Harken Industrial Part 1: Who is Harken Industrial?

Written By: Lance Piatt

Hey all,

Here is the first of a 4 part series we are doing with Harken Industrial.  Not sure who Harken Industrial is?  If you don’t know, you will very soon.  Their goal is to be the number 1 (that is #1) “rope handling” company in the world. This includes rope rescue, industrial rigging and rope access, theatrical and arena rigging, as well as their current cornerstone… sailing (recreational and competitive professional sailboat racing).

I was able to spend some time with the Harken family last year… it never would have happened without the huge help from Sean Cogan and Elevated Safety (now officially with Harken).  So without further a-due… here is Bill Goggins/CEO Harken USA.

 

1. How does Harken Industrial fit into the rescue and safety industry? 
2. How does Harken envision its future in this new space?

The history from where we come from is really embedded in the path and trajectory of where we want to go. We’ve been known for now 50 years as the foremost solution on a boat, handling rope, under load in some of the most punishing environments. So America’s Cup, Volvo Ocean Race, Olympics, off-shore sailors that are cruising around the world either single handed, solo, or with a crew of people, retired people that need reliability. There are people that need to trust in absolutely bomb proof technology. So, in there I can see that we’ve built the fabric of a culture of solving people’s problems in really simple terms.

I think the sailor, the people that live on the water, get presented by mother nature a lot of adversity, a lot of challenges. So, with this, we’ve had built into our DNA since the beginning thanks to Peter and all of Harken a way of approaching problems in a pretty simple sort of mid-western humble way, but just listening to people, listening to what their challenges are and working collaboratively on developing some ideas.

My personal story in this company, I’ve been here for about 20 years, worked in marketing for about 10 years and then took over running the U.S. and October of 2008, and if anybody remembers their history that’s right when the recession knocked on our door. The business was almost entirely focused on the sailing business at that point in time.

You can imagine, people aren’t necessarily focused on discretionary purchases in those kind of environments. So, we made a couple moves right away which were investment moves. We were, I’d say thanks to Peter and Olaf, gutsy enough we acquired the ability to do all of our manufacturing in house at that point in time.

That vertically integrated us so that everything’s made in the United States. We take total responsibility … And in Italy. We have a secondary operation that we own in Italy. But we don’t outsource our manufacturing. We’ve always been known for our design, but also the quality of what we make and so putting all that together … The second phase of kind of recession proofing this business was to think, “How do we in a very authentic way, find a place where we can help people?”

So, the value that we’ve provided for 50 years in the sailing world, really now applies equally in my opinion if not in a better way to other people handling rope under load. So, if there’s on silver thread that’s connecting all of our work, it might be made out of dyneema. You never know, but it’s handling rope under load. We’ve had a really good opportunity working with some partners and hiring some really key people that have helped educate us that we can come up with some pretty fantastic solutions to some ongoing problems, not because were better but just because we’re maybe looking at it at a totally different aperture. We’re looking through the lens in a different way.

It’s fun because I really do think that we’re sort of … I’m a farmer, not by background but by geographic territory here. We always joke about how we’re simple here. We’re that purple cow that’s standing out in the field instead of the black and white one because we’re different. It’s really fun to be able to say that because in the marine world, we’ve always been an industry leader and so this is something that’s kind of new and fun.

 

3. How has Harken adjust to this new industry and culture?

The whole company started on invention, so Peter Harken, in 1967, came up with a product that changed the game. It was very organic, however, looking at this new space that isn’t related to marine but it is definitely focused on professionals and experts handling ropes, we’re starting with an invention.

We’re starting with a few things that I think are really going to solve some age old dilemmas, and while that sounds organic and it sounds more of the same or similar in terms of our culture, I think it’s built also to our next generation.

You can really look at our business and we’ve got an active young management team, and really looking at how we’re going to aggressively grow our business. We really want to take this incredibly seriously because we think that there is an opportunity, not just to solve people’s problems but to make for a more stable and a better company.

So, I’d say it’s a little of both. Organically, I really think that first by listening you can develop some fresh ideas and some new technology and then let that grow and kindle it and start to blow on the flames a little bit and see where it takes it, but it’s all part of in earnest, our efforts to really expand our business, diversify it, make it a stronger place for our people. The motivator is to really take care of core and that’s done by taking care of others and finding value that people are willing to invest in.

4. Does Harken need to embrace anything new in order to become relevant in the new 
industries of rope rescue, rope access and industrial safety?

We don’t necessarily understand the inner workings of how decisions are made in this space. There’s strengths and weaknesses to that. I think there’s some things that we can appreciate and learn and we’re always trying to learn. I think generally speaking, though, the core approach that Harken’s always had is we bring in experts or they’re attracted to us possibly, and we do our best just to simply listen and learn and take those things, apply them through our engineer’s aperture. They’re going to look at the world in a very particular way from the experiences that they’ve had for 25 years, 30 years, 40 years working here at this company, and solving problems that were on the water and thinking about it, “Well, have you ever thought of this?”

It’s not necessarily that we are unique experts, but we’ve just got a different look at the world. At the same time, we really have a culture of serving people that are committed to excellence because the people that are in the racing world for example, they’re in the bull ring. They are the people that literally … People racing around the world, lives are on the line, and they depend on our products. If it isn’t bomb proof then people could get hurt.

If, Also, it doesn’t almost break right after the finish of the last race, it was overbuilt. Sometimes those are philosophies that we can look at and see how we can learn and apply it in a different way. Safety is first in making sure that things are done right, but performance adds to a user’s safety, because if they’re comfortable in their space, then they can think with the frontal lobe and they can really start to think about what’s going to happen three steps down the race course or that rescue in the same way.

I think that’s something that’s really critical because if you’re worried about if you don’t have the right backups, you’re going to be thinking from your lizard brain, you’re not going to be thinking from the frontal lobe. The same thing applies in the racing world. Fortunately, we’ve had some success in the racing world and that gets those sailors to think, as we say, outside of the boat, thinking about what mother nature’s going to have to deliver them next to make sure they’re prepared for it.

The rope handling world got a lot bigger when we started looking outside of the sailing world, and we want to be the number one rope handler in the world. That’s going to take effort. It’s going to take humility. It’s going to take hard work. It’s going to take a game plan. It’s going to take a team. All of that is hopefully going to add up to something significant. We’re not doing this just to play around.

We’re serious about it because we believe it’s the best thing for our people and we’ve got something that can be a real positive solution for the end users. So it’s kind of exciting.

5. What the challenges to achieving the goals Harken Industrial has set forth?

We’re the new kids on that block. That’s kind of fun. While we’ve been into this market for some time now, and we’re starting to gain a little traction, there’s a lot to do. I think that’s the real exciting part. It’s not without its challenges to have something like … such an audacious goal. I think that’s where the fun really lives.

The thing that makes this company special is the brothers who founded this place, they treat this organization like a family and they’ve empowered the new managers to not just treat the family members the same, but hold to the same values and start to run the place in a more modern approach. Peter and Olaf are always the ones that are willing to let us fail, or let us try something. We’re mindful of that. We know that there’s a big responsibility, and the effort to grow into some of these new places is part of that.

For me, it’s fun to know that there is something embedded in this place where it’s okay to fail. There’s times when you do it, and we’ve got a lot of experiments that we call the Boulevard of Broken Dreams, and in the back 40 so to speak, from the old building, we had all sorts of different ideas that were not good. But, in the same time, they were absolutely right on the spot because you’ll get a guy like Thomas Edison. He invented so many things and most of the times when he would “fail” on something, all it was was an iterative step to what was really the breakthrough.

If you’re afraid to try something, you’re never really going to come up with anything better or anything different. We’re always focused on that. It’s always a fun part of who we are as well.

Really our whole commitment to diversifying our business through Harken Industrial, it came out of what you can see as some of the failures from the recession. We had all of our eggs in one basket, and we recognized that we need to build a better game plan. It’s all part of the same thing.

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Peace on your Days…

Lance

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