The Will-Burt Company – Orrville, Ohio

March 4, 2024

The Will-Burt Company

A Century-Long Legacy of Excellence


Transparency, innovation, and employee education continue to build a culture of ownership and success

Not every company is capable of creating a culture that delivers on a clear vision, however, for over a century, one company based in Orrville, Ohio has led the charge as the prime example of what a global manufacturing operation is supposed to look like at its best.

Founded in 1894, The Will-Burt Company is a leading manufacturer of integrated towers & masts for lighting, communication, and surveillance purposes.

This ESOP-backed enterprise has stood as a paragon of industrial prowess and unwavering dedication to excellence for over 100 years and stands poised to continue compounding on its already extraordinary growth as a company.

Founded by Burton and John Cope in Orrville, Ohio, The Will-Burt Company’s journey began with a humble commitment to craftsmanship and ingenuity. Initially focused on contract manufacturing for coal stokers and furnace accessories, its evolution over the decades has been nothing short of remarkable.

It entails not only exponential growth in market share and revenue but also a sterling reputation as a trusted partner in defense contracts. It embodies a workforce galvanized by a shared sense of ownership and purpose, driving toward collective prosperity and individual fulfillment.

At its pinnacle, this organization stands as a beacon of innovation, integrity, and unwavering commitment to national security, poised to shape the telecommunications landscape for generations to come.

A Heritage of Ownership: Embracing the ESOP Model

Richard Lewin, CEO and President

In the 1980s, The Will-Burt Company underwent a transformative shift, transitioning from family ownership to an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) in 1985. This pivotal moment not only secured its legacy but also fostered a culture of shared ownership and accountability.

That collective responsibility is a key driver behind the company’s incredible performance and has been what has allowed it to expand the reach of its services.

In the last 50 years, The Will-Burt Company’s focus has shifted towards mobile elevation technology, catering to diverse industries such as first responders, mobile companies, and defense sectors worldwide.

While it continues to excel in contract manufacturing, its telescopic masts have become indispensable tools, empowering professionals across the globe. With subsidiaries in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Germany, the UK, and Turkey, it proudly embraces its status as a global leader in innovation and reliability.

The Will-Burt Company’s culture of ownership is certainly the driving force behind its current achievements, but that culture wasn’t built overnight. A lot of effort goes into helping its employee-owners fully embrace the ESOP model, which requires education and transparency.

“We just share the [ESOP] history and talk about how it’s grown. Most people are familiar with a 401k, so we just show how it compares to that,” says Director of Human Resources Michael Hart, explaining that once people understand that the returns, they’ll get from the ESOP usually outmatch the returns they’d get from traditional 401k plans, the model becomes extremely appealing.

As a show of transparency, the company issues financial statements every year for its employee-owners, allowing them to see details like their current shares and balances within the plan.

Adding to that appeal is also the fact that those higher ESOP returns happen entirely without any financial contribution from the employee. Additionally, the company also makes efforts to speak about its ESOP benefits to the public in general.

“Through social media, which we’re very active on, and articles and advertising, we focus on our employee ownership culture, and how that translates to the longevity of employment here,” says Vice President of Marketing and Customer Service Dave Cotsmire.

Nurturing Ownership through Developmental Investments

Over the years, The Will-Burt Company has put forth a tremendous amount of energy toward educating the public about the value of its ESOP model.

These efforts have directly translated into key investments that have been directly for the benefit of anyone looking to grow their career. The company has developed what it calls The Will-Burt Academy as an educational resource to help individuals expand their knowledge and expertise via things like certifications, internships, etc.

Internally, the company’s investments in its people include both educational and financial aspects.

Every year, employees working within the company receive new shares from the ESOP as a contribution. So, they see the new shares coming into their account, but they also see the value of their shares increase through the annual share price increases we’ve had over the last several years.”

Since 2017, The Will-Burt Company’s share price has gone up by 250%, so it is safe to say that long-term employment and retention have not been an issue.

Vice President of Finance Wayne Chamberlain expresses this sentiment well, saying, “We have people who’ve worked on the shop floor, running machines… and they’re retiring with hundreds of thousands of dollars  in their ESOP account, for which they’ve put in nothing. In addition to that, they get their 401k and their social security.”

By striking a careful balance between ESOP education, transparency of growth, and consistent employment investment, The Will-Burt Company has managed to create an organization that has been quite impactful to the quality of life of its employees, especially those who are nearing retirement.

As a result, the company’s employees act as an entirely cohesive unit of individuals who understand exactly what their hard work will translate into down the line.

“Money’s getting added every year, and [employees] just don’t want to give that up. They truly understand the value of being an employee-owner,” Hart says, referencing the sense of belonging that the company has managed to create among its workforce.


Operational Efficiency as the Company Engine

While company culture and morale are important, they’re only half of the puzzle. Management of operations is also key and, on that front, The Will-Burt Company is quite masterful in its execution.

“We focus on inventory levels. Over the years, we’ve all learned that inventory has a direct impact on the value of the stocks that we hold,” Cotsmire says, explaining that when the company manages to retain the right type and amount of inventory, its stock value rises due to money not being wastefully tied up into things that aren’t of value to the company.

This emphasis on tight-knight inventory management has prompted the company to rethink its approach to design. Because many of its products are made to order, there is a larger focus on building products using universal parts, which helps streamline the manufacturing process entirely.

“It’s a combination of Just-In-Time and Strategic Stocking, which depends on the products,” Chamberlain explains, referencing the two main inventory management strategies used by the company.

The Will-Burt Company actively leverages its global scope in combination with this emphasis on universal design, as it is now able to reliably manufacture products that were previously exclusive to its German plant at its U.S. location, which significantly reduces transportation costs.

So, on top of the education, consistent investments, and transparency, there is an even larger system of operations that contributes to the company’s incredible success.

This combo of culture and systems is undoubtedly why over the years, The Will-Burt Company has garnered so many accolades, including Business Impact Awards and prestigious safety recognitions.

Its commitment to excellence extends beyond mere recognition—it is ingrained in every facet of its operations, driving the company to continually raise the bar for itself and the industries it serves.

Looking ahead, The Will-Burt company’s vision is clear: to expand its global footprint, pursue strategic acquisitions, and continue innovating in its core markets.

By leveraging emerging technologies and forging strategic partnerships, it aims to reinforce its position as an industry leader while upholding our unwavering commitment to quality, integrity, and social responsibility.

In essence, The  Will-Burt Company’s story is one of resilience, innovation, and unwavering dedication to its core values. As it navigates the complexities of an ever-changing world, it remains steadfast in its commitment to building a future where excellence knows no bounds.

Together, as employee-owners and stewards of a proud legacy, The Will-Burt Company embraces the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead, confident in its ability to shape a brighter tomorrow for years to come.

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 The Will-Burt Company

What: A leading manufacturer of integrated towers & masts for lighting, communication, and surveillance purposes boasting a century-long legacy of excellence.

Where: Headquartered in Orrville, Ohio, with subsidiaries in Germany, the UK, and Turkey.



February 2024 Business View Magazine cover

February 2024

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