Opportunity Abounds: Walker Manufacturing

Opportunity Abounds: Walker Manufacturing
Issue 7 // 2nd Quarter // 2014 Category:Family By: Sue Brage

Opportunity is often disguised as hard work, and in Bob Walker’s case, it also rides a lawn mower. As President of Walker Manufacturing, the company founded by his father, Max, Bob’s not one to shy away from hard work; in fact, he is more likely to walk up, shake its hand and call it by name.

That’s the way Max Walker did things for nearly 30 years. He founded Walker Manufacturing on hard work, biblical principles, and family values. Bob, and his brother Dean, now lead the family business based on their father’s down-to-earth, family-first philosophy.

The seeds for this international business were planted on a farm in Kansas back in 1953 when Max Walker built a miniature model Caterpillar as a Christmas present for Bob. His passion—and gift—for equipment innovation and design was apparent in that first machine.

During the next decade, Max continued to tinker, innovate, and design, eventually inventing the first gas-powered golf car and his signature model, the Power Truck. In 1974, after a series of start-ups and failures, the opportunity to set up shop in Fort Collins, Colorado presented itself, and Walker Manufacturing was born. In 1975, Bob and Dean came on board, and just two years later lawn mower development began. The first Walker Mower was manufactured in 1980, and that year the company built 25 mowers. The seeds planted 30 years earlier were finally taking root.

Why a Walker Mower?

After buying two rear-engine riding mowers to mow their personal residences and finding them cumbersome and slow, the Walkers went to work to design and build a zero-turn mower that was fast, easy to operate and would deliver a superior cut. The Walker out-front design is one-of-a-kind, because the deck is truly independent of the tractor making the mower more agile, versatile, and reliable for both professional landscape and personal residential use.

For the next 25 years, the Walkers’ hard work continued to pay off. Opportunities abounded for distribution across the US and abroad, while a strong network of dealers and distributors were put in place. This channel network has become an extension of Walker Manufacturing, building relationships that have remained solid through the years. Mowers built at the Colorado plant are reaching into 28 international markets.

Unassuming. Humble. Genuine.

These words describe the Walker plant. Situated in the middle of farmland in Fort Collins, Colorado, the factory is nothing special from the outside. In fact, you wouldn’t believe it’s actually a quarter mile long with a production floor of more than 200,000 square feet. The plant has produced upwards of 150,000 Walker Mowers and is home to 155 year-round employees.

These same words describe the Walker brothers who have led the company since Max went to be with the Lord in 2011. They strive to foster a culture that puts God first and treat their employees as an extension of their own family.

Intentional Culture

After their father passed away, Dean and Bob were given the opportunity to lead Walker Manufacturing into the future. It was up to them to continue the legacy and the culture left by their father.

Bob recalls, “We knew we had the choice to create the culture we wanted for Walker Manufacturing, so Dean and I sat down and talked about this. What are the great principles Dad left us? What principles do we want to carry on as part of his legacy? We ended up putting down on paper what we believe as a family and as a company. This is how Opportunity Abounds, our company core values, came to be.”

They truly believe the first tenet of their core values: Operate by principles that are optimum for employees and their families. Over the years they have made the commitment to produce mowers year round out of consideration for their employees. The company also hosts “Walker Family Reunions,” inviting employees to celebrate company milestones, such as the day they built their 50,000th mower.

Believing relationships are at the core of productivity and retention, and because he truly cares about his employees, Bob shakes hands with every employee when delivering paychecks each Monday. He believes God has given him a great opportunity to invest in his employees, and it’s not something he takes for granted. Employees look forward to his visits, and all 155 of them call him by name.

Another vital core value states: “Our Lord God, our Senior Partner, has given us this opportunity, we are stewards of the business, the opportunity and the culture; we will operate by principles and ways to honor His name.”

The Walker family believes a personal relationship with the Lord is the foundation of all personal and professional success. It is with great emotion Bob shares how he gave his life to the Lord as a young man: “I gave my life to the Lord; when I did that He took control. I had no idea some of the paths the Lord would lead me down, but they’ve been good paths. I can see how the Lord took what I gave Him and multiplied it. The most important thing is to make sure you walk with the Lord. Get your life right with Him. Give Him your little lunch and see what He does to multiply it.”

"Excellence honors God. Jesus as a young man worked with his father in the carpentry business. Imagine the quality and value Joseph and Jesus must have created. Do you think Jesus would have built shoddy things? No, they would have been among the best available. Remembering this helps inspire us to excellence."Bob Walker

Fish, Loaves, and Lawn Mowers

In John 6, Jesus performs a great miracle often called “The feeding of 5000”; it’s a miracle of multiplication which perfectly illustrates the success of Walker Manufacturing. Bob likes to imagine the scene: a young boy walks up to Jesus and hands him everything he has—a loaf of bread and a few fish. Jesus takes the small lunch, multiplies it, and feeds more than 5000 people. It’s what Bob calls “Multiplication of Opportunity.”

He explains, “If you believe in multiplication of opportunity, [you see that] not only have I created an opportunity for myself, but there are many other people who have an opportunity, because this business exists, and because we all have poured our lives into it. With the Lord’s help, we’ve created something here that goes way beyond what you can see with your eyes.

Five thousand people were fed as a result of one boy’s little lunch. Look at the people who have jobs, created by what we’ve done. This little lunch is feeding thousands of people. God’s Kingdom works by multiplication. That’s how God has chosen to meet the needs of people. We’re one small cog in that wheel of God’s Kingdom work providing opportunity [for others].”

God has used Walker Manufacturing to provide opportunity not only for the Walker family (including the next generation; Dean’s two sons work alongside their dad and uncle), but also for 155 employees, hundreds of dealers and distributors throughout the US and internationally. Ultimately, thousands of people are positively impacted by the company’s faith and culture and their connection with the Walker family, both professionally and personally.

Bob challenges business owners to ask themselves why they are in business. To the Walker family, making money is not a satisfying answer. There is a bigger purpose to their success, a purpose that is changing lives and building God’s Kingdom.

"I’m not against multiplying money. Profit’s not a dirty word. It’s a good word. It’s a useful word. It’s a powerful tool to help create opportunity."Bob Walker

"I’m not against multiplying money. Profit’s not a dirty word. It’s a good word. It’s a useful word. It’s a powerful tool to help create opportunity. Without it you can’t create the opportunities. Give Him your little lunch and see what God will do to multiply it. Is that a good reason to get up and go to work? Absolutely! Much better than just making money.”

Sue Brage

By: Sue Brage

Sue Brage helps business owners, nonprofits, and faith-based organizations build better communications and increase their online influence. Her blog shares tips for greater success in social media, web outreach, and communications strategy. Visit BigShoesCommunications.com for more information or connect with Sue on LinkedIn.

Read More Articles by Sue Brage

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