Learning From Others’ Mistakes

Hughes-Primeau Controls' executives advocate full transparancy with clients and employees

We’ve all heard it before: When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. In business this is easier said than done—unless you’re the men of Hughes-Primeau Controls. Before the company formed, Hughes-Primeau president Paul Krause and salesmen John Primeau and Dave Jerina worked together at a different company that was run less than favorably. All three men had aspirations of becoming company leaders and were led to believe they would be given the opportunity to take on these roles. As it turned out, that wasn’t the case and after years of mismanagement, the three men left, splintering off into different directions. Primeau joined Hughes & Associates with Henry Hughes, who would prove to be a great friend and mentor until his passing in 2006. Krause and Jerina eventually joined what had become Hughes-Primeau Controls, a company whose services include everything from selling valve automations and designing heat trace and process instrument systems to assisting in field start-ups.

Krause, Primeau, and Jerina don’t view their time with their previous employer as a waste. As a matter of fact, they look back on it as a valuable learning experience that taught them how—and how not to—run a business. As a result, the company operates under the belief that honesty is the best policy and they are 100 percent transparent with their clients and their employees, who they view as their greatest resource. If a client comes along that isn’t a good fit for the company, they get referred to someone else who can offer a better solution because, according to Krause, it’s not about making orders; it’s about developing trusted, long-term relationships with clients. “The three of us started our careers with that company and in a lot of ways, we owe them a lot,” Jerina says. “They groomed us to become what we are today. We wouldn’t be where we’re at if we didn’t take a less than ideal situation, learn from it, and then excel because of it.”

While the lessons learned along the way were invaluable, it’s fair to say that nothing had a bigger influence on company culture than Hughes himself. Primeau in particular works hard to maintain the stellar reputation that Hughes built for their brand and the amazing legacy he left behind. “Henry used to say that all you have from job to job is your reputation. We learned that the way you become successful in this business is to treat your employees and clients with respect and to offer support at all levels,” Primeau said. “Henry was known for his honesty; he refused to lie. He really was superb in our customers’ eyes. He set the bar really high, especially with his sense of humor. He always had a wisecrack to even the temperature in the room and to this day, we still try to use humor to combat the trials and tribulations of everyday business.”

Honesty, integrity, and humor are major drivers of the company’s success, but Hughes-Primeau Controls’ quest to be the exclusive provider of best-in-class engineered products has also put them ahead of the game in a major way. As the “small guy,” Hughes-Primeau is competing with others quadruple their size, so they must give potential clients a reason to choose them as opposed to the many big-box stores that also sell engineered products. The company is able to create a demand for specific products as the exclusive provider of name brands, but a great deal of pressure also gets put on the company’s employees to create lasting client relationships. Krause is OK with this because his trust of his employees comes from a personal understanding of what’s being required of them. “I’ve worked in the warehouse, in inside sales, outside sales; I’ve been vice president and now I’m president. I have a keen understanding of each job because I’ve had them all and I know that our employees are doing the best job possible,” Krause says. “I know for a fact that we have the best team in the industry. I’m willing to stake our reputation on that.”