As co-owner of Philippi-Hagenbuch, Inc., Pat Hagenbuch is continually working with creative ideas and new industry products. Getting past the initial customer reluctance to change in the business she shares with her husband, Leo Hagenbuch, can be a challenge. But the mother of two carried over the knowledge many youngsters learn early on that “wisdom is not at the top of the graduate school mountain, but in the sandbox at nursery school” and that has made all the difference for the success of the company. For over 35 years, the Peoria-based manufacturer has been a leader in creating specialized products for the mining industry. Hagenbuch also serves on the YWCA Board of Directors and the Executive and Strategies Planning Committee. In the future, she would like to work with a children’s mentoring program to pass on her life lessons and even aspires to take the stage with Barbra Streisand.
Tell us about your education (as far back as you’d like to go) and what led you to your current position.
My family moved to Peoria from Terre Haute, Indiana. We moved the summer of my senior year in high school and I graduated from Peoria High. My college years were split between Columbia, Missouri and Peoria. During my first two years I attended an all-girls school, Christian College in Columbia. I finished my last two years at Bradley. My major was in marketing and business administration with a minor in retailing. While at Bradley, I was in a retail co-op program and worked part-time at a Peoria bridal shop. The shop was small and offered me the opportunity to see how a small business operates. I learned about all facets of this type of business. I do not know that I had a deep desire to own or run a business. However, I found a great deal of satisfaction in working with the customers and helping fulfill their needs. In the bridal business there are always deadlines, and one thing I learned from that work experience was to always be prepared to do what it takes to be on time with the products and services. The practical experience and college courses helped pave the way for the career I have now. I am co-owner with my husband, LeRoy. We own Philippi- Hagenbuch, Inc., a sales, engineering and manufacturing firm specializing in custom off-highway truck equipment for the mining, refuse and utility industries. Our business started in 1969. It is quite a stretch from the bridal business to an equipment manufacturing firm, however; they both use basic business practices and thrive on lots of common sense.
What was it about Peoria that brought you back?
In 1968, LeRoy and I were married. I joined him in Alexandria, Virginia. He was in the Army at Fort Belvoir, the Army Corp of Engineer Base. I took a job at the Base Procurement office. When LeRoy’s enlisted time was over, we packed up and moved back to Peoria, making the decision that Peoria was close to our families and we felt there were many opportunities to develop a business. Early on in my career as a business owner it was tough for a woman to be recognized in the business ownership arena.
My father, L.B. “Phil” Philippi had recently retired from Caterpillar. He presented us with an idea and an opportunity to fill an equipment need in the mining industry, thus Philippi-Hagenbuch, Inc. became incorporated. LeRoy invented and engineered the equipment; my father was the “prospector” and sold the product. My mother and I were the non-paid, part-time Friday gals. Since that time, some 38 years ago, I am very happy we decided to make Peoria our home. I have a deep appreciation for the history of Peoria and marvel at what people have gone through to make Peoria the community it is today. We have enjoyed living, working and raising our family here in Peoria.
Does your resume tell a complex story or have you walked the same line with your career choices?
I don’t feel my resume is a complex story, but it has taken a couple of little turns. My first job right out of college was a buyer trainee and later an assistant buyer for the young junior wear department at Saks Fifth Avenue on Michigan Avenue in Chicago. That was a great experience. From buying trips to fashion shows to waiting on customers, I met a lot of interesting people and had a great team to work with, and I loved my job. Before marrying LeRoy, I moved back to Peoria and took a job at the Mental Health Association of Illinois Valley. I worked with the executive director and my main duty was heading up a pilot program for mental patients discharged from the former Peoria State Hospital. The goal was to get them back out into the community. I was a mentor to the “client” and worked with them through the transition. Everyday was a new challenge. The opportunity was truly a rewarding experience for me. I learned a lot from the clients and I learned a lot about myself. I learned not to take life for granted and to try to see the good in people no matter what their situation.
When LeRoy and I started our business, I worked with William Clark, a wage earner trustee in bankruptcy. Again, my career journey took me down a path of counseling people with financial needs. I worked in that position from 1970 until 1972, when I had our first child. I worked part-time in our business until my father’s death in 1977 and at that time I became involved on a daily basis. I have remained active in the business on a regular basis since then. I have worked in sales, human resources and administration. Currently, my time is spent managing special projects and overseeing administration.
What was one of the most important lessons you learned that helped shape your career?
In the course of the last 38 years I have learned several lessons and I have to say I continue to learn. Among some of the lessons I have learned are:
• Flexibility. Your best-laid plans for a day can be totally altered the minute your walk in your office.
• Do not jump to conclusions. Know the whole story, take time to ask questions and more importantly listen.
• Be open to suggestions and opportunities.
• Above all, always communicate. During my working career, I feel confident that I have communicated and I expect the same from employees, vendors and customers. Keep open communication a priority.
I am never too old to learn. I may think I have put in my time, but the truth is, as an owner of a business, I have the responsibility to my greatest corporate asset—my employees, to work with them and seize new opportunities. Always strive to do better.
Working in the mining industry, did you ever have to “prove” yourself?
Yes, I did and sometimes today I still have to work at proving my capabilities. Early on in my career as a business owner it was tough for a woman to be recognized in the business ownership arena. Through the years this has changed and working with the banks, mine management and insurance companies has been a good experience.
A big challenge I had to overcome was the resistance of the mine financial management to work with me in the collection of our accounts. When it came time for me to approach the banks for loans and lines of credit, I needed to prepare for some resistance. Today, I enjoy a good working relationship with mine management and our banking partner to name a few. In general, the individuals I have encountered are very easy to work with and I feel we have a mutual respect for one another.
How has the mining industry evolved over the last 10 years? Where is it headed?
There has been a consolidation of mining companies, so there are fewer companies to deal with. More monitoring and collection of operational data has and is being introduced. We are working with more international mining countries such as Australia and South America, among others. Over the course of the coming years, the basics of mining will always be there. However, with the changing environment and our energy needs there will be opportunities to develop new means of delivering energy. Mining company operations are being managed more closely and professionally. Equipment is larger and more sophisticated and there is less of it. And of course, now there is mining of alternative energy sources such as oil sands, oil shale and coal. There are as many oil reserves in the Northern Canadian Oil Sands as there are in Saudia Arabia and the Middle East.
What is the biggest challenge Philippi-Hagenbuch has had to overcome?
The fact that we are continually working with creative ideas and new products which have never been produced before. Also, getting past the initial customer resistance to involve new products in their business can be a challenge. Another challenge here at Philippi-Hagenbuch is staffing the organization with people who recognize the challenge and difficulties of being an extremely forward thinking company. We want people who are motivated by being on the leading edge of creating new and innovative products.
You are also a partner with the Affiliated Dialysis Centers. How did you become involved with that organization?
LeRoy was a member of a CEO Roundtable Group around 1999/2000. One of the participants, Steve Bucher, started a dialogue with LeRoy on the needs for dialysis centers in nursing homes. Steve had been involved in the management of a dialysis center in Peoria. The opportunity presented itself when Steve left his position and he, his son-in-law, LeRoy and I became partners and embarked on the new venture, focusing on the Chicago area. The business is evolving and growing. It has been a challenging undertaking; however, seeing people who are dependent on dialysis taken care of is fulfilling and rewarding.
When was your dialysis company started?
We formed Renal Therapies in 2001 with two other partners from the Peoria area and opened our first dialysis clinic in Shelbyville. In 2003, we identified a new opportunity for dialysis which was needed in nursing homes in the Chicago area. Renal Therapies then established Affiliated Dialysis Centers in 2003 to address this business opportunity, and we later obtained Medicare certification for this new company in Oak Park. Affiliated Dialysis Centers focuses all its resources on serving dialysis patients living in nursing homes in the Chicago metro area. At this time, we do not provide nursing home dialysis in the Peoria area.
As a child you spent summer vacations traveling with your family throughout the U.S., Canada and Mexico. Did you try to share new places with your children on their summer breaks?
Our children have been exposed to many travel opportunities and cultures as children and young adults. As an example, our daughter accompanied her dad to Russia on a business trip. She was a sophomore in high school and came back with many stories to tell. When our son was in the 7th grade he traveled to Australia with LeRoy. He attended some meetings with his dad and spent time with some of the families of our customers. To this day, he still relates his experiences and he can be coaxed into speaking his version of “Aussie” talk. Besides those trips, they have been to many foreign countries—England, Germany, Egypt, Israel and Jordan. We have taken family trips to Budapest, Vienna and Warsaw. Some of our more memorable trips—sometimes a little trying, but fun—were trips to Chesapeake Bay where we learned to sail and chartered sail boats for a week. We have repeated our sailing trips several times. A lesson learned on sailing, it teaches one to do their part; you each rely on the other to have a safe sail. You could say we have learned some life lessons on our sailing adventures.
As a parent, what did you feel was most important to pass on to them?
Number one, that they are loved. After that, some of life’s lessons I hope they carry with them are: to take care of themselves make it a point to stay in touch with who they are, where they have been and where they want to go. Balance their life with family, work, friends and their spirituality. No matter where their career takes them, participate in work and more importantly, participate in life. Make communication a priority, be flexible, allow time for those little “life surprises” and ride the waves and the water will become calm. Also to be humble, be understanding, be honest with themselves and with others. Always look for the good in people, on occasion you may have to search a little, but you will find it. Lastly, to enjoy time alone, a person must first appreciate who they are in order to appreciate others.
You’ve been involved in many community activities, what are you most proud of? What are you looking forward to working on in the future?
I would have to say I am most proud of my involvement in our Peoria YWCA. I serve on the Board of Directors and the Executive and Strategies Planning Committee. The YWCA has been in our community for 114 years and the mission is the elimination of racism and the empowerment of women. Bottom line, I believe in and support the efforts our organization makes each day to help advance this mission. In one of our YWCA informational packets there is a caption, “changes for every woman…hope for everyone.” This is a very powerful and positive statement. What keeps me going in my involvement with the YWCA is a quote of Christopher Reeves, “Once you choose hope, anything’s possible.”
For the future, I would like to work with children in a mentoring program that allows me to pass on the lessons in life I have learned which would also lead them in a positive direction.
What words of wisdom do you try to live by?
In the early ‘80s, our company plant manager and I were fortunate to attend a leadership course at Bradley University. We were introduced to a life lesson that I have held in my mind since then. There is a book, All I Ever Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten by Robert Fulghum and the following synopsis from that book best describes the words I try to live by:
Wisdom is not at the top of the graduate school mountain, but in the sandbox at nursery school. Share everything. Play fair. Don’t hit people. Put things back where you found them. Clean up your own mess. Don’t take things that aren’t yours. Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody. Wash your hands before you eat. Flush. Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you. Live a balanced life. Learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work some every day.
Remember in the book Dick and Jane, the first word you learned, and the biggest word of all, look. Everything you need to know is in there somewhere; the Golden Rule and love and basic sanitation, ecology and politics and sane living. And in closing, no matter how old you are, when you go out into the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together. This is very basic; however, I feel it makes a profound statement.
Anything else you’d like to share?
In closing, I want to express my appreciation to all those who have touched my life; family, friends, my mentors (NAWBO Sisters), business acquaintances, organizations I have been involved with, and to the associates at our company who are always there for me and LeRoy. You can not undertake life happenings alone and I feel very fortunate to have these people beside me. I have accomplished many things but I have more to do. As a side note, I still want to sing (lip sync) with Barbra Streisand, maybe some day. TPW