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Front & Center: Hotstart’s CEO keeps it simple

Sun., July 23, 2017, 6 a.m.

Terry Judge is CEO of Hotstart, a Spokane-based manufacturer of engine preheating systems and accessories that is celebrating its 75th anniversary. (DAN PELLE/The Spokesman-Review)
Terry Judge is CEO of Hotstart, a Spokane-based manufacturer of engine preheating systems and accessories that is celebrating its 75th anniversary. (DAN PELLE/The Spokesman-Review)

During his undergraduate days as an engineering major at Gonzaga University, Terry Judge questioned the merits of the university’s core curriculum.

“I thought, ‘Why do I have to take four philosophy classes and three English classes? The science and math stuff is what I need to be successful.’ ”

Today, Judge is CEO of Hotstart, a Spokane-based manufacturer of engine preheating systems and accessories with customers in 180 countries.

“And when I reflect back on my college education, I realize the philosophy and English classes helped me more than any of the calculus or engineering.”

The owners of Hotstart – descendants of Stanley Power, who partnered with company founder Wayne Kimberlin and later purchased the company – are gathered here this weekend to celebrate the manufacturer’s 75th anniversary.

During a recent interview, Judge – the first nonfamily member to lead the company – discussed Hotstart’s evolution, its prospects and the leadership advice given him by his predecessor.

S-R: What do you remember about growing up in Spokane?

Judge: Playing baseball in Comstock Park … lemonade stands … skiing.

S-R: What was your first job?

Judge: Washing dishes at Lincoln Heights Pizza Parlor when I was 16.

S-R: Did you have a favorite class at Gonzaga Prep?

Judge: I was good at math and science. And I watched Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos” and read the book, which got me thinking about astronomy. The University of Washington had an astronomy program, but I fell in love with my future wife during my senior year and she was going to Gonzaga University. So I changed my plans, enrolled at GU and eventually settled on mechanical engineering.

S-R: Did you get the girl?

Judge: I did. Meg and I have been happily married going on 31 years. I’m a very lucky man.

S-R: Did you work during college?

Judge: Yes. I did stints at the pizza parlor and Fuddruckers, and had an internship with Bonneville Power Administration’s engineering department downtown, working on energy-efficient irrigation systems and home weatherization programs. I also had a sales internship with IBM.

S-R: How about right out of college?

Judge: I took a job with Boeing as a design engineer at their Everett plant. I was there three years, then worked as a sales and applications engineer for a manufacturer of aerospace composite materials. But after 10 years in Seattle, my wife and I decided to try to give our three kids the same awesome childhood we had growing up in Spokane, so we moved back here.

S-R: Then what?

Judge: I worked in sales for a locally owned manufacturer of material-handling machines for five years. When that company was purchased by an outside group, Hotstart came calling and I joined this company as sales manager in 2001. Ten years later, I became CEO.

S-R: You were trained as an engineer. Did your predecessor – Rick Robinson, one of Stanley Power’s grandsons – offer any leadership advice?

Judge: He wrote down five goals on a scrap of paper: “Grow net profit by 9% per year.” “Take care of your people.” “Take care of yourself.” “Don’t take yourself too seriously.” And “Have fun!”

S-R: After six years as CEO, would you add anything to the list?

Judge: No. Managers can complicate things real quickly when they get too caught up in plans and strategies. I prefer to keep things simple and clear obstacles out of my team’s path.

S-R: What skills from previous jobs transferred to this one?

Judge: Looking back on my first job, I figured anybody could wash dishes. But two hours into my first shift, a friend told me the manager was going to fire me because I wasn’t working hard enough. So I ran circles for the next six hours to convince the manager I had potential, and I’ve worked hard ever since.

S-R: Tell me about a best of times and a worst of times at Hotstart.

Judge: We have a tradition of throwing big company parties whenever we break through a sales milestone. In 2014, we grew from $49 million to $59 million, and had a great celebration. That was the best of times. Then natural-gas prices crashed. We fell from $59 million to $39 million in two years and had to lay off 34 people. That was the worst of times.

S-R: How are you doing now?

Judge: Great! We expect to do $49 million this year.

S-R: Besides natural gas prices, what affects your sales?

Judge: The ebb and flow of the overall economy, forces within our market and the efforts we put into developing new products. Currently, we’re focusing on more compact, energy-efficient pump-driven systems.

S-R: What do you like most about your job?

Judge: Working with people who all feel like they’re on the same team, trying to accomplish great things.

S-R: What do you like least?

Judge: Being stuck in my office answering emails, or working solo on projects. Also, I don’t like making decisions about letting people go.

S-R: What has this job taught you about yourself?

Judge: That even though layoffs are tough, what’s important is to do what’s best for the company – for all the people who will still have jobs here when the dust clears.

S-R: What qualities do you look for in potential employees?

Judge: The main thing we look at is how well they will fit into our culture.

S-R: Are you hiring?

Judge: Yes. We’re busy filling jobs in production and shipping. On the technical side, we’re looking for mechanical and electrical engineers.

S-R: How many other companies make products similar to yours?

Judge: We have 80 competitors around the world.

S-R: What distinguishes Hotstart?

Judge: Customers appreciate our quality and service. But, most of all, they remark on how easy we are to work with because we keep an open mind. When customers ask if we can do this or that, our standard answer is, “Yes, yes and yes.”

S-R: Your products keep engine coolants and lubricants warm. Why is that important?

Judge: The larger the engine, the harder it is to start and ramp up to full power. And diesel and natural gas engines used in critical applications, such as backup power generation, need to power up especially fast. Hospitals are required to provide full replacement power within 10 seconds.

S-R: Are there misperceptions about your business?

Judge: One comment we hear is, “Wow, you must sell a lot of heaters in Alaska or Siberia.” Anywhere the temperature is below 100 degrees is a potential market for us.

S-R: What’s ahead for Hotstart?

Judge: We’re looking to diversify – finding markets that have nothing to do with engines. One area we’re exploring is energy storage, because wind power and solar power only work when the wind is blowing or the sun is shining.

S-R: Looking back, would you have done anything differently?

Judge: I wish I’d earned my Eagle rank in Boy Scouts. I did everything required except a project. My scoutmaster kept bugging me, but with all the distraction of high school, I never got it done. At least the experience taught me to see things through to the finish.

Writer Michael Guilfoil can be contacted at mguilfoil@comcast.net.



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