Cultivating a manufacturing business that is three generations strong, Nelson Long shares how building a team that lasts is just like creating an extension of family.
In 1986, Nelson Long’s father and uncle set out to create a superior attachment for loaders on farm and utility tractors. Their vision came to life with the production of the Hydro-Jaw 4N1 Bucket, and with it, W.R. Long, Inc. Manufacturing was born. For the next 35 years, they would continue to innovate while establishing a robust dealer network all over the United States.
It wasn’t until 2004 when Nelson came to work at W.R. Long. Today, his father has retired, and Nelson is the CEO responsible for making the decisions to set the company up for long-term success, not only for future generations but for the other employees in the company.
A Fresh Perspective
As Nelson stepped into the CEO role, his Christian faith inspired him to think differently about the way he wanted to run the business.
“When my father retired, I made a shift to thinking about my employees like a family,” Nelson shared. “I’m treating my business as a ministry and I do what I can to give them a better work environment and to help them out if they have different needs. We’ve got policies for vacation and things like that, but if there’s a certain situation that comes up, we work with them.”
Caring in a Crisis
No more significant situation could have been anticipated than the global COVID-19 pandemic. When faced with keeping his employees safe and healthy but protecting their livelihood, Nelson kept the business intact while ensuring his employees were paid for a full 40 hours per week.
“We broke our company up into two shifts. We had shift A work one week, shift B work the other week. What we were thinking was, if someone got sick, it would only potentially affect half the crew, but not the whole crew,” Nelson said. “We were trying to continue our business. We did that for a while, and I paid them all, still, their 40 hours a week, if they were here or not. And we did not apply for government money, or anything like that, because I felt like it was my responsibility to take care of my employees.”
A Thoughtful Approach to Hiring
Over the last 17 years, Nelson has learned many lessons, both good and bad, about growing teams. In reflecting on growing his business to 35 employees, a Dave Ramsey concept has remained Nelson’s single most important piece of advice when it comes to developing his office staff.
“The hiring process is incredibly important, and you should go way, way, way overboard during your hiring process to make sure everything’s just right. I did not do that earlier, and I’m doing that much more now,” Nelson shared.
“Spend way more time in the initial hiring process than you really think you need to. Meet their family and ask them if they’d like to go out to dinner. I’ve taken my wife out to dinner with the prospective employee and those kinds of things to get her thoughts on it also.”
Forming a New Team
Nelson began evaluating options to establish financial freedom and diversify from 401(k) and stock market investments in preparation for retirement. In finding syndications, he realized the need to establish a new team, equally requiring comfort and rapport.
“I don’t personally know any of the people who I’ve invested in. So I’ve got to find out, how do I become comfortable with them?” Nelson said. “If the investment is something that I can understand fully, and I understand it clearly enough that I could explain it to my wife, and she can understand it — that’s a go for me. So, if she doesn’t understand it or she’s not comfortable with it, I’m not going to pursue it.”
The future of W.R. Long is now in its third generation, as Nelson’s son joined the business in 2020 and is learning alongside his father to continue the legacy that was started almost four decades ago.
“I never pushed him to come. I never told him he needed to, or anything like that. He’s a computer engineer and he had a great career, but he didn’t have as much influence at his previous company as he could have here,” Nelson said. “And now that he’s here, I’ve been grooming him to run the company.”
About the Author:
Leslie Chunta is a marketing consultant with nearly 15 years of experience in creating dynamic marketing programs and building brands for startups to enterprise organizations. She has worked agency- and client-side with high-growth companies that include Silicon Valley Bank, JPMorgan Chase, SailPoint, EMC, Spanning Cloud Apps, Ashcroft Capital, Netspend, and Universal Studios. www.thelabcollective.com
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