You’ll never catch Mike Braun checking his cell phone at a tedious business meeting. The CEO of Meyer Distributing doesn’t even own one of the attention diverting devices.
It’s hard enough imagining a CEO in today’s world who isn’t connected to his company 24/7. Much less the CEO of a company that has averaged 18 percent yearly growth since 1981 and is currently in the midst of a multimillion dollar expansion.
“Up until about seven or eight years ago, I took all the calls including the 3 in the morning calls when a truck would break down,” he explains. “When I got my executive team put together, that’s the first thing I delegated.”
His aversion to cell phones and the spectacular growth of his company aside, Braun still takes time to speak with customers he has known since he started working with the original Meyer company, Meyer Body, Inc., in 1981.
Braun’s two passions are business and forestry management, but the difference in his demeanor belies the fact that, although he loves business, his heart these days truly belongs in the acres of land he has acquired over the years.
Hard to believe from the massive expansion his company is currently experiencing. A $23.32 million construction project is on schedule at company headquarters on Cathy Lane and East 25th Street in Jasper. When it is finished Meyer Distributing will have added 266,039 square feet of warehouse space – increasing the overall size to 500,000 sq. ft. – and moved its headquarters across the street to a building purchased from Stens Corporation in 2012. It will also add over 100 jobs to the region.
Since the turn of the year, expansion across the country continues. The company has created four crossdocks — distribution points designed to quickly serve an assigned region — in four states and acquired a California distributor to expand into the west coast market. The California expansion makes the company a nationwide contender in the growing third party logistics business carrying freight from the west coast to the east coast.
It’s a huge expansion for a company started by Leo Meyer in 1937 as a truck bed manufacturer in Haysville.
The company changed hands in the late 40s or early 50s when Marty Renner purchased it from Meyer.
Renner operated the business until 1959, when Braun’s father, Amos, joined Jerry Habig and together they purchased it.
Meanwhile, Braun graduated from Jasper High School in 1972, where he lettered in football, basketball and track. He then attended Wabash College where he graduated summa cum laude with a degree in Economics in 1976. He married Maureen Burger and was accepted into Harvard Business School that same year.
Attending Harvard solidified a few things for Braun. He knew he didn’t want to live in a big city.
“In deciding what to do at that time, many of my cohorts were either going into investment banking, management consulting or joining a big corporation,” he explained. “I would have been one of the few that moved back to his hometown and I have never regretted that.”
So, after graduating from Harvard with his MBA in 1978, Braun moved back to Jasper and accepted a position with Aristokraft, where he worked for three years. He then transferred to Meyer Body Company in Haysville to work in sales. Unfortunately six months later the economy tanked.
“Interest rates shot to above 20 percent,” Braun recalls. “It eliminated almost 70 percent of our business. I left a good job to take the position there and I thought at the time it may have been the dumbest thing I ever did.”
Fortunately the company survived through diversification. Two companies were created by expanding into used truck sales and auto parts distribution. These new concerns supported the original company through the first few years of the economic downturn in the early 80s.
By 1986, Braun and a partner, Daryl Rauscher, had purchased the company. Rauscher continued with the original business along with the used-truck sales under the moniker Tri-State Trailer and Truck.
Braun continued to expand the distribution network from their Haysville headquarters until 1998, when company growth necessitated a move to a warehouse in Jasper.
The structured way the business expands has evolved over the years through the interplay of competition and acquisition of other businesses.
In 2004, Meyer Distributing began to purchase and consolidate several other companies. “Luckily we were finished with that process by the time November 2008 hit.” Braun explains the company came out of the most recent recession even stronger. “By then we were operating very efficiently. When we looked up in early 2009, we were stronger rather than weaker, which was very different than what a lot of other businesses went through.”
The company made it through this trial by fire strong and efficient and has averaged 24 percent growth yearly since 2009.
Braun continues to invest in Jasper. Faced with the decision to expand his warehousing in Dallas — the southwest is a large market for the company — and expanding in Jasper, Braun chose to invest heavily in Jasper.
During the groundbreaking for that expansion Maureen echoed Mike’s sentiments about his continued belief in growing the company in his hometown. “There were so many times we were unsure the direction to go and how well it would do. But we are so happy to be able to offer jobs and to be able to expand. We chose this community from day one and it’s important to us because we wanted to be around family and we love the community. We took risks in that decision and we feel really good with where we have come from. It was not an easy path and there has been a lot of uncertainty and a lot of things that didn’t go well. Now we are at a great point,” she adds.
Owning a rapidly expanding logistics business in Indiana is a great place to be according to Braun. Conexus Indiana, an Indiana think tank concentrating on combining advanced manufacturing and logistics (of which Braun is a member), has reported the logistics industry will grow considerably as freight movement across the U.S. is expected to double by 2035.
Indiana’s geographic location and abundance of major highways compounds the state’s importance to logistics companies. Within a day’s drive of Indiana lies 52 percent of the population of the United States and Canada; within two days is 76 percent. This has Indiana poised at a great crossroads for the expansion of logistics-based companies like Meyer Distributing.
Besides location, Braun feels logistics is something relatively immune to the struggle U.S. manufacturers face against foreign competition. “You can’t outsource logistics,” Braun said. “As the logistics business grows, in my opinion it will be a much bigger driver of commerce in the state than manufacturing.”
Braun and his sons, Jason, who is head of IT, and Jeff, chief of operations, agree that the joy of the business is in the competition and growth they experience daily. Completing the coast-to-coast distribution points in April has them poised to distribute anything. “In ten years we’ll be distributing as much of other items or other markets as our own stuff,” Braun said. “We like to transport big bulky stuff that has a significant freight factor to it because we have our own fleet. In our skill set it doesn’t matter what we distribute, it’s more about the system and the process.”
The future doesn’t worry Braun, he has a few thoughts on expansion and change for companies looking to remain viable. “You need to change before you are forced to change,” he said. “You need to look at opportunities that are out of your wheelhouse before you have to. Because when you have to, you hardly ever have the flexibility and opportunity to do it right.”
And maybe this is a reflection of the work ethic of Dubois County but Braun doesn’t have an exit strategy from his business. “I’m never going to stop working because I enjoy it too much. Every day is fun and a challenge,” he explains. “And through the forestry, I have the perfect escape and its right out my front door.”