This article is the fourth in ALL's series showcasing life in the heavy lift industry.
Willie Schneider seamlessly blends being a mechanic, a customer service rep, a parts expert, and an employee trainer — all in the name of ensuring customer uptime.
William “Willie” Schneider, a service manager overseeing the four Dawes branches of the ALL Family of Companies, has achieved a certain level of celebrity. He joked, “When we go out, my wife makes bets with me about how many people will approach us and ask, ‘Are you Willie from Dawes?’”
The 26-year veteran of the company is good at what he does. He’s worked on a lot of cranes and met even more people. And they remember him because he solved their problem, saved them money, and increased their uptime. “When they tell me I helped them, that really makes me feel good,” he said.
That’s because Willie, like the company itself, is dedicated to growing ALL’s competitive edge in the heavy-lift industry and treats every day as a challenge to become even stronger.
The Path From Carpenter to Mechanic
Managing the service department for four branches of the largest privately owned crane rental enterprise on the continent is a far cry from being a carpenter. But that’s exactly how Willie started his career. He always had a knack for working with his hands, so he put his methodical attention to detail to work at his job as a lead carpenter, building new homes. But when a coal mine opened nearby, he decided to try something different.
Willie gained the necessary welding certifications and went to work constructing tunnels for coal and oil shale mines. He followed the work, moving from Illinois to Utah to Kentucky, before being called to a project in Milwaukee that would introduce him to Dawes.
Eventually he became a mechanic for the heavy equipment in the mine tunnels, gaining more and more certifications as time passed.
Time is a tricky thing when working in mines, often measured in battery life. “I’d only know how much time had passed when I needed to replace the batteries on my mining helmet,” he said. “They lasted about 10 hours.” But he worked hard and enjoyed what he did — regularly logging an incredible 144 hours a week underground.
Out of the Dark and Into the Cab
Willie’s employer had been moving locomotives throughout the tunnels and regularly hired Dawes to hoist them up. When Dawes brought in a Manitowoc 4100 for a job, it changed his future. “I helped assemble it with their team,” he remembered. “I really clicked with the guys.” And he found that he enjoyed erecting cranes.
The feeling was mutual, and Dawes pursued Willie for months. Their efforts paid off. And, as if fate were confirming his decision, his first project was a 2-year job at a plant only 40 miles from where he’d grown up. With a young family to support, the stability of a multi-year project was appealing. He was no longer a master mechanic, but with his knowledge and experience, it didn’t take him long to work his way back up.
For nine years, Willie was an erector and operator, running and setting up older crawlers and hydraulic cranes. As an erector, he learned the parts of cranes inside and out, and as an operator, he learned the equipment’s behavior. Dawes and the ALL Family recognized that his growing knowledge would be valuable in other areas and that service would be a natural fit for Willie’s disposition — and his next position.
[Anything But] A Typical Day as a Service Manager
These days, as a service manager, Willie arrives to work early. He’s hesitant to tell you when, because the early morning hours are when he has the quiet time necessary to focus on paperwork, catching up on work orders. He knows it won’t be long before the calls start and he’ll begin prioritizing the jobs and the people who need help.
Crane operators call in when they have a unit due for service, or to request a tech to come to the site to conduct regular inspections. Parts and tools are in constant demand as the mechanics and techs work to keep the fleet in perfect operating order. Since Dawes’ branches are dealers for Link-Belt equipment, Willie’s team also handles Link-Belt parts and service issues for other branches in the ALL Family, not just their own.
Meanwhile, the emails are coming in, an average of 180 a day. With his open-door policy, the stream of traffic in and out of Willie’s office is continuous. He answers questions and points visitors in the right direction, all while service techs in the field are texting him with updates and questions. Texting has become a necessary adaptation to increase efficiency. With so many projects happening simultaneously, Willie finds that saves time.
As a manager, Willie deals with far more office work than he used to. He has to delegate and prioritize — a lot. But he still rolls up his sleeves and gets into the field when he can. For example, what the 3D Lift Plan does electronically, Willie still does the old-fashioned way. “I might do a survey for how to get a crane onto the site, consult on crane selection or weights, or help the engineers with the capacities.” He recently flew out to a large cement plant to prepare a Manitowoc MLC300 with luffer for a job. The customer had originally requested a 21000, but Willie and the Dawes team determined it was too much crane at too much cost for the customer. The MLC300 could do the job safely and more efficiently, saving the customer significant money and time.
“I don’t always get the chance anymore, but I still love to go out and put a crane together and help guys in the yard,” he said. He even acts as a floater. “If one of my team is off, I’ll fill in and do their job. I did a welding project for three days recently.”
Even with so many responsibilities and projects happening at once, Willie doesn’t hesitate to determine what takes precedence. “The priority is always the customer,” he said. “Those who have purchased cranes from us call when they need service, even when they’re also our competitors. That’s what happens when you’re a dealer. Your competitors become your customers, and good dealers continue to support their customers.”
“People ask me how I keep up,” he explained. “And I have to confess — I don’t. At least not by myself. I just put the right people in the right places with the right tools and the right training, and I trust them to do their jobs well.”
Training a Winning Team
Willie finds that equipment work is a smaller part of his job than it once was. Now, the thing that “makes him tick” is making sure his team is the best they can be.
That often means protecting their time. “With what these guys do, they can’t be distracted. I run interference with the people who need something from them. I create the priorities so they can focus on the task at hand,” he said.
In Milwaukee alone, Willie has a large service team that includes three people in the parts department, 10 service techs, and two assistant managers, Bob Butterbrodt (19 years with Dawes) and Pat Sienza (9 years with Dawes). He makes sure he knows what motivates each of them and what their priorities are regarding their work and family life.
“Part of my job now is being respectful of my employees’ families,” he said, remembering the days when his own children were young and he was on the road. “I try to accommodate the needs of my employees as much as possible so they can be home for milestones in their children’s lives. I pay attention to their stress levels. I switch up the schedules so that no one gets burned out.”
In addition to scheduling manufacturer training for the ALL Family, he handles most of the on-the-job training for service employees at each of the four Dawes locations. To keep up with advancements in on-board computers, he sends his team to manufacturer training sessions, “even if that makes them smarter than me,” he joked. “Most ALL technicians have more training than a manufacturer’s tech because they work on almost every type of equipment made, giving them a larger perspective. They can fix issues over the phone 75% of the time, which customers love because it means less downtime.”
Cross-Training to Find the Right Fit
Willie has higher standards than most, at a company where the standards are already high. “But I’m also willing to give people a chance,” he continued. “I won’t ask anyone to do anything for me that I wouldn’t do myself. So I make sure that everyone has the knowledge that they need.”
When selecting candidates for job openings, Willie looks for more than mechanical skills. “I look for attention to safety, a willingness to learn, and a good attitude that blends with the rest of the team,” he said. “Then I pair them with a seasoned tech in a particular area. Once they have that skill down, I pair them with another service tech in another area, and then with someone else on another project.” Willie explained that this rotational cross training helps him find what each person is good at, helps them determine what they enjoy, and gives them an appreciation and understanding of the workflow of the team. In fact, this type of cross training is prevalent throughout the ALL Family, and it ensures continuity of service for customers.
Once service techs are trained and ready to work, long hours and travel are often required. “But that’s part of what makes the job exciting. Techs work on more models of equipment here than they would anywhere else,” Willie said. “They’re all great thinkers and problem solvers because they have to be. And because they help operators and owners maintain equipment, they’re great with customers, assuring them a solution can be found.”
He points out that many crane operators he knows started out in the service shop, simply pushing a broom and working their way up. “Now they’re operating all types of incredible equipment,” he said.
Willie, like every good service manager, matches roles with the strengths of those on his team. And when someone’s new, he makes it a point to go out into the field with them. “I let them call the shots, see how they handle different situations.” Then, on the way home, he recaps the day with them and provides corrections and additional coaching on ways they can improve.
“Honestly, I learned just about everything I know in this industry from Willie,” said Pat Sienza, one of Willie’s two assistant managers. “His plate is always full, so Bob [Butterbrodt] and I take the overflow. All of the people we work with are great that way — I’ve never worked anywhere that there were so many people willing to drop everything when called on, to go whenever or wherever they’re needed to get a job done. It’s remarkable. It’s one of the things that sets us apart, according to our customers.”
Willie Schneider sets the example, every day.
SERVING MORE THAN ALL
Willie has not only served ALL for many years, but served his country as a member of the Air National Guard and the Air Force Reserve from 1978 until he retired from the service in 1994. As a weapons mechanic, he checked and installed launch equipment and tested and loaded bombs, rockets, missiles, nuclear weapons, and ammunition in the guns for F-4, F-105, and F-15 fighter jets. His time in the service took him to two different countries and to just about every state in the U.S. We thank you for your service, Willie.
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