right these last 20 years.”
A 2015 rebrand brought the cultural aspect to the forefront of L&H’s branding with the “Honestly Better” tagline. “That derived not only from making things better and having a collective drive to make machines better but to go much deeper than that. To L&H, ‘Honestly Better’ means being honest, treating people better, and making the world a better place,” said Brittney E. Thomas, the company’s marketing manager. “It’s so much deeper to the people at L&H.”
When culture meets the cutting edge
Because innovation is ingrained in their culture, thriving in an atmosphere of continual transformation is second nature to everyone at L&H. As early technology adopters, much of that work over the past two decades has centered around digital transformation. “In the past, only a few of us in the company were working on digital transformation, whether it was software or new CNCs or robots. Now everybody in the company is working on it in their own ways,” Wandler said.
“We started really doubling our safety, quality, and speed back in the 90s and I thought, ‘Someday that will level out. You can’t just keep getting twice as good all the time.’ But my people continue doing it. We are relentless anywhere we can perpetually improve safety, quality, speed, and cost.”
In addition to bringing the industrial IoT to mineral processing equipment and their undercarriage technology, the company is working to integrate predictive maintenance into the mix. “We are quite a way into bringing the Internet of Things to the mature parts and being able to offer that as a service for customers. I’m very excited about that,” he said.
Companies often choose to invest in upgrades to their newer machines and retire perfectly good equipment. L&H helps companies take a different approach. “There are a lot of big, old machines that need these advancements as well,” he said. “We’re already bringing the advancements to hard iron, so why not bring the software and the internet and everything else?”
Heavy industrial equipment is built to last, and meticulously tended machines can perform effectively over generations. They can be found throughout heavy industry, with many of them still in operation because there are no alternatives for replacement. Bringing the IIOT, sensors and systems controls to legacy equipment in these circumstances is an important value‐add for L&H customers.
As more manufacturing leaders undertake their own modernization journeys, Wandler encourages patience. “This digital transformation is exponentially changing, so when you do it you've got to be more like L&H where you don't mind doing it again in a few years and using the latest technology to continue upgrading. That's the way our culture is; we'll do our best right now and then we'll do it again when technology advances,” he said.
“We have 60 years of legacy. It’s super rare to have a company like ours that keeps reinventing itself for that many years. I really feel like we’re just getting started, that we’re waking up to new and better ways of doing things and becoming more and more relevant for our people. Opportunities are abundant.”
913 L&J Court
Gillette, WY 82718 USA