Company Profile: The Broach Masters, Inc.

Three brothers learned the business at their father’s knee, and in starting their own company they developed the motto that “efficiency is everything.”

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When Mark Vian and his brothers, Chris and Scott, decided to purchase the broaching assets of their father’s gear-tool company in 1978, it came with something that no amount of money could buy–his blessing.

“All three of us grew up working for dad, spline grinding and OD grinding and engineering the cutting tools ourselves,” says Mark Vian, who is president of The Broach Masters, “but dad’s philosophy was that in order to really appreciate something, you’ve got to earn it yourself. So he really wanted us to go out on our own, rather than just staying in the family business. He is truly a man of incredible foresight and wisdom, as anyone who’s met him will tell you.”

That family business was located in Whittier, California, but a few years later the brothers decided to relocate upstate, to the small town of Auburn. “This was right when we were all either starting our families or thinking about it, so we agreed that we wanted to raise our kids in a healthier environment,” says Vian. “Nothing against Southern California, but Auburn is a city of about 15,000 people, so the difference is really night and day in terms of the lifestyle. And I’ve got to admit that, besides marrying my wife, it’s the best decision I’ve ever made.”

Other decisions were called for in the company’s early years, as well. One involved one of its biggest customers, which had decided to move part of its production activities overseas and wanted The Broach Masters to install equipment on-site and train the new employees on how to use it. “This was a very difficult situation for us,” Vian recalls. “On one hand we wanted to keep their business, but on the other we didn’t want to export jobs or our technology. Too many companies are doing that these days, and I really think it’s going to come back to haunt them in the coming years–come back to haunt all of us, actually.”

So the decision was made to turn down the contract, and Vian says that he’s glad that he and his brothers did so. “Don’t get me wrong,” he explains. “We do business with Germany, England, Taiwan, Mexico, and Singapore, among others, so it’s not that I’m anti-overseas. It’s more that I’m pro-America, especially when it comes to jobs and proprietary technologies.”

Luckily, it was around that time–in the early eighties–when the company caught Boeing’s attention, which was so pleased with its work that it proved to be an invaluable advocate. “Boeing has a long list of gear companies that it does business with,” Vian says, “and whenever the requirements were especially challenging for their primary vendors they’d suggest that they call us. And you just can’t beat an endorsement like that.”

In addition to Boeing, The Broach Masters also claims aerospace giants such as Honeywell, Rolls-Royce, and Hamilton Sundstrand as long-time customers. While such a premier clientele list points to the company’s reputation for excellent parts and service, it also indicates a desire to do business with customers “who place a higher premium on quality than price,” as Vian puts it. “Not to sound arrogant, but we’re very selective about who we devote our time and energies to. And we have that luxury, being a relatively small company, and one that’s privately owned. Real profit is made on the shop floor, not in the original cost difference. If your employee can walk up to the machine and cut good gears faster because of a better-designed tool, that’s where the money is.”

As an example Vian describes the “X factor,” which involves the amount of time one company might require to manufacture a spline broach–six hours, say. But if he determines that it will take his employees eight hours to do the job in the right way, he doesn’t hesitate to factor that into his quote. “Because if that’s what it takes to meet or exceed their tolerances, that’s what it takes, and the name of the game is that you’ve got nothing if you don’t get it right,” he says. “But if you do get it right, the customer notices, and they also get a return far beyond their original investment with us.”

The Broach Masters made a similar investment in the mid-nineties, when it purchased the assets of the Universal Gear Company from a respected family friend. “Ron Muller is basically ‘the guru of gears,’ as we call him,” Vian says, “and after a long career with companies like Reishauer and Western Gear, he started a business of his own making shaper cutters. Once he’d reached retirement age we approached him about buying his company, but with one stipulation: he’d have to stay onboard so that he could teach us what he knew.”

While many others submitted bids for his enterprise, Muller went with the Vians, which began a long period of training and education. “We didn’t advertise or promote the products he’d made for about two years,” Vian says, “we just kept up with the orders while we were learning from him.”

The result is The Broach Masters-Universal Gear Co., which has expanded the company’s offerings from broaches and related service work into the realm of master gears, go/no-go gauges, posi-lock spline arbors, and shank, disc, and special form cutters. In light of this increased productivity, Vian says he’s looking for a few good engineers. “We currently have three on staff, and I’d like five, so we’re definitely in the market for a couple of engineers and tool makers who fit in with the way this company does business.”

And it’s a different kind of company, he adds. “We’re very modern, especially in terms of our facilities, and we care about our employees,” he says. “But we want people who understand that everything they do contributes to the bottom line, which translates into salaries, health-care benefits, all of that. And since we’re not hard-wired into the industry mainstream, where one size fits all, we tend to approach things a little differently, which often results in simpler, more-commonsense designs and products. While every company claims ‘quality’ as their standard, to that we add ‘efficiency is everything’ as one of our mottoes.”

Thinking back on the past 27 years, Vian is quick to point out that “we’ve basically made every mistake that anyone can,” he says. “But you learn from them, and either you develop the character that’s necessary to survive, or you die. And we’ve managed to avoid that–we’re thriving, in fact.”

For more information:
The Broach Masters-Universal Gear Co. call (530) 885-1939, send e-mail to info@broachmasters.com, or visit online at [www.broachmasters.com].