Rich Hoster – President, Smith & Richardson, Inc. – TMA 2019 Board Chairman
By Fran Eaton for the Technology & Manufacturing Association of Illinois News Bulletin – reprinted with permission
Rich Hoster has been Smith & Richardson, Inc.’s co-owner and president for nearly 25 years. He joined the company in the mid-1980s, soon after graduating from the University of Tulsa with a degree in finance and a concentration in chemical engineering. Upon starting at Smith & Richardson, Hoster was tasked with accounting and computerizing the business – a huge undertaking at the time.
“When I came here, there were no computers. It was 1987 when we installed Smith & Richardson’s first computer network, and we did it all ourselves,” Hoster told TMA News Bulletin.
Smith & Richardson will celebrate its 100th year in 2021. The 70,000 square foot building that houses the manufacturer on Geneva, Illinois’ western side was built to produce chaplets – those all-important metal spacers used in sandcasting.
Last year, Smith & Richardson made 40 million chaplets, dominating the U.S. market. Despite 2018’s impressive number, the demand for Smith & Richardson’s original main product has dramatically decreased over the last several decades. And like any long-surviving manufacturer, the company adapted to the changing demands.
“Today, the majority of Smith & Richardson’s business is machining,” Hoster said. “We went from 16 screw machines to 32 before investing in CNC machines in 1994. Then we added Swiss CNC technology in the early 2000s.”
The company now has a diverse customer base they serve with Swiss and conventional CNC, vertical/horizontal milling machines. Their clients include medical, aerospace, IT infrastructure, hydraulics, instrumentation, sporting goods and general industries.
Over the years as Hoster assumed more responsibilities, he was offered the opportunity to buy shares in the company. “It wasn’t easy with a new wife and baby, but we made the sacrifices and did it,” he said. As the young family’s investment grew, Hoster’s vision for the company’s future grew. When the owners decided to retire, Hoster and his partner, Phil Cowen, became co-owners. Seven years ago, Smith & Richardson started a Chinese company that focuses on making chaplets, which continue to be more in demand overseas. Hoster travels to China every other month to oversee the company’s operations. “We had a rough start with the Chinese company,” Hoster said. “At the time, their economy was growing slow, but we’ve come a long way. We have a lot of automation there – something that is advanced for Asian companies.”
Between Smith & Richardson’s 22 employees in China and 50 in Geneva, Hoster sees the need to grow and develop workforce. “Workforce is one of our biggest challenges,” he said. “Twenty years ago, we had a robust workforce. Now manufacturing has a retiring Baby Boomer generation and is losing a lot of workers every day. That’s a key reason we reach out to the next generation so much.”
Hoster hired retired vocational education teacher, Ron Brown, to organize outreach to area high schoolers. As part of the effort, Smith & Richardson initiated a mentoring program. They frequently host tours for local schools and transported two busloads of high schoolers to last fall’s International Manufacturing and Technology Show in downtown Chicago. “We want to give back to the community and change the image of manufacturing,” Hoster said. “We also see the importance of advocating politically for careers and manufacturing. It’s important to build relationships with politicians and let them know how what they’re doing affects what we do.”
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Hoster’s second biggest concern is the constant regulatory changes with which manufacturers must deal. Trade associations like TMA keep their members informed, he said. After serving on TMA’s Board of Directors for the past several years, Hoster will be sworn in as TMA’s new chairman of the board at the organization’s 2019 annual meeting. “I get much more out of TMA than I put in,” Hoster said. “I value the network and friendships – and wish I would have gotten involved earlier. If we manufacturers can grow as a community, we’re all better off for it. What we’re doing at TMA will help manufacturing be strong and provide more chances for our members to be more successful.”
“Small manufacturers are the salt of this country,” Hoster said. “Without businesses like ours, planes don’t fly and the nation doesn’t move.”
Knowing he’s one part of an industry so crucial to the U.S. is rewarding for Rich Hoster.
“I like to work. It energizes me to know the parts we’re making are making a difference. It’s also rewarding to see employees develop and move onto bigger and better things,” he said. “We’ve taken people out of high school and set them on career paths that benefit them and their families. What’s better than that? Without people you’re nothing. Business is nothing.”
About – Smith & Richardson:
727 May St.
Geneva, IL 60134
On the web at www.smithandrichardson.com
About – TMA: Founded in 1925, the Technology & Manufacturing Association (TMA) represents and supports manufacturers in the Chicago metropolitan area and surrounding counties in northern Illinois, northern Indiana, and southern Wisconsin. TMA has almost 1,000 members and represents over 32,000 employees and nearly 26M square feet of manufacturing in Illinois.