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Austin From Scratch (Vacation Style): An Interview with Matt Tietz, Vice President of McDonough Manufacturing

Austin From Scratch is our favorite series on the blog and involves Owen (age 8) and Malia (age 6) interviewing local entrepreneurs who have created a thriving business here in the heart of Texas.  For this edition of AFS, we changed it up a bit to accommodate our summer vacation and interviewed an old friend from Eau Claire, WI.  Matt Tietz is the Vice President of McDonough Manufacturing, a 125-year-old company that makes sawmill equipment in the heart of Wisconsin.  Some people call him a modern day Paul Bunyan, but we’ll let you decide.  We hope you enjoy!

Malia (our six-year-old daughter)
How did you go about learning as a child?

Matt (Matt Tietz, Vice President of McDonough Manufacturing)
I tell you one thing guys, school was not very easy for me so I had to work extra hard at it.  Some kids are really, really smart and they don’t have to work very hard and homework comes easy for them..but for me, it took me longer.

Owen (our eight-year-old son)
How did you spend your summers as a child?

I didn’t have a job until I was in middle school; my very first job was as a paper boy and I had to deliver newspapers Monday through Friday and I had a bike with wire baskets on the side and they were full of newspapers.  And that was my first job…probably in 7th grade.  I did that for two years and then when I got to high school, I didn’t have a job.  Instead, I played basketball every single day during the summer.  In fact, I played basketball for six hours a day.  So I didn’t really have a job in high school but once I graduated I got a job working here at McDonough.

How would you describe your business?

McDonough makes equipment that can cut up great big logs…like sixteen feet long…and our machines can cut them into boards.  So that’s our company does…we buy steel and we weld it together and put all these parts together and then it makes a machine – with large saw blades on it – that cuts boards out of a log.

And one thing I want to share with you kids is that cutting down trees is actually very healthy for all the other trees.  You see, trees can only live for so long so our customers cut down the old trees so we can make windows and houses and desks and cabinets and floors and then all the little trees get the sunlight and water and they can grow faster and get big and old and then they’re cut down.  In fact, today we have twice as many trees as we did in 1950.

Matt Tietz

How did Frank McDonough come up with the idea for this company?

Frank started this company in 1888 because he was working at a sawmill and he didn’t think the equipment he was using was very good.  And he was a really smart man and he said, “I’m going to start a business down the street that makes sawmill machinery for all these sawmills in Eau Claire.”  I think there were about thirteen sawmills in town at the time and all of them eventually became customers because he made such great equipment.  And when Frank passed away in 1904, my great-grandfather got involved with the company and around 1920 he bought it from the Board of Directors.  And it went from my great-grandfather to my grandfather to mother and then to myself.  So I’m the fourth generation owner in my family but the fifth generation owner overall.

What’s the best thing about being a business owner?

I would say there are two things that are great about my job…the first one is when one of my employees goes on vacation and has a great time or they buy a new car or boat…because I know they were able to do that because of what we’re doing here today.  And the second thing is the independence.  For example, this Friday I’m taking a day off to go to Northern Wisconsin for a long weekend.  Those are the two best things.  I like to see our employees doing great things with their lives because I feel like our family has contributed to that in some way.

What’s the most challenging thing about being a business owner?

The most challenging thing is that I’m always thinking about my business.  If business is going great, it can be fun and fairly easy.  But when it’s not…maybe we don’t have a lot of orders or maybe an employee wants to quit or something like that…you think about it all the time.  When I walk out that door, I’m still thinking about it and I’m always working.

Do you have any advice for young entrepreneurs?

Yes!  I always tell adults that I think people make business too hard.  Everything you need to know, you learned in kindergarten.  And that’s what I tell people.  You say, “please, thank you, I’m sorry.”  Think about those and how simple it is.

Malia (interrupting)
Yeah, and you learn to be quiet.  My teacher taught me that.  (Everyone laughs.)

Yes, there’s time to be quiet but there’s also time to speak too.  That’s probably the simplest thing.  In fact, the number one thing our company stands for is honesty.  Honesty means telling the truth.  You’d be surprised how many adults don’t tell the truth.  I think it’s super important to be honest.

With that, Matt took us  to the shop where all the magic happens.  He showed us some of the large equipment that was in production including a Band Headrig and Carriage.  (Owen and Malia are pictured standing next to one of these machines.  To see it in motion, click here.  It’s very impressive!)  It was such a cool experience to get a behind-the-scenes look at a company that’s been around for since 1888.  The kids really enjoyed it.  Thank you Matt!

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