It was the fall of 1976 and Pete Doolittle, a skinny, long-haired kid—not long out of the machining and tooling program at H.C. Wilcox Technical High School in Meriden, CT—made his way to Hobson & Motzer looking for a job. As Pete tells it, his interest in Hobson & Motzer was piqued by his tool and die instructor, Norm Wheeler, who often talked to his students about what a good company Hobson & Motzer was. Wheeler was close with Hobson & Motzer—he worked there in the summers when he wasn’t teaching. At the time, Hobson & Motzer was a roughly 25-man shop with an opening. Doolittle was hired as a pressroom technician; and the rest, they say, is history. In the 70s, the company was transitioning from a tool and die shop to more of a production shop and in its first decade of establishing itself as a metal stamping company, while making inroads with the medical device industry.
Over the years, the company grew, and as it did, Doolittle worked his way up, ultimately becoming Production Manager. From there, and for the past 15 years, Doolittle has been Director of Sales and Marketing. It is a little unusual to make a leap from operations to sales, but like all of his prior roles, he took to it well—and Hobson & Motzer’s customers took to him. Doolittle has been on the front line of Hobson & Motzer’s growth and expansion in the medical device sector over a successful 45-year career with the company. The company now operates two plants and employs nearly 370 people. Slated to retire at the end of this year, we thought it fitting to sit down with him to take a look through his lens at the evolution of the medical device industry and Hobson & Motzer.
Question: Can you give us four words that describe manufacturing when you first started in it; and then four words that best describe it today?
Doolittle: When I started, I’d say: evolving, manual, unorganized, challenging.
Today, the words are: innovation, technology, automation, efficient—still challenging, but we have better tools to handle them.
Question: What are the major factors that contributed to the most notable changes you have seen over the years?
Doolittle: The need to continually add value and stay competitive while maintaining high-quality and high-service levels. This has driven much of our focus and performance over the years. There is no margin for error when providing components to the medical device sector, so quite simply, there is no compromise on quality, performance, or delivery. It remains a constant focus across the company. What has helped us stay competitive and add value as a supplier is the way we have embraced and invested in advancements in technology throughout the years. The company is committed to continued investment, in both workforce talent and technology. Its impact has been deep—it affects how tooling is fabricated and how we scale into volume production. For tooling specifically, it went from traditional milling, grinding, and jig grinding shapes to wire EDM, and high-precision CNC machining of all the tooling components. The advent of wire EDM was a gamechanger for us; it changed the entire process for designing and building tools. It allowed the tooling to be shorter because you could combine features that couldn’t be done in the past, which paved the way to greater precision, faster production, and more flexibility in the way you could design a tool. It still requires highly skilled talent, which we attract and nurture internally through a longstanding apprenticeship program. All these elements combined have allowed us to grow in step with the med device industry over the years. It’s been a great ride.
Question: How has Hobson & Motzer navigated the changes, specifically?
Doolittle: Hobson & Motzer has always been an early adopter of new technology: wire EDM, press safety and monitoring, and inspection equipment. As I mentioned, part of our business model is to invest in the latest technology—to stay ahead of, and in some cases, jump the curve. Often, we are able to measure parts more accurately than our customers; and customers commonly take our results and accept them—with no function concerns for their end use. Our inspection process uses the most advanced metrology equipment, and the innovative ways we use it produces these reliable results.
Question: Was there ever a time Hobson & Motzer had to stop an intended plan of action and take on a new business approach due to shifts in direction of the metal stamping and/or medical industry?
Doolittle: There was a high-volume customer that made a significant change in the design of their product, which made the product more robust. In doing so, the new design involved significant process flow changes on the production floor. The legacy part was stamped and required a basic machining operation and assembly. The new product required stamping and multiple, complex machining operations, then assembly. To meet this demand and ensure we would deliver precise parts to this customer, we brought in more CNC equipment. This helped spark our next evolution into CNC machining and assembly, along with the stamping work we originally performed.
Question: Talk to us about the innovative mindset at Hobson & Motzer and how it has influenced your success in the med device market?
Doolittle: Our preference is to control as much of the manufacturing process as possible to ensure high-quality and high-service levels. Our solution in achieving that is to be as vertically integrated as possible. This mindset led us to invest in laser welding, laser engraving, PTFE coating, pad printing, and CNC machining, among other value-added processes completed entirely inhouse. The example with the biggest impact that comes to mind was an early assembly that required laser welding, which at that point was still an outside process. We had quality issues with the vendor we were using, and could not control the process—the vendor didn’t have strong tooling capabilities. So, we brought the process inhouse and became experts in laser welding. Combine that with our tooling expertise, and overall, it’s an elevated process. We now have 14 laser welding workstations at Hobson & Motzer. We like to own the process, because ultimately, we own the quality. Vertical integration of these capabilities allows us to deliver the top-quality products, performance, and service that our med dev customers require.
Question: You are retiring at the end of this year—congratulations on that. Is there a career milestone that stands out to you?
Doolittle: Thank you. I’ve been fortunate to work with a team of professionals who recognize people’s strengths, and nurture them, with the ultimate goal of allowing them to apply them where they can shine. For me, transitioning from operations management to sales and marketing gave me the opportunity to have a significant career change without a whole lot of risk. I always enjoyed interacting with customers, so this move gave me the opportunity to be the primary contact. I had established great rapport with customers—I was already effectively communicating with them. In a company of engineers, being the extrovert really helped! I had no sales experience; it hadn’t even occurred to me to make a move to sales. We work very much as a team at Hobson & Motzer, and one day, the conversation turned to me with regard to this position in sales, with the sentiment, “We think you would do a good job.” The company helped train me, sending me, quietly, to sales and sales management training for a period of time. For my first 10 years or so at Hobson & Motzer, there was no sales and marketing team; it has evolved, much like the company itself has. I have been in the sales and marketing position for about 15 years, and we were able to experience significant growth—something I am proud of as part of this deeply talented team. We truly work together in all facets of the company—from the production floor to upper management—and it makes all the difference in what and how we deliver to our customers.
Question: What are you personally most proud of? What should Hobson & Motzer, as a company, be most proud of?
Doolittle: In line with my answer above—personally, I am proud of the growth we have achieved, which has been significant. I’ve seen the company go from 25 employees to 370 and two plants, totaling 125,000 square feet between them. Being part of the team that enabled this growth is a point of personal pride. It’s always a team effort here—from the president to the shop floor team. Everyone works together to succeed. We have an “ideas program” that solicits input from everyone at any time in the company. We’ve created great processes and solutions from people who do the work here every day. Hobson & Motzer has such a fine-tuned organization that we often say we are able to apply our large company resources with a small company ability to respond nimbly. I am impressed with how we successfully pivot when needed, and how well we have anticipated market needs.
Question: Your decision to retire was not made lightly, and Hobson & Motzer constructed a very deliberate succession plan to ease the transition for colleagues and customers. Tell us about that.
Doolittle: We are good at looking forward. Hobson & Motzer has formal succession planning meetings twice a year. We look at key functions, assess them from all angles, and strategize the best moves forward. When I told my team over three years ago that I plan on retiring, we worked on finding my successor. We had time to find the right person and bring him up to speed; similar to how they took the time to train me. Anthony Bracale has been with us for three years now as our New Business Development Manager and has done a great job, particularly with marketing side of the position. Bracale brought in the professional marketing presence that we were lacking—doing that while learning all things Hobson & Motzer. For the last several weeks, he has taken over the day-to-day management of the sales and marketing function. He has gotten to know our customers and their products and has been a big part of our growth the last few years. He is ready to go.
Question: What advice would you give to someone starting in manufacturing?
Doolittle: There are so many opportunities in manufacturing. Contrary to what people may believe, it isn’t just running a machine; there is so much you can do. My advice to people thinking of a career is to get involved—find an area that interests you and learn as much as you can. It will open doors. I came here practically right out of technical school, and throughout my career I’ve amassed plenty of college credits, but I don’t hold a degree. Every time I needed to learn something new, I took the courses and got the education I needed. If you really want to succeed and put in the work, opportunities will find you. If you have the drive, become the person people go to. The go-to person gets ahead. And we have many go-to people at Hobson & Motzer who enjoy very satisfying careers here.
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