It began in the early 1970s as a two-man operation designing and installing fluid process systems for area dairies and cheese factories.
Forty years later, A&B Process Systems has 440 employees and a Stratford campus that includes its corporate headquarters and approximately 200,000 square feet of manufacturing space.
“We strongly feel the need to be involved in the community as a good corporate citizen, helping to build and nurture the community where we live and operate. We encourage our employees to get involved in activities such as our annual food drive. This year, as in years past, employees donated toys and personal care items for patients in need at Marshfield Clinic.”
chief executive officer
A&B Process Systems
As A&B has grown, so too have its contributions to Marshfield Clinic. Since 1996, the company has been a supporter of the Auction of Champions, the Rich Seubert Celebrity Trap Shoot and the capital campaign for the Laird Center for Medical Research.
"I was a steamfitter by trade and had worked in cheese factories during high school," said Ajay Hilgemann, the "A" in the company's name and its chairman. "My brother Bill (the "B" in the company name) was a welder. We got this crazy idea to go into business for ourselves. We understood some of the basic processes of production and we hired some excellent people." Ajay also attributes much of the company's success to their wives, Mary & Mona, who played a role in the business as well as raising their families during the initial years in business when he and Bill traveled extensively.
In spite of its amazing success, A&B has been a relatively quiet company. Its neighbors might be hard-pressed to describe what a process systems company actually does. But there is no such confusion in the marketplace; A&B's customer list includes such common household names as Pepsi-Cola, H.J. Heinz, Nestle, Kraft Foods, Starbucks, General Mills, The J.M. Smucker Company, Miller-Coors, Anheuser Busch, Proctor & Gamble, Unilever, Bayer, Merck, Cargill and many more.
"We engineer, design, fabricate, integrate and install process systems – tanks, vessels, mixers, agitators, etc. - that take raw ingredients and convert them into the customer's desired finished product," explained Troy Weik, chief operating officer. The company serves the pharmaceutical/personal care, food and beverage, dairy, renewable energy and chemical industries.
Within the renewable energy industry, for instance, A&B is a primary provider of heat exchangers. Here is a fun fact; for each plant producing 100 million gallons of ethanol per year, heat exchangers produced by A&B contain over five miles of stainless steel tubing.
A unique system was designed for Novartis, who developed the vaccine for the H1N1 virus outbreak in 2009. A joint team of engineers/designers from A&B and Novartis established final designs and layouts over a two-week period, followed by unprecedented accelerated fabrication. It's that kind of quick-response service that the company hangs its hat on.
"A&B's mission is to serve as our customers' primary process systems partner," said Scott Doescher, chief executive officer. "We work to fully understand the project needs of our customers – from simple to complex – and work to ensure that the products and services that we provide meet those needs." A&B leadership has a clear vision and strategic plan; their goal is to double their sales in just five years, Weik said.
A great example of service was a time a customer needed a critical piece of equipment to keep its line moving. "By 3 p.m. that same day we had it ready and by 7 p.m. it was on a private plane to California," Hilgemann said. "That's our approach," he said. "We see problems as opportunities and we fix them RIGHT NOW. That's how we've been successful; taking care of the customer.
That approach has served us well every time. We have outstanding relationships with our customers and we work very hard to maintain them."
Rob Wagner, vice president of manufacturing, also credits Hilgemann's management style. "There's nothing he has not provided us when we needed it," Wagner said. "Ajay has always given us the opportunity and freedom to try new things. He places a greater emphasis on growth and opportunities than on short term results. Our desire is to be the best and we aren't held back; it's up to us. Why not us? Why can't we be the "Apple" of the stainless steel industry," he said.
The company has stayed true to its roots in Stratford, a community of about 1,600 and the Hilgemanns' hometown. Doescher said they've expanded in Stratford in part because of the local talent and its high work ethic. The company has been able to recruit quality people because of the small-town lifestyle that offers amenities such as a world-class medical facility, Marshfield Clinic, just 10 miles away. For routine care and wellness visits, Marshfield Clinic Stratford Center is right next door.
"We strongly feel the need to be involved in the community as a good corporate citizen, helping to build and nurture the community where we live and operate," Doescher said. "We encourage our employees to get involved in activities such as our annual food drive. This year, as in years past, employees donated toys and personal care items for patients in need at Marshfield Clinic.
"And we're proud to be associated with Marshfield Clinic. It's definitely a recruiting draw for us to have such an outstanding medical facility so close." The relationship works both ways, according to Teri Wilczek, chief Development officer.
"A & B Process Systems is a valued partner. Their generous support for nearly 20 years has been truly meaningful," she said. "We are fortunate to have such a great company right here in central Wisconsin."