Delta ModTech has been named one of five winners of the 2021 Minnesota Family Business Award in Minnesota’s Twin Cities Business magazine. But two members of that family, Evan Schiebout and Wendy Stromberg, are quick to point out that it’s more than the family that has made the company’s success possible.
(Schiebout family business photo courtesy of Twin Cities Business magazine.)
The Minnesota Family Business Awards are handed down every year from Twin Cities Business to recipients who “all share a respect for legacy that motivates them to not only maintain but also grow their respective companies.” (Here’s the link to the article on the award.)
According to Evan, the company’s Chief Operating Officer, and Wendy, the Director of People and Culture, the reason Delta ModTech is maintaining and growing its legacy is tied to a strategic initiative launched by Delta ModTech founder Dave Schiebout in 1999.
It all started with servo motors
Delta ModTech originally began as a retrofitter of small mills and lathes in the machine tool industry, installing computer controls on manually-operated machinery. The company was started in 1978 by Dave Schiebout.
Dave was contacted by a web converting manufacturer who was struggling to get a project through FDA approval. He realized that the mechanical drive system on the converter’s machinery was affecting their ability to achieve a tight tolerance, and retrofitted the machine with servo motors.
Borrowing concepts from the machine tool industry, Dave made it his goal to use servo motors to provide independent motion control at the most critical points of the machine. In web converting process, where there can be multiple segments of a web run with different die cuts, this ability to adjust the modules independently of each other allows the cut location to be quickly changed or corrected.
The initial implementation of the motors improved accuracy by 25 times. This innovation provided the spark for Delta ModTech, and it’s also indicative of Dave’s ability to seek out improvements in existing processes.
“He is just a true entrepreneur,” daughter Emily Allegra notes. “He has a way to just see things that have gotten us to where we are today.”
Turning point: Extending the business beyond the family
Dave’s ability to see things in a different way was also applied to the management of the company. He realized that for the company to continue growing, he’d have to move away from sole owner operator to a more collaborative company environment.
The pivotal moment for the company occurred in 1999, when Dave began to integrate non-family members into managing the company. He started a leadership team that would guide the organization’s strategy and vision.
Interviews for the team began in 1999, and the first weekly leadership team meeting was held in 2002. Dave chaired the first meeting, but after communicating the team’s intent and agenda, he handed the gavel to the next leadership team member. He then announced that was the first and last meeting he would ever chair.
The team has added a few members throughout the years, but its method has remained constant: Leadership is fostered by mentoring, rotating the gavel, and assigning responsibility.
“His biggest legacy has always been developing people,” Wendy said.
All voices are heard
Ryan Herman, Director of Service and not a member of the Schiebout family, is one of eight people that currently sits aboard the leadership team. He notes that during Delta ModTech’s early days, a less formalized leadership structure wasn’t needed.
“It had to change to more high level guidance as the team grew,” Ryan said. “More people needed to know which way the ship was trying to steer.”
The leadership team was not another layer of management, however. It was a more focused way to hear voices throughout the company, and expand the culture that had fueled the company growth.
“We have a unique culture here. We hire good people and let them work. It’s more about being self-motivated.”
In his role of customer support, Ryan brings the concerns of the customer to the leadership team, but he doesn’t believe that his seat on the team is necessarily unique to other people in the organization.
“People who have been here know that it’s an open-door policy,” he said. “I’ve never felt like I couldn’t bring things up.”
Extending decision-making from strategy to physical workspace
The inclusion of the extended family voice is evident not only in decision-making in the strategic infrastructure of Delta ModTech, but even within the physical presence of the jaw-dropping new facility, constructed in 2020.
During the planning process, employees were asked to create a wish list of features they’d like to incorporate. True to its innovative roots, the team stepped up with a wide range of resourceful and smart approaches to improving the physical workforce of the plant, including:
- A dedicated innovation area, where engineers can experiment with sensors, 3D printers, and anything else that might prompt solutions.
- An indoor loading dock, allowing raw materials to be unloaded beyond the reach of frigid Minnesota winters.
- A walled-off machining sector, which keeps ambient noise on the rest of the floor at a minimum.
- The reuse of old company signs, which are prominently displayed throughout the building as a sign of the company’s proud legacy.
- Amenities which include everything from a state-of-the art workout facility, outdoor dining area, and huge kitchen and food prep areas for large company gatherings.
The workplace is home to company-wide gatherings, but it’s not the only place where Delta ModTech celebrates its success.
Perhaps the favorite Delta ModTech tradition is the annual summer party where the Schiebout family attempts to welcome all employees and their significant others as an extension of their own family. Each member of the Schiebout family makes an effort to serve the employees. Laughter, games, and gifts for all makes this summer party.
Extending the business beyond the core
Today Delta ModTech continues to grow, both inside and outside the Schiebout family.
Within the family, the Schiebout Family Council has been created, championed by Emily Allegra, with a goal of charting the course for future endeavors that may extend beyond the converting business, and even beyond manufacturing. The Schiebouts are leaning into their core family and business culture of servant leadership as they explore new opportunities and avenues for growth.
The family sees a similar growth model from within the business. It’s common for the company to hire children and relatives of current employees, allowing the culture to pass on to new generations of the Delta ModTech team.
“One of the contractors told me the culture working here is unbelievable…he’d never seen anything like it.”
Ryan believes the culture is best summed up by the remarks he heard from a small team of contractors that were brought into the facility for a special project.
“We had a company-wide celebration yesterday, and we invited these contractors to join us,” he said. “One of them told me the culture working here is unbelievable. It was the first time he had ever seen a manager who knew everyone on a first name basis. He said he’d never seen anything like it.”
It’s ironic that a company founded on motors that operate independently would realize its true growth by moving away from an independent sole founder and owner to a more collaborative company environment.
Judging by the company’s success, recipients of the Minnesota Family Business Award should include the entire workforce. “We’re proud to receive it,” Wendy said. “But we really consider it the Extended Family Business Award.”
(Schiebout family business photo courtesy of Twin Cities Business magazine.)