All About Family
NAEC President Gary Schuette of Midwest Elevator is focused on building a future generation of leaders.
For Gary Schuette, 2019 National Association of Elevator Contractors (NAEC) president and president of Midwest Elevator Co., Inc. in St. Louis, it’s all about family. When he’s not at work he can most often be found spending time with his wife, Dianne, one of their three children and two grandchildren — sometimes at their getaway in Lake Norfork, Arkansas. Even when he’s at work, the spirit of family is pervasive: Dianne and the three Schuette children all work at Midwest Elevator, and the company has many longtime employees whom Schuette considers family.
Among them are Sales Manager Dustin Witham and Senior Project Manager Brian Wright, employees who were instrumental in collaborating with Innovation Industries to build a custom elevator fixture for a local little boy who is a big elevator fan (“A Heartwarming Feeling,” ELEVATOR WORLD, April 2017). “To me, that’s what Midwest Elevator is all about,” Schuette says. “It’s greater than any one of us as individuals. It’s all about our people working hard for our customers or a charitable cause.”
The Schuette family and their employees are big supporters of their local community, volunteering and raising funds for entities including Friends of Kids with Cancer; St. Patrick Center, which helps homeless individuals achieve self-su–ciency; Ronald McDonald House, which provides housing and other support to families of sick children; and Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital, as well as St. Luke’s Hospital.
Midwest Elevator is celebrating 20 years in business this year, and its leaders are preparing to take the company into the future. Though Gary and Dianne Schuette have no plans to retire in the short term, Gary Schuette says the company will start working on a transition plan that will create a “healthy organizational structure to keep Midwest Elevator going beyond our working years.”
That will involve his and Dianne’s children, Account Manager Valerie Gaadt, Project Manager Andy Schuette and Service Manager Jamie Ebel. “So the second generation is developing,” Gary Schuette says. “It is important to point out the new leadership team includes not only the Schuette children, but some very key people (like Witham, Wright, St. Louis Operations Manager Brad Heriford, St. Louis Construction Manager Jack Bottila, Kansas City Branch Manager Brent Snyder and Columbus Branch Manager Dan Eisert) who have been with us for a long time.” These leaders will be tasked with developing younger talent to replace our senior employees as they retire.
The idea of pursuing practical work to earn a good living was imparted to Schuette, born and bred in St. Louis, by his painting contractor father. Gary Schuette earned his business degree from the University of Missouri St. Louis (UMSL) with no particular idea of what he wanted to do professionally. He states:
“I always tell people I painted my way through college. I worked for my dad through high school and college around my classes. Dad always told me and my siblings that we were going to do something di.fferent than painting for a living. He encouraged us to go to college, but at that time in my life, I didn’t have a desire to go into the business or sales world. I knew nothing about the elevator industry.”
That changed thanks to a recruiting event US Elevator (eventually acquired by thyssenkrupp) held on the UMSL campus in 1980. Gary Schuette went to work for US Elevator selling service contracts, going on to become sales manager in Dallas, service manager and eventually branch manager in St. Louis. Unlike many people in the industry, Schuette never worked in the field, though he says he made it a point to learn how vertical-transportation equipment works.
By the time thyssenkrupp acquired US Elevator, Schuette was a regional manager. He and three other regional managers — Mark Walters, Emery Wilcox and Dennis De Vos — then became regional vice presidents. In 1998, thyssenkrupp bought Dover and the four regional vice presidents were no longer part of the company’s future plans. “So circumstances forced us to make our own future plans,” Schuette says. “I went into scramble mode,” forming Midwest Elevator in July 1999.
An International Union of Elevator Constructors signatory company, Midwest Elevator is an “extremely rewarding” business to run, Schuette says. He elaborates:
“We recruit the very best fleld employees in a given market and allow them the time and support to properly care for the equipment. We want to hire the top talent from the OEMs so they really understand the equipment. Once people are hired, we grow that talent through our apprenticeship program. Now that we’re 20 years into it, our foremen on the jobsites are homegrown talent of Midwest Elevator. They started as apprentices and learned under the top mechanics in their fleld.”
Schuette is also staying busy with his top role at NAEC. At the time of this interview, he was traveling with NAEC team members to work on the 2020 United Conference in Houston. His primary goals during his year as NAEC president are to increase membership and increase awareness of the many member services and programs. One such benefit is the Vertical Transportation Management Program, ideal for people who are new to the industry or transitioning from field to o–ce. Schuette says such a program would have benefitted him greatly had it been available when he was coming up in the industry.
For anyone coming into the elevator industry from the business side, as he did, Schuette says he would recommend working closely with the field technicians to gain an understanding of the products and services in the industry. “A close working relationship with the field technicians is also key to keeping a strong customer focus,” he says.