In what seems like both yesterday and a lifetime ago, Lt. Col. Edward Jackson retired as Lieutenant Colonel from the Air Guard. He spent 22 years flying the C-130 aircraft, where he served in Dessert Shield and Operation Enduring Freedom. When he co-founded a fastener business in 1998, the company name was obvious: Hercules Bolt.
“The C-130 is also known as the Hercules, which had four propellors and the loading ramp at the back, making it a highly capable aircraft,” explains Michael Musselwhite, General Manager at Hercules Bolt, which today is a successful manufacturer and distributor of heavy fasteners and customized components, based in Madison, Tennessee. “So, that’s where Hercules Bolt got its name and inspiration, so to speak.”
While credit for the company name might have come from Lt. Col. Jackson, the initial idea of launching a bolting company belonged to his business partner at the time, Randy Grave.
“You see, Randy was part of Edward’s Air Guard team and, one, day, the two were on the tarmac chatting,” shares Musselwhite. “Randy mentioned he was interested in starting his own company and developed a business plan. Edward looked it over and thought it was worth the investment, so that’s what he did.”
It was a good idea. The business did well for several years, but then things took a turn. Unfortunately, less than a decade in, Grave was diagnosed with untreatable melanoma, and he sadly passed from cancer in 2004. Then, just a few years later, the recession hit.
Enter Michael Musselwhite, who was hired at the beginning of ’09 to run and support the company in the midst of a struggling economy.
“It was a challenging time, but I looked at it as an opportunity,” he says. “I worked to restructure and rebuild Hercules Bolt the way it really should have been done from the start. It’s important to have a good foundation for a company to be stable enough to grow.”
That foundation is what continues to propel the company’s success to this day. A review of Hercules Bolt’s portfolio is a testament to that. Case in point: the company recently supplied all of the anchor bolts for the Hudson Yards Project, a 28-acre real-estate development in Manhattan — the largest land development in the United States to date.
“It was quite the project, and I’m proud to say we didn’t miss an order for it,” he says. “Edward and I even got to visit during construction. I visited the 17th floor of what was an unfinished 90-story building and Edward went to the top floor of a finished 60-story building. It was impressive.”
Hercules Bolt recently received Veteran-owned Small Business status from the Federal Government. Today, Lt. Col. Jackson continues to serve as company president, but mainly as an overseer of operations.
“Edward likes to say that he’s ‘looking at things from a birds-eye view,’ taking in the full picture,” says Musselwhite. “He’s the principal behind the business and prefers working in the background though also oversees our larger key accounts. I handle the day-to-day.”
To help get the company where it is today meant Musselwhite made some tough decisions when he first came on board. This included restructuring and developing quality-control systems to ensure better reliability and integrity.
“Can you believe our error rates at the time was four percent a year?” asks Musselwhite. “It’s easy to let things go when the cash is flowing and the economy is good. But when things get tight, every penny gets counted. It was no one’s fault but things clearly had to change.”
The errors bothered Musselwhite who’s a self-proclaimed “process guy” and very solutions-oriented.
“When there’s something wrong or if I do something wrong, I’m always trying to decipher how it happened,” he says. “I often tell my wife, I’m a process guy. I always gotta figure things out so I understand where I’m at and, more importantly, how to improve.”
Musselwhite also had concerns about the company’s focus at the time, which was far-reaching and perhaps overly broad for its own good.
“We were excellent at anchor bolts and still are,” he says. “But I realized that trying to stay in the structural bolt business, which we were trying to do, was cutthroat. We were not a manufacturer of the A325 TCs [tension control bolts]. There was no money there for us in an already over-saturated market.”
So, Musselwhite made the necessary adjustments to the product line and concentrated on what Hercules Bolt did best.
“We turned our focus to making sure we only offered anchor bolts of the highest quality, at the highest possible time percentage — which is outstanding. Today, I would say over 90% of our orders go out the door the day we say or sooner. In fact, we just had a meeting going over numbers from 2022 and our error ratio, with freight included, was 0.002% last year.”
Musselwhite partially attributes the growth and success of Hercules Bolt since his early days with the company to the protocols and quality control (QC) systems he put in place.
“It’s all about the processes, in my opinion, and getting the right systems implemented for better tracking and accountability,” he says. This included incorporating ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) software and better supply-chain management. “It also makes the job flow easier and more manageable.”
However, Musselwhite mostly attributes the company’s success to its employees.
“Word of mouth gets around, and when you provide a customer with good service, a competitive price, and your product is exactly what they’ve asked for and it’s on time… there’s not a whole lot more you can ask for,” he says. “And this is a testament to the people we have working here. The MO is often to bring in people that think similarly. But I’ve also realized that there’s value in having out-of-the-box thinkers. So long as we all have the same goal, it’s all good.”
So, where did he gain his wisdom? The short answer is experience.
“I’ve had a lot of bad and some good bosses over the years,” he admits. “You try to learn from the good and make sure you don’t repeat the bad.”
Musselwhite used to be a station manager for the commuter airline on St. Thomas Virgin Island, where he attributes learning many of his management skills. He’s also worked in the fastener industry for companies such as House of Threads in Florida and Snider Bolt & Screw of Kentucky (which is now part of the Würth Group).
“It’s in these roles where I truly learned the value of customers,” he says. “I recall one customer asking myself and a colleague if we carried an odd type of bolt. I learned that you never say ‘no’ at first and instead keep asking questions. Turns out, the bolt was actually for this customer’s exercise bike. So, my colleague and I stopped by a nearby fitness shop that carried stationary bikes and we found the bolt and delivered it free of charge. Of course, we gained a client for life after that.”
Sometimes it’s the little things that make a big difference. Sometimes it’s thinking outside the box.
“But mostly,” adds Musselwhite. “It’s the way you treat people… it’s the golden rule: treat others as you’d want to be treated. In terms of employees, I also think it’s also important to teach others the way you’d want to be taught. It’s all karma. What you give comes back to you — the good and the bad.”
It’s nice to see Hercules Bolt getting the good karma it’s clearly earned over the years and deserves.
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