Written by Hillsboro Free Press Tuesday, 17 April 2007 11:38
Sometimes you can go home again.
After an absence of a little more than 21⁄2 years, Tom Kaufman is back at Hillsboro Industries as an engineering manager.
And he’s brought with him the key reason he left the local trailer manufacturing company in summer 2004: an innovative braking system he developed for gooseneck and fifth-wheel trailer hitches.
Kaufman, who began his own company called Kintec Inc. to produce and market the system, signed an agreement March 30 that gives Hillsboro Industries exclusive licensing rights for the core technology he has developed as well as accepting employment there.
“It’s a win-win situation both ways,” Kaufman said.
“For me, it’s back to the old stomping grounds, and yet it will help the technology behind the product to expand.”
The ownership team of Flint Hills Industries, which was formed in early 2005 to purchase the assets of Hillsboro Industries from Great Plains Ventures, couldn’t be more pleased with the agreement.
“We really are optimistic about this,” said Phil Wyssenbach, company president. “A lot of compliments to Tom for what he’s achieved—and I mean that sincerely.”
“It works for everybody,” added Mike Gerken, chief operating officer and plant manager. “It provides some manufacturing capabilities that Tom didn’t have access to before. And with what we’re doing, we really needed to expand our engineering capabilities.”
Wyssenbach and Gerken are part of the ownership team that also includes Merle Friesen, who is the company’s national sales manager, and partner Marv Schellenberg of Wichita.
The coming together of the two enterprises also addresses a critical marketing need Kaufman faced while trying to get Kintec Inc. off the ground at its former location at 136 N. Ash in Hillsboro.
“We established some new ground, but introducing a new product into the marketplace I found to be a challenge,” Kaufman said. “These guys approached me and said they can bring some horsepower to bear on helping that get rolling.”
And both parties say they are convinced their mutual interests will be enhanced in the process.
“We really believe that with the core technology that Tom developed, we can literally create a signature product for Hillsboro Industries,” Gerken said.
Feedback about the Kintec hitch has been overwhelmingly positive in the marketplace, according to Wyssenbach.
“In our research over the past few weeks, what we’ve discovered is that once a customer owns this product I would say it’s nearly 100 percent acceptance. They are very, very pleased with the product.”
Wyssenbach characterizes the Kintec hitch as “cruise control for braking.” Instead of the operator needing to continually calibrate and adjust the braking system, as has been required on the nearly 50-year-old electric trailer-brake technology, the Kintec approach uses a sensor hitch coupled with a high-tech brake module that carries an on-board microprocessor.
A brake controller sends a signal to the brakes of the trailer to coordinate braking so it is in unison with the tow vehicle.
“What this does is offer you the capability to have anyone go out and pull a trailer, and at least the braking function is no longer a worry,” Wyssenbach said. “You don’t have to worry about setting it, you don’t have to worry about calibrating it. You just make sure it’s hooked up properly—and you go.”
Wyssenbach said Flint Hills Industries has maintained a connection with Kaufman almost from its inception.
The company has contracted with Kaufman for some independent engineering to repair existing trailers and “clean up” the design of the Endura aluminum line of trailers that Kaufman created during his first stint with Hillsboro Industries.
“There’s been a lot of seed-planting and relationship building over the past couple of years,” Wyssenbach said. “But about a month and a half ago, I just had a pang to go by and see Tom and see how he was doing. We just kind of said, let’s get together and see if we can make something work. That’s when things started accelerating.”
As a member of the Hillsboro Industries team, Kaufman will continue to oversee the engineering work on the Kintec hitch as well as develop new products for the overall company.
“This is Tom’s product, this is his child—and we’re always going to respect that,” Gerken said of the hitch. “If Tom doesn’t feel good about what we’re doing, then we’re probably not going to feel good about it either.”
Kaufman joins Eric Carlson as an engineering manager at Hillsboro Industries. Carlson will continue to oversee improvements on existing product lines as well as help develop new products.
“Tom and Eric work real well together,” Gerken said.
Product expansion is a key component of the ownership team’s vision to continue a fairly extreme makeover of the company.
“Our goal is to increase this business six-fold from where it was when we bought it,” Gerken said.
Added Wyssenbach: “And we’re not going to do it just by being a trailer company.”
“Without Tom, those targets couldn’t be met with what we’re trying to do,” Friesen said.
In addition to promoting the Kintec hitch in markets where Hillsboro Industries trailers and truck beds already have a presence, Friesen said the company plans to develop a presence in other markets, including recreational vehicles and equipment rental.
“We want to develop new outlets, but we don’t want to sell or retail from the factory,” Friesen said. “We want dealership distribution.”
Kaufman admitted it took some time to let go of his dream to produce and market his core technology independently. But the more he thought about it, the more sense it made.
“What I found over the past 21⁄2 years is that the marketing side isn’t that enjoyable to me,” he said. “I enjoy talking to customers, but my love is tinkering with things and making them work. That’s what makes me tick. This marriage helps me get to that on a more regular basis.
“I’m excited,” he added. “It will be interesting to see what potentials can be achieved.”