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updated: 8/14/2017 8:50 AM

Coffee Break: Mark Klein, Klein Tools in Lincolnshire

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Q: Describe your company.

A: Klein Tools is a six-generation, family-owned and family-run company and the second-oldest family business in Chicago. Klein Tools designs, develops and manufactures premium-quality, professional grade hand tools used in the construction, electronics and mining industries. We are the only major tool manufacturer worldwide focused on electrical and utility applications. 2017 marks an exciting year as we celebrate our 160th anniversary.

We are very proud to be an American manufacturer with seven facilities in five states. No other manufacturer of hand tools used in electrical applications makes more items in America than Klein Tools.

Q: If you had one tip to give to a rookie CEO, what would it be?

A: Don't be afraid to take chances. Learn from your mistakes and then try not make them again.

Q: Do you plan to hire any additional staff or make any significant capital investments in your company in the next year?

A: Klein Tools will continue to invest in U.S. manufacturing and is committed to maintaining our place as the favorite among electricians. We plan to keep growing our U.S. footprint and investing in R&D to continue to lead the industry in product quality, performance and new product development.

We have invested more than $200 million in our Mansfield, Texas, facilities since they opened. Investing in our people is also a top priority for us, as is continuing to make Klein an attractive place to work. As a family business, we understand the value and power of a tightknit group of employees focused on the same goals and high standards.

Q: What was your first paying job?

A: My first official job at Klein Tools was sweeping the floor in the manufacturing plant.

Over the years, during summers and breaks from high school and college, I worked in a variety of Klein roles from manufacturing to marketing, sales and customer service. It was a great way to learn about the major departments that make the company run.

Q: What will your company's main challenges be in the next year?

A: A challenge that hits close to home is the "skills gap," which refers to the growing need for skilled labor in the U.S. Our recent state of the industry survey revealed that 78 percent of electricians surveyed believe there is a current shortage of electricians with sufficient job experience and 69 percent are concerned about the skills gap in the U.S. Labor Market.

Every day, 8,000 baby boomers hit retirement age, and the rigors of physically demanding trades make age a more significant factor than in less strenuous professions. Americans also tend not to encourage younger generations to pursue skilled trade professions, so there is an imbalance in the amount of experience among older and younger tradespeople, which needs outside influence to correct.

Q: What are you doing to help solve the problem?

A: Many electricians believe that continuing education and on-the-job training will create a more experienced workforce. We continue to work with industry partners to ensure that young electricians and apprentices are receiving more on-the-job training. Our "Double-Down Pledge" involves investing $2 million over the next five years in training and educational programs. These organizations formed The Electrical Training Alliance, a joint program aimed at training the best electrical workers in the industry. The pledge will develop programs leveraging the unique capabilities and resources of IBEW-NECA and The Electrical Training Alliance, including scholarships and tool endowments for apprentices. This is a follow-up to our original and highly successful five-year "Million Dollar Pledge."

Q: Do you have a business mantra?

A: "Grow or die" is a phrase that I have grown to appreciate over the years. We know that our company's survival relies on growth and expanding our product lines. Our product line extension strategy has enabled us to weather downturns and offer tools for a variety of industries and uses.

Q: What is one important thing you learned growing up?

A: Don't forget to say please and thank you.

Q: What's the hottest trend in your industry?

A: Technology continues to innovate tool manufacturing. We are seeing electricians working on more high-tech installations, including smart homes and smart offices. Contractors are calling for more technicians who are skilled in newer, more digital-tech systems.

As the No. 1 preferred hand tool in the electrical industry, we continue to provide tradesman with the multifunctional tools they need to be more efficient. Our multifunctional tools are designed specifically to save time on the job site and allow our electricians to do more with less, with fewer trips to the tool bag.

Q: From a business outlook, whom do you look up to?

A: My father, Mathias (Mat) Klein III, who retired as chairman of our company in 2015 after 46 years with Klein Tools. He helped transform the company into an innovative manufacturer and spearheaded much of our growth. He is also the one responsible for bringing me into the business.

Q: What is one interesting fact about you or your company that most people may not know?

A: When my father first brought me into the business, he made me interview for my first job at Klein Tools. I had to bring a resume and go through several interviews to get the job.

Q: What do you like to do in your free time?

A: I love spending time with my three kids and wife. Children grow up quick so I don't want to miss anything.

Q: What book is on your nightstand?

A: "The Outsiders: Eight Unconventional CEOs and Their Radically Rational Blueprint for Success," by William Thorndike.

Q: If you were not doing this job, what do you think you would be doing?

A: Living a healthy lifestyle has always been important to me, as well as helping others. I likely would have been a pediatrician as I enjoy the medical profession aspect and caring for kids in need. I joke with my three kids that, since I am the go-to person when one of them has an injury, they should call me "Doctor Dad."

Q: If you could put your company name on a sports venue, which one would you choose?

A: I grew up watching the Chicago Cubs, so it would have to be Wrigley Field.

-- Kim Mikus