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98 January 08 Kate Sawyer investigates a third-generation enclosure and meter socket manufacturer that knows how to change with the times Charlie Milbank had an eye for opportunity. He opened the doors to his high-voltage switch manufacturing company, Milbank Manufacturing Co., before the Great Depression in 1927. During WWII, demand for products changed, and Charlie decided his company could aid the war effort by supplying metal clips to hold runway mats together for planes landing on temporary airfields. Following the war, Milbank changed its course again to manufacture building enclosures for A-base watt-hour meters— and there it found its niche. The post-war building boom created high demand for the enclosures by utility companies throughout the country. Despite the changing times and company focus, Milbank has always held onto its family values of listening closely and delivering more than expected. Without its unfailing commitment to the customer, and a loyal customer base spanning nearly 80 years, it would not be what it is today. The Kansas City, Missouri-based company has grown to employ 1,000 people in five manufacturing facilities. With more than 10,000 different catalog items, it services the electric utility, contractor, wholesale distribution, industrial, and OEM industries. Through a national network of manufacturer representatives, Milbank supplies meter sockets, commercial service pedestals, electrical enclosures, RV and mobile home pedestals, and air conditioner disconnects. As industry meter standards change, Milbank successfully adapts its product line to satisfy new requirements, while still producing topnotch materials. It has a full-scale engineering department dedicated to designing products to meet customer specifications while also satisfying all utility requirements. According to John Siglock, director of product development at Milbank, most people don’t think twice about the design of a product unless it doesn’t work well. “They’re unaware of the amount of work that goes on behind the scenes to ensure standards are met as well as set,” he said in a 2005 company publication. “They rely on those of us in the electrical industry (not to mention insurance underwriters) to be mindful of the hard costs associated with a lack of quality standards.” But building a quality product isn’t enough. Siglock says the company has to anticipate customer needs at the development stage. “We want to make sure we speak their language,” he said. “Our commitment ensures our ability to respond to customer needs, keep the end user safe, and High ratings

January 08 99 Center and also held several management positions during his 22-year history with Butler Manufacturing. Along the way, Winkler became a supporter of Toyota’s “lean manufacturing” production system. “It’s really about fi nding ways of doing more with the resources you have, getting customers and employees involved with the process, and coming up with a solution,” he said. In fact, Winkler’s leadership style refl ects much of Charlie’s approach to running his company, with humility and vision. “My career aspiration was to be a leader,” he said in a company publication at the time of his appointment. “I knew it was important to have a good understanding of how various aspects of a manufacturing company works. Now, when I’m working with various functional VPs in an organization, I can have real empathy and speak to their needs. Walking in another man’s moccasins for a mile is something very valuable.” MilbankManufacturing quickly bring new ideas to the marketplace. It’s all about time to market.” At its Gardner manufacturing facility in Kansas City, for instance, Milbank puts its products to the test with triple-digit temperatures, torrential rain that sprays up, not down; 2,000 pounds of force, and the effects of more than 20-30 years of wear and tear in a single day. These tests are administered within the company’s own testing lab, which is certifi ed by Underwriters Laboratories, the industry-leading product safety testing and certifi cation organization. Although relations of founder Charlie Milbank help to run the company at the executive level, the team brought in Lavon Winkler to bring the company through yet another change. He was promoted from COO to the position of president and CEO in 2006. Before coming to Milbank, Winkler was president and CEO of Mid-America Manufacturing Technology