How A Growth Mindset Was The Key To Taking A Family Business Global, with Mike Wandler
Published DateAuthorDan Sullivan and Strategic Coach
When Mike Wandler was 14 years old, he talked his dad into letting him work at his company, L&H Industrial Inc., which manufactures and repairs the biggest machines on earth. By the time Mike was 18, he became the machine shop supervisor, and later on, he become vice president of the company. In 1998, Mike and his brothers bought the company from their father, becoming second-generation owners. Listen in as Mike shares the wisdom that’s led him to running a now global, million-dollar company.
Here's some of what you'll learn in this episode:
Why Mike prefers that his company remain privately held.
The mindset that Mike had to overcome after taking over the company.
Why Mike considers himself a terrible student.
Why even the company’s customers have to be aligned with the company’s culture.
How The Strategic Coach® Program saved Mike from being a workaholic.
What allows Mike and his team members to get more done by working less.
A lot of entrepreneurs have an indifferent relationship with the educational system because they want to create their own school of success.
You need to own your own company if you don’t like other people telling you what to do.
For entrepreneurs, being a terrible student doesn’t mean you won’t be successful.
Going global means you aren’t living or dying by a local economy.
The challenge in getting various people on the same page is that each person has certain things they’re focused on.
Even in family businesses, the family members are a small percentage of the people in the business.
If you surround yourself with a leadership team with the right mindset, it filters down to the rest of the organization.
With the right people, and a clear vision of what you want to do, opportunities build on themselves.
The entrepreneurial spirit is wanting to grow and diversify, and taking the risks to do that.
You don’t need to know how to do something if you know how to find someone who can do it.
Money is necessary, but it isn’t an entrepreneur’s main motivation.
Dan Sullivan: Hi, this is Dan Sullivan and I'd like to welcome you to the Multiplier Mindset Podcast. My Free Zone Success Story today is a marvelous person by the name of Mike Wandler and Mike lives Gillette, Wyoming, and to my recollection I think this is our first story from Wyoming. You meet him and he's kind of a person you can imagine that these are the kind of people who moved the frontier in America from the East Coast to the West Coast. The 1600s, 1700s, 1800s, early 1900s. This is the type of person, and he's from an entrepreneurial family and so it's a business that he took over from his father. I can say that Mike is like a lot of our entrepreneurs, they had a very indifferent relationship with the educational system. Because entrepreneurs want to create their own school, their own school of success. Mike's done that and took over a $7 million company and it's now a $100 million company.
But the part that Mike didn't really talk about is what he's doing now, and he will probably in a very short period of time be one of the world's leading manufacturers of all the components and all the parts of what are called SMRs. These are small modular nuclear plants that are going to supply an entirely unexpected massive amount of very cheap, very, very reliable, very abundant energy. Starting almost entirely in the United States and probably Canada and if you can picture it's probably a nuclear plant, if you have a 2000 square foot or 3000 square foot house, this nuclear plant is about that big. What you can imagine, I was just talking to Mike, I just saw him at our annual summit for our Free Zone Program in Palm Beach, and I said, "You can imagine the new chip factory that's going in north of Phoenix, and this is TSMC and this is probably the top chip making company in the world for the very, very highest level of electronic equipment in the world and they've just built a factory that at the start has 20,000 workers."
Chip factories just use up an immense amount of electricity and the existing grid is not going to be sufficient in the future. If you build a factory like that, the first thing that goes in is the small nuclear reactor and from that day forward there's no electricity taken by the new factory off the grid and Mike is pioneering this. None of this happens without the manufacturing. So I told him, I said, "You already have the Free Zone. This is going to be a total Free Zone." So going from $100 million to a billion is probably going to be an easy step for you because I think probably your marketing days are over probably. You're just going to have to be highly selective about who comes knocking on your door because everybody's going to be knocking on your door.
Mike Wandler: All right. I'm Mike Wandler, I'm the President of L&H Industrial and owner of L&H Industrial in Gillette, Wyoming. We're a global company doing manufacturing and repair for the biggest machines on earth. So we work on things like shovels, drag lines, mostly in the mining industry. The company started in 1964 by my dad, Leon Wandler, I've been in it since 82. My dad was in there in 1964 and 1982 I was 14 and I wanted to go to work, I was tired of sitting at home and looking for something to do. So I talked him into letting me come in and work and it was the typical second generation where you come in and start on the ground floor being the helper. But I quickly moved up into the machine shop because that's where my dad liked to spend his time. That's what he appreciated the most. So spent a lot of my childhood in the machine shop.
I didn't really have any use for school because I was working as many hours as I could work, starting at the age of 14 and machining, a little bit of welding, a little bit of mechanicing, but mostly machining. It was tough times in the 80s, so I got to move up very quickly because the shops were empty and they needed people to do things. So that helped push me into the mining world and then I went up through management supervising. I was supervising the machine shop by the time I was 18, I was a part owner of L&H by 1986. So it's a little different way to get entrepreneurial, but I am entrepreneurial. I like starting new things, I always have. I got that from my dad. He was always trying the hard things and doing something new that people said couldn't be done, and I continue doing that. So I bought the company from dad in 98, me and my brothers, and I've kept buying shareholders out. So now I own 50% of it and I've got family that owns 48%. So it's closely privately held, a little different than most companies.
I really like having it closely privately held to protect the company long term and all the stakeholders and also just playing the long game. But we're still very entrepreneurial, we're moving into nuclear now. We're diversifying, you could argue we may be over diversified because we're very entrepreneurial and we keep changing things. But it's a fun business and it's ours and we make it into what we want it to be, especially with Strategic Coach's help on Self-Managed Company that makes it even easier. There's always a lot of obstacles, and there was a lot in 1998 when I took over. Well, 2000 I took over as president and I had dropped out of high school halfway through my senior year. Because I didn't see any good reason and they were going to flunk me because I was a terrible student. So I dropped out, got my GED, and when I became president I'm like, oof. I had this gnawing at the back of my head that I was missing a lot of information that I needed to do a good job and to sit in the room with the people I needed to sit with.
So I had to overcome that, and so a lot of its mindset and what's bothering you. So at that point in 2000, that's what was bothering me was I need to be better prepared for this. So I took an online course. While I was running the company, I took an online course, I got a Bachelor's in Business Administration and that checked that box and then I realized... So I thought I was a terrible student. I realized that a lot of entrepreneurs are terrible students, and the reason... I just realized this, working with Julia on Unique Ability. The reason I'm a terrible student is I hate being under other people's structures and being told what to do. So for an entrepreneur, the terrible students, that doesn't mean that you're not going to be successful. It just means you hate playing other people's games, which is great for an entrepreneur. So I stay out in front on the Quick Start things and I don't set myself up to be on other people's boards or under other people's structure.
One of the other reasons that I keep ownership of my company, I don't want other people telling me what to do. I need to be creating my own thing. But I also appreciate the Follow Through, you have to have a lot of Follow Through people around you. We have about 95% Follow Through people. That's really important, otherwise you'll keep burning out. I have 250 people in the U.S. and I have a lot of Follow Through people, and then I have a few of us Quick Starts. That's a nice combination because Quick Starts can go to our thing and then flip it over to the Follow Through people. Then going global, half of our 100 million in sales are global and out of the country. We started doing that in 2000, my brother and I and the two partners that we started at that time. So in that 2000 area, I finally got all of the owners on the same page. That was the other big turning point. I got everybody on the same page and we didn't quite know how we were going to go global because we were a very local...
I think it was about a 7 million business, and we decided we wanted to go global just for diversification and not living and dying with the local economy. The value of the leaders and the owners on the same page. That's probably the biggest challenge, you're working with human beings and they all have their own things they're focused on, but I would say surround yourself with like-minded people. You might say, well that's impossible when you have family members. It's really not, you've got a lot of family members that are like-minded. But a lot of other people, even in family businesses, are like-minded. The family's going to be a small percentage of the people in the business. So as I started doing that, and I wasn't quite sure how this was going to work, but I knew we needed to have everybody pull in the same direction. I knew that worked better. So since I wasn't 100% sure in 2000, it took me about 12 years to get 100% sure. I went through Harvard OPM class, and that really showed me and really gave me a base of entrepreneurs that were like-minded and could tell me reaffirm that yes this works, this works. Just make sure you have the right mindset and then you surround yourself with a leadership team with the right mindset and then it filters down. I always knew that intuitively, and I think we all know that intuitively. Practicing it is a little bit harder, but once you do it long enough where you see somebody that's done it you know that oh yeah, this is a no-brainer. I need to just pull people in that are all like-minded, head in the same direction, want the same things, and then the other piece is figure out what those people want. I'm all about culture, so you hire people into your culture and then people that want to repair things, want to fix things, want to do what we do and fit our company. One epiphany I had in Dan's Free Zone was that I had really done a good job on culture for the employees and for the vendors.
But we were still taking some customers that weren't like-minded, and that was a real change. Where yeah, let's really look at that and make sure that even our customers are aligned with our culture and they like what we're putting down and only serve employees, vendors, and customers that are like-minded and want performance and want quality safety. So wrapping that whole thing into your company, that's powerful and it makes things much simpler. 10 million, 100 million, it happened with lots of great people and it took time. I don't know the numbers, probably 15 years or something. It'll be faster next time because now I understand how it works and why. But it's time and pressure and we decided that we wanted to go global and we started acquiring companies that fit. They were usually vendors that we were selling to and they wanted to divest, so we would purchase them and then we would be in another country selling into New Mexico. That opportunity would open up another vendor that we bought in South Africa because they were going to sell and we didn't want to lose that supply chain and it just builds on itself these opportunities. If you've got the right people and you've got a clear vision of what you want to do. Adding resources internally, growing organically while you're doing acquisitions, that's really the secret sauce for us. It comes back to the right people and the people that want to grow. That's the entrepreneurial spirit, wanting to grow and diversify and taking the risks to do that. I've been in Strategic Coach for three years, and I started right at the beginning of Covid so it was all online and it's been life changing for me. I worked on the Unique Ability. I was a workaholic, so that helped me change from being a workaholic and have these Buffer Days and these Free Days and really start thinking about what I was doing. So that was game changing, and then the Self-Managed Company was a big change for me.
Always trying to create a Self-Managed Company, but never really had a context around it or how to do it or why would it work. Strategic Coach really helped me frame that up, and I've been interested in 10x. So I moved from Strategic Coach to 10x and that was good. So a different level of entrepreneurs that were accomplished and had a lot more to share more like I was that had been around a while and were looking for the next level, looking to 10x their company. So that was really interesting and when the Free Zone came up, I'm like I don't know if I want to go into that. But same experience, just a whole nother level of professionals that had been there and done that and could share a lot of information about how to do that. Really, really opened my eyes to different ways and a whole network of people to work with. So I'm working with a few of those Free Zone people to help me work on areas that I wasn't a pro at.
So you find a lot of Whos in the Free Zone. You find a lot of Whos in 10x. So 10x is really interesting, you know what 10x go from 100 million in sales to a billion in sales. That's interesting. What's more interesting that I just came upon is 10xing my profits and my people are doing that right now. We've been pushing on it for quite a while, that's hard to do to 10x your profit, but I'm focused on 10xing my profits instead. So go to 100 million in profits and see what the top line is and I think that's an interesting wrinkle for companies. Because companies that are in the long game, if you're doing a short game flip it then 10xing gross sales is great. If you're going to buy and hold like I am 10xing then that is more interesting because that gives you more capital to do more incredible things with incredible people. Then the 1000x and the Free Zone, I can feel it and I can see it now. When it first came out even the 10x to me was how do you do that?
Until you look at, well I've already done it and I could do it again and it'll be a quicker way to do it if I'm looking at it and I believe I can do it. Then the 1000, that one is mind-blowing when somebody first says it, until Dan shows you how to do it and then it becomes like, "Oh yeah, I could see that. I can reach that from here." So it's a lot of fun and it's not about the money, the money's just a good measurement and you need the money. You need the net profit in order to be able to invest and keep growing. But it's really about the freedom of time, the freedom of relationships, the freedom of purpose, and I've got that very neatly wrapped into my life now. So I can see doing this... I'm 54. I can see doing this for another 50 years, that is definitely the 1000x, 10x, we should be able to do that every 10 years. Maybe every 15, it doesn't matter. But the freedoms are the beautiful part and that's really what Strategic Coach and Free Zone is teaching me. It's about staying in my Unique Ability. Julia Waller also really coached me on this. So staying in my Unique Abilities and delegating everything else, finding my Whos. So saying, yes I want to do that. I don't know how to do it, but I do know how to find somebody that's incredible at doing it, which is another piece that the Free Zone gives you. Being able to find an incredible network of the best people that can do particular things. I'm really blessed to have an incredible group of people working for me and my direct reports. So if you're doing something that's not in your Unique Ability, you should really look at who around you can you pass that to that it's in their Unique Ability and if you don't have them you need to add them. Interestingly, when I started working on my own Unique Ability and I was very excited about it and I wanted to pass that on to my direct reports. I was a little worried. I was like, if I tell them all just to work in their Unique Ability I'm going to find a lot of holes.
I'm going to have to hire people. The opposite was true. So as soon as I told them, "Hey, I'm working on my Unique Ability I want you to do the same," there was somebody to do everything. There was people that were just like, "Yes, I want to do that for you. You're terrible at it, give it to me." Right? So as soon as I did and I told them, “You do the same. Give up your stuff you don't like and stay in your Unique Ability,” they did the same thing. We're all working less and the quality of the work is way better. So that is abundantly true, and I think that's the way to grow it. So stay in your Unique Ability. As the entrepreneur and the leader you have to do vision, you have to do culture, maybe some strategy. But there's very few things that you have to do as the owner and the president of the company. But what you should do is stay in your Unique Ability and get your people to do the same and if there's anything missing then you hire somebody with that Unique Ability.
Whether they're an employee or outsource, it doesn't matter, just to get it done with somebody that loves to do that piece of it. So I think that is a key component and I can see continuing to grow and we can probably 10x without having to add a massive amount of people using the strategy. And it makes your life great because you love doing the things that you decided to do. I think there's another really key point that I still have to work on and continue I have to work on, and that is letting your self off the hook to have to do everything. So I had that until I started working with Strategic Coach. I felt like, well I have to show up, I have to be in the office. I have to put in my 10 hours and lead by example and all of these things that us entrepreneurs tell ourselves, that's our own value proposition we think. It is not your own value proposition.
You can stop doing all of that and stay in your Unique Ability and your people will be much happier if you take more time off and do your Unique Ability and let them do theirs. But it is hard for an entrepreneur because we feel like we have to be there and we have to work harder than everybody else. But that will kill you, it'll put you in the grave in your 60s. So that is something that I have to continue working on, but I'm getting better at it. Coming to an entrepreneurial coaching space, especially Strategic Coach, you get the connection with other entrepreneurs. I have a connection with Dan and the other coaches. Entrepreneurs, we're a strange glomeration of people, so most people don't understand how we think or why we think that way. This is a collection of other entrepreneurs that know exactly how you think and why you think that way, and they can help you. So they can give you, "Oh, you're thinking about it this way. You can change your mindset or here's an introduction to a bank or some other resource so you find the right Whos."
So it's really powerful to, again, stay around like-minded people and have them open. The whole Coach theme is, here's some ideas, you have to go implement them. But being around that team that thinks like you and can help you get where you want to be and decide where you want to be, it's extremely powerful. So I would recommend it and I think the bigger entrepreneur you are and the more successful you are, the more valuable this is. Because you have things to share with others, they have things to share with you, and it's just a lot of fun going back and sitting with people that are dealing with the same issues you are or have dealt with them in the past and can help you get your mindset and your direction and your strategy going the same way, whether it's your professional strategy or your personal strategy. I would say Strategic Coach has helped me definitely 1000x my personal strategy. Staying in the business a lot longer, it completely changed the way I look at my entire life.
I'm going to 1000x my quality of life while I 1000x my business life and all of those around me. So it not only affects you, it will spread to everybody around you whether it's employees or others. So it makes you a better human being.
Dan Sullivan: Just a thrill, and it's an indication of the types of projects in the world that our Free Zone clients are doing and Mike is doing it in one area and it's all new. Virtually everything is frontier, it's all new territory. So our Strategic Coach clients with all the other tools they have from Strategic Coach are creating the maps. They're moving the frontier of capitalism in America, especially out into totally new areas. So it should seem like a guy who represents the frontiers people of 100 years ago that Mike should be the person doing this in the 21st century.