A Conversation with Brad Andreae, Therma-Tron-X


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As the owner of Therma-Tron-X, Brad Andreae has a lot of things on his mind, but you might find him at the lunch hour in the break room playing cards with his employees. He has led his company to develop major innovations in the coatings industry and last month he was selected for induction into the Finishing Hall of Fame. An avid pilot and car racer even at 70, we caught up with the speed demon to learn some life lessons.

PF: What was your reaction to being selected to the Finishing Hall of Fame?

BA: It was a nice surprise. After 50 years of work in the industry, it is nice to know that you are appreciated.

PF: Did you grow up wanting to be in the finishing industry or were there other aspirations?

BA: I wanted to be a mechanic. I loved cars and still do. I built a dune buggy when I was 12. I was ready to go to school to be a mechanic when my dad asked me to take an extensive vocational test. I tested extremely high in the mechanical aptitude area and my parents told me I should go to the Milwaukee School of Engineering for internal combustion engines. I had no idea that engineering wasn’t mechanics. I was scammed.

PF: What has driven the innovation of TTX over the years?

BA: It is really all about staying busy. When TTX experienced slow periods and slumps, we worked on developing new products and prototypes so that when the economy bounced back, we would have new products or ideas available. We love what we do, so it is easy to come up with new ideas. This allowed us to vertically integrate as well. As a full-system supplier, we manufacture nearly 90% of the components that go into our systems.

PF: What’s the best piece of advice you were given?

BA: The owner of the gas station that I worked at when I was growing up would give me a hard time at the end of a long day and always said, “Never stand still. Have a rag in each hand and keep busy so you don’t have to clean.”

PF: What was your first job and what did you learn from it?

BA: When I was 12 and building that dune buggy, I would go down to the gas station to ask the mechanic for advice and help. There was a blacksmith shop along the way, and I learned how to steel-fit and weld from them. I eventually went to work at the gas station and was trained in auto mechanics.

PF: If you had $100,000 to give to a charity, which one would it be?

BA: I like the United Way. They keep their donations local and distribute funds to a wide variety of charities.

PF: What was your first car and what is your dream car?

BA: I had a 1956 Ford that I was rebuilding for drag racing, but my first regular car was a Dodge 383 with rusted out floorboards. I had to put 2 × 4s down just to keep the seats from falling through. My dream car was a Cobra 427.

PF: What leadership traits have helped you along the way?

BA: I tell it the way it is, for better or worse.

PF: Night owl or early bird?

BA: Early bird. I like to get to work and see what everyone is working on.

PF: Favorite place you’ve ever lived?

BA: Here in Sturgeon Bay. Louise and I have been here for nearly 50 years; over 50, if you count the summers I spent here when I was in school.

PF: If you could trade jobs with anyone for a day, who would it be?

BA: A test pilot. I love to fly, but it would be boring to just be a commercial pilot. Testing a new rocket or a military plane, that would be fun.

PF: Where would we find you on a typical Saturday?

BA: Working at TTX or around the house, and then most likely at one of the grandkids’ sporting events. There is always something going on.

PF: Best way to keep competitive edge?

BA: You always need to keep ahead of it. When some piece of technology or machinery is over five years old, it is time to reevaluate it, redesign it. We can always improve on our products. It helps to have strong competitors in the industry that you love to beat.

PF: Personal heroes?

BA: My Father, Otto Andreae. He was energetic and decisive. He was a decorated Korean War veteran. He really stepped out in faith when he started TTX and left big shoes to fill.

PF: How do you motivate people?

BA: I try to set the example.

PF: How do you motivate yourself?

BA: I am always thinking of new things. I’ll take an idea and work it out and pursue it. There are always things to improve upon or try for the first time.

PF: Three greatest passions?

BA: Flying, designing and family

PF: If you could pick up a new skill in an instant what would it be?

BA: Writing

PF: What was the first thing you bought with your own money?

BA: Estes Rockets. I can remember bringing them to a nearby school. They had a nitroglycerin tablet that was used in the propellant. A juvenile officer said to me that they must be illegal as they were like fireworks. I was reintroduced to that juvenile officer 30 years later when he was moving to Sturgeon Bay as a retiree and he remembered my name and exploits right away.

PF: Most unique office décor?

BA: Pictures of me racing my Corvette; pieces of my home-built Lanciar-Evolution plane.

PF: Best business decision?

BA: Hiring my kids — my two sons, Bradley and Chad, and my daughter, Amy.

PF: Worst business decision?

BA: Converting from AutoCAD to ProE, a 3D program. We ended up staying with AutoCAD in the end, but the process cost us tons of money.

PF: Biggest management myth?

BA: That you have total control over everything.

PF: Do you collect anything?

BA: Cars. I have a few.

PF: What advice would you give to yourself 10 years ago?

BA: 10 years ago I took my own advice and I would pass it along. Value the people and the skills that you have built up in your organization. Don’t let people go when troubled times come. You need them and their knowledge to stay on top, grow and train when business gets going again.