Stories of Thanks: ABI Members Share Their Business Blessings

November 8, 2019 | Stories of thanks

November is a time to reflect on the things that mean the most to us — and to bundle up for the upcoming monthslong cold spell. As Thanksgiving draws near, we asked a few business leaders across the state what they are most thankful for in their professional lives.

Here are some of the responses, and the stories behind them.


It’s been a winding road, both professionally and personally, for Phil Jones to end up in Waverly as a senior executive for Rada Manufacturing, a major cutlery producer.

Jones grew up in Huxley and attended the University of Northern Iowa. He graduated with a degree in public administration, but had some experience in business and biology courses. Through his hometown connections, he landed a summer job at a Pella Windows manufacturing plant in Story City during his college years. That was his first taste of manufacturing. It was also the first of many opportunities he seized from close allies in his life.

“That’s one of the themes of my story: opportunities,” Jones said. “That was my first flavor of working in a manufacturing environment. There were great people, and it was a good experience.”

Jones met his wife at UNI, and they both moved to Westminster, Colo., a suburb of Denver, in 2007 when Jones started working an internship with the city. They started a family, and through Jones’ many mentors in the area, he started to operate a local water utility.

“That helped me learn how to work with folks of all backgrounds,” Jones said. “We worked — sometimes literally — in the trenches on waterline projects or water breaks.”

Another connection — a former intern supervisor — brought Jones and his family back to Iowa in 2012 to become Waverly’s city administrator. Both Jones and his wife grew up in Iowa, and they had an itch to move back and raise their family there. After a few years in Waverly, Gary Nelson, the president and CEO of Rada Manufacturing in town, reached out to Jones about working for the company as his successor. In November 2015, Jones joined the company in his current position.

It was a challenging transition from city official to manufacturing, but Jones took some overarching themes that were similar between the two jobs, particularly communication, vision and leadership. It also helped that he had a wonderful mentor in Nelson.

“He has taught me to become a strong young leader coming into a company,” Jones said. “He taught me to learn from and honor the people who have been here for a long time and to keep it going. But also finding ways to make the changes necessary to take us into the next generation.”

Jones was named a 20 Under 40 by the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier in 2016 and is line to become Rada Manufacturing’s next president. It’s a successful career by any measure, but he’s quick to credit those who helped him earn opportunities and get where he is today.

“All these amazing people that have given me these gifts,” Jones said. “It was up to me to succeed or fail. There have been hard things along the way that shape us and have not been fun, but they are important.”


Jack McFarland likes to say he was born into the manufacturing business, and he’s not exactly wrong.

On the day McFarland was born in 1947, his father started working at Miller Products Co., a Des Moines-based machine shop that created bicycle kickstands, most notably for Schwinn. By 1956, McFarland’s father had bought the business and expanded the shop beyond bike stands, which were dropped as a product in 1957. In 1964, Miller Products moved from Des Moines to Osceola, where it currently operates.

Today, Miller Products, which McFarland bought from his father in 1992, is an on-demand machine shop, making parts for a number of industries but most often for agricultural, irrigation and construction equipment products.

“I got to celebrate a birthday by coming to work on his work anniversary,” McFarland said. “I’ve been looking for a real job ever since. I feel fortunate that I had that opportunity, and it’s treated me very well. It gave me the opportunity to get a good education and learn a lot about business.”

In his youth, McFarland worked in the shop as a draftsman for engineers, helping lay out plans for different parts. When he was old enough, he started operating machinery and driving trucks to deliver products to customers.

After buying the business, McFarland expanded his portfolio in 2001 by buying a computer numerical control, or CNC, machine shop in Tucson, Ariz. That company makes products out of aluminum and plastic for medical and aerospace defense customers. And this past December, he purchased a machine shop in San Diego.

He also made some changes to the existing company. For 30 years, Miller Products was affiliated with a trailer manufacturer in Osceola because McFarland’s father wanted to “make something big and paint it red.” But McFarland closed the business in 2007 because it wasn’t in line with the company’s area of expertise.

During McFarland’s half-century career in manufacturing, he’s learned a few things. But one thing sticks out: The business is certainly not easy.

“There are multiple variables and a constant state of change you have to deal with,” McFarland said. “There’s a combination of competition, customers, regulation, and it’s gotten even more complex in later years with the global economy effect.”


The situation would have been almost paralyzing for many young individuals just a few years out of college. But that wasn’t the case for 23-year-old Kim Augspurger.

At that young age in 1982, Augspurger was tapped to essentially run a company, Saxton Inc., a commercial interiors company based in Des Moines, after her previous boss relocated to Texas. She probably should have been scared, but her blissful ignorance served her well.

“I was probably the fifth employee of the company, and Tom Saxton [the owner and founder] told me I was in charge. I just said, ‘OK,’” Augspurger said. “I didn’t know what I didn’t know.”

That position switch led into a long and successful career for Augspurger, who is now the president and owner of Saxton. While the path to where she is today was unique, commercial interiors was something she wanted to tackle when she was in college.

Augspurger went to school for interior design at the University of Iowa and graduated in 1979. She wanted to work in the commercial industry, but a steady stream of rejections came her way from architectural companies in the area. She quickly realized she needed to move to a larger city to find the right job.

At about the same time, she received a call from an employee at Saxton who had previously critiqued some of her work in college.

“She said she had more work than she could get done and asked if I’d be interested in temporary employment,” Augspurger said. “I said, “Sure, I can come work for you for a while.’ So I did that. I’m really thankful I got that call, and we just stayed busy and I never left.”

Today, Saxton is a comprehensive commercial interiors company. Services include design consulting, furniture sales, connections for installation, coordinating and executing projects — “anything you see in the interior space is something we could provide,” Augspurger said. Clients span the country and locally in Des Moines.

Augspurger believes her industry doesn’t get as much love as it should. Office and workspace design are becoming essential as newer generations enter the workforce with unique expectations. Many times, those expectations revolve around the workplace.

“It’s a great profession, and I think it’s underappreciated,” Augspurger said. “I think when people hear ‘interior design,’ they think interior decorating. There’s a portion of that we do, but there’s so much more. It’s hard to understand until you’re really exposed to it. There’s a lot of moving parts than people realize.”

Her favorite part of the business? The reaction she receives from pleased clients. “My favorite quote of all time, ‘Our space has everything we need and nothing we would have asked for,’” Augspurger said. “That’s really rewarding.”


Hy-Capacity is a company that is built on family — from the ground level all the way up to leadership.

Just ask Molly Varangkounh, the third generation of her family to lead Hy-Capacity, a Humboldt manufacturer of tractor parts. The family aspect of the business isn’t just reserved for Varangkounh. It extends to the floor, where there are employees who have worked at Hy-Capacity for dozens of years.

“We really are a family business in that some of us are blood related and others are family by choice,” Varangkounh said. “Within our small, close-knit company, we do operate as a family, even if we’re not technically related.”

Varangkounh said that at one point in the company’s recent history, about 50% of employees had a family member who worked at Hy-Capacity.

“We take that as a compliment,” she said. “Just to work in a family atmosphere, work in a small community, we’re a small enough big company that we know each other on a personal level in addition to our business strengths.”

Hy-Capacity’s history starts with Varangkounh’s grandfather, James Olson, who was a tractor mechanic who used to work at a dealership in Humboldt. After his uncle died, Olson took over the local tractor shop. He regularly saw the same parts failing on tractor after tractor and decided to do something about it.

Olson took existing tractor parts and beefed them up. He called them “higher capacity” parts — the company’s namesake — and sold them to local farmers. Today, Hy-Capacity, which was officially founded in 1978, sells all kinds of tractor parts, including clutches, water pumps, torque amplifiers, seats, cab kits and more. Business extends across North America.

The business employs about 125 people, and throughout Hy-Capacity’s history, leadership has always tried to treat each one of its team members as family. That tradition has continued with Varangkounh, who took over the business in 2013.

“We’re very, very consistent about putting ourselves in the shoes of our team members and thinking about how a decision might impact them,” Varangkounh said. “How do we make sure that we communicate this effectively so they understand what’s going on? We’re by no means perfect, but we certainly try to be flexible.”