April 21 2008 12:00 AM

Briggs & Stratton Corp.


Most parents would love to see their children achieve greater success than they had in their own business careers. Vince Shiely is probably no different. That his son, John, would someday take his place as president of Briggs & Stratton Corporation, and then become the company's CEO at the age of 48, has to be a source of glowing pride.

As a child growing up in St. Paul, Minnesota, John Shiely couldn'?t have imagined that he would one day end up at the same company as his father. In 1960, the Shiely family moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, when Vince Shiely, who was a vice president of The Toro Company, was offered and accepted a job as a vice president of Briggs & Stratton, the Milwaukee-based producer of engines for outdoor power equipment. The elder Shiely was elected president in 1971.

John Shiely attended the University of Notre Dame, where he received a bachelor of business administration degree in accounting. He received a juris doctor from Marquette University Law School, and a master of management from the J.L. Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University.

Armed with these credentials, Shiely began his career as senior tax accountant with Arthur Andersen & Company. He then joined the law firm of Hughes, Hubbard & Reed as associate lawyer. In 1983, he joined the Allen Bradley Company as assistant secretary. Allen Bradley was later acquired by Rockwell International Corporation, where Shiely held the position of assistant general counsel; he was heavily involved with acquisitions and joint ventures. In 1986, Shiely was invited to join Briggs & Stratton Corporation as general counsel.

From there, Shiely's career blossomed. In 1990 he was elected vice president and general counsel; in 1991, he was elected executive vice president of administration. Shiely became president in 1994, and one year ago, he assumed the post of CEO.

"I believe in the concept of the 'big tent,'" he says. "Companies that will be successful in the future are ones that form global alliances. Through a network of dealers, we distribute our products to many geographic pockets of the world. Briggs & Stratton continues to attract customers around the globe with its Global Parts & Service Network."

"An engine can do nothing unless properly incorporated into an end product that performs work. We pride ourselves on having the top Engine Application Center in the business," said Shiely. "Here, engines and the products they are incorporated into are put to the test. They are tested for heat levels and checked for vibration and noise levels. They are also inspected to see that the fit and finish is correct." In the last year alone, the company released three new engine products for its Vanguard line, which are quickly gaining acceptance in the market.

The bulk of Briggs & Stratton's business is seasonal; two-thirds of the outdoor power equipment is sold between March and June. "This means that our labor force is most in demand from September to May," remarks Shiely.

Some of the company plants are strategically located in college towns (Murray, Kentucky; Auburn, Alabama; Statesboro, Georgia; and Rolla, Missouri) in order to attract college students as part of the company's labor force. "Students are very committed and very hard working," says Shiely. "They come to work in September, and leave by May."

Shiely has also delved into human resources philosophy when he co-authored a book with economic financial consultant Joel Stern called The EVA Challenge: Implementing Value-Added Change in an Organization.

"The goal is to 'incentivize behavior' that results in more value being created for our stakeholders," comments Shiely. Economic Value-Added discipline has been practiced at Briggs & Stratton since 1989.

Then there's the other side of John Shiely. As a teenager, he began playing the guitar, and he's been playing ever since. "Someone got wind of the fact that I'm an old rock-and-roller, having played in bands since college," says Shiely. "So to drum up some employee spirit, we decided to form a blues band. It's called The Briggs Bluesbusters."

To form this band, Shiely needed some talent. He walked the halls of the company to find what he was looking for. He found a lead vocalist in the services division, and a few budding male musicians on the factory floor. Shiely plays rhythm guitar and sings vocals.

The band's first gig was in 1998, opening for Smokey Robinson in Milwaukee at Summerfest, the country's largest outdoor music festival. The nine-member band went on to open for the Beach Boys, James Brown, Ray Charles, and The Reverend Al Green. Last year, The Briggs Bluesbusters cruised to a second-place finish in Fortune Magazine's Battle of the Corporate Bands at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio.

John and his wife, Helen, have three children, Michael, 16; Erin, 14; and Megan, 12. Helen is a journalist who formerly worked for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel and Milwaukee Magazine. She still writes on a freelance basis.

Shiely believes you have to give back to the community. He is active with many Milwaukee charities. He is chairman of the board at Children's Hospital of Wisconsin, Inc.; he is a member of the board of regents of Milwaukee School of Engineering and is on the advisory council of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee's school of business.

When questioned about his successes, Shiely replied, "It wasn't calculated that I would end up here." But he does love what he's doing, and the industry is fortunate to have a man like John Shiely.