A Conversation With ... David Strand, Wisconsin Oven

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It’s been a busy summer for David Strand, president and CEO of Wisconsin Oven. In June, his company was acquired by France’s PLC Holding, a leading manufacturer of industrial ovens for the aerospace, automotive, composite and finishing industries. Strand says PLC Holding, with offices in the United States, Germany, France, Romania, India and China, will strengthen Wisconsin Oven’s global positioning in the industries it serves.
Q: Wisconsin Oven is the largest OEM supplier of industrial ovens in the U.S. What’s the secret to keeping those relationships going in today’s economy?
DS: The cornerstone of our success is an attitude, a spirit and a belief that, without our customer, we don’t exist. We have a “Work of Champion” program that does it all. It is also in our mission statement, and everyone in our company has it memorized. Our attitude and dedication has resulted in us keeping our customers forever. In fact, repeat customers represent over 50 percent of our annual sales.
Q: You recently announced plans to apply for a GSA Schedule and actively pursue additional federal contracts.
DS: I have no patience for bureaucracy. The process can be very difficult and time-consuming when dealing with any government entity. Getting our company on a GSA Schedule will expand our reach beyond the federal government to numerous state and municipal governments and other public entities, as they will be able to take advantage of our unique products and services at set government pricing. We believe the GSA will eliminate some of the red tape and narrow the field of competition.
Q: You and Wisconsin Oven are heavily involved in charity work. How did you become so entrenched in these endeavors?
DS: Wisconsin Oven is blessed with the highest skilled, hardest working champions in this industry. Many are from this community. The fruits of our labor, we pay forward. Personally, I was brought up in a blue collar family and can remember my single father working very hard to make ends meet. I remember often wearing the same pair of jeans to school several days in a week. My brother and I would fight over the food in the house and just about everything else, for that matter. Meanwhile, my father worked all the overtime he could. In high school, I really only cared about sports. My grades were all failing my junior year, and I was told I was ineligible for football and would probably not graduate. There were some special teachers who went out of their way to give me a chance to regain eligibility and then graduate. Those days stay forever in my mind and made me realize that it’s not what you’ve got, but what you give, and everything else will take care of itself. Later in life, I went on to serve as president of the East Troy Board of Education.
Q: How did you become president of Wisconsin Oven? Where did you get your start?
DS: At 17, I got a job in a factory building dumpsters. I had moved out of the house and was still in high school. I got a second-shift job running a shear and press brake. My father’s work ethic was in my blood, and I would work until 2:30 a.m. and be in school by 7:30 my entire senior year. At 19, I was hired at Wisconsin Oven to be the shop rat. I did all the insulating of wall panels, washed all the ovens and was trained to paint all the ovens. I basically did everything that no one else wanted to do, and I was soon asked to go to night school and learn how to weld. I did, and soon after became an oven assembler. The business was beginning to grow and I had an opportunity to grow with it. Eventually, I became a VP of operations and was offered a seat on the board of directors and minority ownership.
Q: What have you recently read that you would recommend to a colleague?
DS: One of my favorite books still is Good to Great by Jim Collins. I literally used the book as a road map while we reorganized and made the transition from good to great.
Q: What CD is playing in your car, or what station are you listening to these days?
DS: Well, being a boy from the 1980s, I have quite a mix of rock and country. But the one song that I listen to almost every day that really motivates me is by Kid Rock called “Born Free.” It’s like my life story, and can only happen in America.