Born in Tilbury, Ontario, his mother sent him to the United States at 17, hoping he’d have a better life there. He became a U.S. citizen, and a year later that bond was tested when he was sent to fight for his new country in World War II. He traveled throughout Europe, managing to survive the Battle of Anzio, and returned to Detroit to join the booming machine-tool industry. Working two jobs as a plant foreman, he’d return home in the evening and plow his fields till long past dark.
“My older brother, Wayne, was a young boy at the time, and Dad would sometimes wake him up in the middle of the night just to spend a few moments with him,” according to Valerie Forest, speaking of her father, Morley Walter “Mac” Forest. “He was the hardest-working man you ever saw.”
Still, he wanted that hard work to go farther toward supporting his young family, so he stoked his entrepreneurial fires and took the plunge, buying a single hobbing machine and leasing a space no larger than a one-car garage. “I remember going with our mom to take his dinner to him in the evenings,” Valerie says. “He would be standing there by the machine all by himself, cutting gears.”
The year was 1963, which marked the launch of Riverside Spline & Gear, Inc.
Mac Forest wasn’t alone for long, though. These were the peak years for manufacturing in the Detroit area, and once he was able to land his first few orders he began building a reputation as a hard worker who delivered the product on time. And as the customer base grew, the company began hiring, rising to a high of nearly 40 employees at one point. In addition, three of Mac’s four children came onboard. Wayne, who is president of the company, has worked at Riverside since graduating from high school. Aaron is vice president of operations, and Valerie is vice president of sales. Another son, Dean, is a commercial pilot.
Aaron is also a commercial pilot, having earned his bachelor’s degree in aerospace technology from Middle Tennessee State University in 1995. When he found that the airlines weren’t hiring, he decided to join the family company for a while, right at the time it was working toward its ISO 9000 certification. He enjoyed the challenge, soon realizing he’d found his true calling. “My heart got into it really quick, and I’ve been here ever since,” he says.
Although Valerie grew up hanging around the company—a self-described “gear brat”—she left to pursue her dreams for awhile as well, working for a number of years as a vocalist and entertainer before discovering her sales ability while working for an office supply company. Not long after, her father asked her to join the company along with her brothers.
Since their father passed away about four years ago, the three have come to take carrying his legacy forward even more seriously. “We could’ve sold the company, split the proceeds, and done fairly well for ourselves,” Aaron says, “but we realized that it’s not about money. It’s about working together to keep our father’s dream alive, and to show our appreciation for all of our employee’s hard work over the years. Because they really are our greatest asset.”
One of them is Matt McBride, who is Wayne Forest’s son in law and recently joined the company to help guide its growth. Both a CPA as well as an attorney, he graduated cum laude with a law degree from DePaul University in 2003, then spending three years as a corporate lawyer. Charles Jasmin, who is the company’s process engineer, has been with Riverside for more than 40 years. Another, Calvin Achatz—who attended high school with Wayne Forest and manages customer product supply orders—has been with the company since 1971. “And even our younger employees have been with us for 10 year or more, on average,” Aaron points out. “So we have a lot of accumulated knowledge and skill on the shop floor.
“To operate as a machinist in a job shop for that period of time, their skill level is second to none,” he goes on to say. “And our growth strategy is focused on combining those skills with advances in machine technology to create a company that is capable of producing world-class products with very short lead times.”
Proof of this commitment lies in the fact that, since 1998, the company has invested some $3 million on new machines—four CNC turning centers and two CNC hobbers, all Bourn & Koch—as well as a state of the art bar-code scanning system to help with job trafficking. The company is also undergoing a 10,000 square-foot expansion, which will result in a total of 35,000 square feet of manufacturing and office space. The newest addition, which will come online this summer, is a Höfler Helix 900 gear grinding machine. “This will raise our grinding capabilities up to 40 inches,” Aaron says, “and we’re having a special motor installed so that we can get down to a three-quarter diametral pitch.”
Valerie says she is eager to share the news of these new capabilities with the company’s existing and potential customers, in part due to the fact that it will help her do a better job of serving their needs. “We handle everything in-house, except for specialty coatings and heat treat, and even then we have vendors we’ve worked with for 25 years who are the best in the business at what they do,” she says. “But one of the things that I enjoy most about my job is listening to our customers and figuring out how we can meet their needs. And this new equipment will help us to achieve that.”
A company can have the best equipment in the world, however, and it’s all for nothing without one thing: “And that’s your reputation,” Valerie says. “We know what a hot job is, and we know what a breakdown can mean to our customers, so when they need us, they know we’ll be there for them. We’ve worked hard to establish our credibility, and that’s why our customers are basically our best salespeople—because they know they can trust us, and they spread the word.”