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Written by Phillip Robert Bellury The Storyline Group

of 0
Atlanta, Georgia

This book is dedicated to the thousands of IDEAL employees and their families,
who for the past one hundred years have become a vital part of our heritage by
contributing their time and talents to the success of this company.
The IDEAL Story
The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries
Published by The Storyline Group
Written by Phillip Bellury
Book Design: Jill Dible
Project Management: Deb Murphy
Research and Editorial Support: Dee Thompson, Cory Jones
Photo Research and Family Archivist: Chris Lamb
The content of this book was drawn from IDEAL Industries archives, oral history,
previously published histories, and additional information gathered by The Storyline Group
research team. The publisher appreciates the contributions of all those individuals who
participated in the development of this book. Special thanks are afforded to Dave Juday,
retired chairman of the board and grandson of the founder, for his practical support and
encouragement, and to Chris Lamb for her invaluable help in researching images.
© Copyright 2016 IDEAL Industries, Inc.
All rights reserved.
Printed in the USA
FOREWORD . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7
INTRODUCTION . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9
ENGINEER ENTREPRENEUR . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .10
AN IDEAL START . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .20
AN IDEAL CORPORATE HOME . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .28
STANDING FIRM DURING THE CRASH . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .38
PERIOD OF ADJUSTMENT . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .58
THE BOOM YEARS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .68
REFINING THE MODERN IDEAL . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .78
BUILDING ON THE IDEAL LEGACY. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .88
EMBRACING A NEW MILLENNIUM . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .100
AN IDEAL FUTURE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 114
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 126
S WE APPROACHED OUR 100th anniversary, a key group at IDEAL Industries laid
out objectives for celebrating and commemorating this historical milestone,
a rarity for any business, especially a family-owned company. We wanted to
communicate what our history can mean for our management team, our board,
our family, and the partnerships we all treasure. Early into the project, I spent
time with our writer, Phil Bellury, to get a sense of how he might approach such
a challenge, and I came away convinced that he understood how to capture the
milestone events and key themes that make a good story. I think your reading of
this book will support my opinion.
After forty-plus years with IDEAL Industries, thirty years as chairman, and
ongoing personal relationships with all the previous family leaders, it is no wonder
I have a deep personal attachment to this book. Having overseen the two previous
versions of our history in book form, and recognizing the importance of such a
well-documented historical account, I am pleased with how the professionals at
The Storyline Group have captured the historical relevance and spirit of where we
came from and where we are today, as well as the positive direction in which we
are heading in the future.
I invested most of my professional career in advancing the company, focusing
on what I could do to provide the same opportunity for my grandchildren’s
generation in the family that my granddad provided for me. My hope is they will
want to find their place in an enterprise whose values mirror those of the founder
and an environment that encourages personal and professional growth while
keeping our legacy intact. I think we are deliberately moving in that direction. My
interaction with other family owned businesses, as well as my board participation
and involvement in various family business advisory groups, has provided me with
a unique perspective and better insight into IDEALs mission and purpose. After a
hundred years of holding fast to his values and foundational principles, I believe
we have achieved – and will continue to achieve – what our founder, J. Walter
Becker, wanted for and from us.
Retired Chairman of the Board
T THE TIME OF THIS WRITING, less than 13% of privately owned companies make
it to the third generation, and less than 5% make it to the fourth generation.
Remarkably, our family owners are in the very early stages of preparing the fifth
generation to lead the company forward when their time comes. As the non-family
chairman and CEO, I am honored to be part of a company where the family owners
truly understand the meaning of stewardship. Without the current generation’s
stewardship, as well as the founders’ principles and the past management and board
leadership, this company would not be journeying into its second century of existence.
When a company’s family owners make decisions by thinking in terms of
“generations and not quarters,” they give the board and management latitude
not afforded by publically traded companies. Those words are not just platitudes
spoken by our retired third-generation chairman, Dave Juday, and the family. We
live it each and every day at IDEAL, as evidenced by the time and money invested
in developing past and current innovations that will take us farther down the road.
This open, forward-looking mindset is a great competitive advantage that allows us
to seize on opportunities where others may not.
The future is bright for IDEAL. The family, board of directors, and management
are all working well together—challenging the status quo, adapting to ever-changing
market conditions, and pushing the boundaries, all the while preserving and living
the culture based on the founders’ principles. Not unlike the company’s beginning,
IDEAL will rely on disruptive innovations to see the company continue to thrive
for future generations. Innovative technologies and products such as Audacy,
Power Puck, X-Frame tools, and LaceLok, just to name a few, have been under
development for the past several years and are just now being introduced at the time
of this writing. As commutator stones and wire nuts led to our success in the past,
we have great hope these new products and services will be as impactful, if not more.
The history of this company you are about to read describes what it took to
successfully bring the company to where it is today, but it also provides a solid
foundation that raises the probability that IDEAL will exist another 100 years and
beyond. No one knows for certain what changes will occur over the next century,
but those who follow in the footsteps of the past and current family owners, board
members, and management team will be well served by adhering to and operating
under the foundational principles that brought us this far.
For sure, the next century looks to be exciting!
Chairman and CEO
THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries
N THE EARLY 1900S, as mass production empowered entrepreneurs to meet the
product demands of a growing middle class, a groundswell of innovation and
invention spread across the industrial Midwest. The increasing availability
of electricity to neighborhoods provided power to new household contraptions
designed to make everyday tasks easier and faster. Ambitious, imaginative
engineers created, developed and marketed a multitude of new products—some so
useful and effective they quickly became staples of family life. In 1906, Albert L.
Marsh, a Chicago-area metallurgist, developed a durable heating element that led
to the first household appliance to take advantage of the expanding power grid in
America—the bread toaster.
Electric power generation played a large role in industrial operations, too, as
inventors imagined new products and engineers devised improved techniques and
technologies to streamline and improve production. Such was the case when J.
Walter Becker, another inventive mind from Chicago, introduced his innovative
device for cleaning industrial DC electric motors in 1916, the year that IDEAL
Industries was born.
One hundred years later, Becker’s third, fourth and fifth generation heirs still
revere the man who embodied the pioneering, entrepreneurial spirit of the times.
His legacy includes the thousands of people who worked at IDEAL through the
decades and the community that continues to benefit from the company’s economic
and social contributions. J. Walter Becker’s descendants believe he would be proud
to know his humble manufacturing operation just a few blocks south of downtown
J. Walter Becker, the founder of IDEAL, in early 1916.
10 11THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries
THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries
n 1900, Chicago, Illinois, was a brash and busy city that offered great opportunities for entrepreneurs like J. Walter Becker. Already renowned
for industry, Chicago was a railroad hub, with over thirty railroad lines going into the city, and it was a hub for water transportation due to
its proximity to the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River.
Chicago was also a retail center of the Midwest, home to meatpackers, commodity traders, and more. Logs from Wisconsin were milled
there. Wheat was brought in from farms to be processed. As Carl Sandburg’s 1916 poem described it, the city was “Hog Butcher, Tool Maker,
Stacker of Wheat, Player with Railroads and Freight Handler to the Nation.” Retail powerhouses, Montgomery Ward and Sears Roebuck, called
Chicago home. Built in 1884, Chicago’s Home Insurance Building was the world’s first skyscraper, ten stories tall.
The city’s population in 1900 was nearly two million people—a staggering number since most Americans at that time were farmers and
lived in small towns. Chicago teemed with people who had emigrated there from other countries, like J. Walter Becker’s father John, who had
arrived in the city in 1865 from Germany and became a successful barber. The city drew many European immigrants—at first Germans, Irish,
and Scandinavians, and then later, Eastern Europeans, Greeks, and Italians. The new Americans were often urged to join militant labor unions,
and Chicago became notorious for its violent strikes and high wages. Violence was rampant in the city, and it became famous for high crime
rates, with domestic murder rates tripling in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Sycamore is now headquarters for a global operation, and after an
entire century, still an industry leader.
It is also likely that J. Walter Becker would tip his fishing hat to all
those who followed, grateful for their continued commitment to the
core values, principles and best practices that were cornerstones for
steady growth and longevity through the best and worst of times.
Born in 1885 on the north side of Chicago, J. Walter was the son of
John Becker, a German immigrant and barber at the trendy Palmer
House Hotel, now a historically recognized Chicago landmark. In
keeping with the hotel’s grandiose style and luxurious decor, the
barbershop’s distinctive feature was embedded silver dollars arranged
like diamonds in its tiled floor. John Becker’s clientele likely included
the hotel’s wealthy and famous guests—among them U.S. presidents,
movie stars and literary giants such as Mark Twain and Oscar Wilde.
J. Walter was the youngest of six brothers. His mother was also of
German ancestry, and the close-knit family lived in a comfortable neighborhood
on the north side of Chicago. One brother became a doctor, another a banker, and
the other three eventually chose careers working at the IDEAL factory. In 1910, J.
Walter earned a master’s degree in civil engineering at the University of Wisconsin,
no small feat at a time when only a select few obtained undergraduate college
degrees. Tall and athletic, he played semi-professional basketball as a student.
Above: J. Walter Becker, 1958, sporting his familiar
fishing hat. Below: J. Walter Becker (top right)
with his brothers, Lou Becker (top left), Will Becker
(bottom left), Fred Becker (top center), Ed Becker
(bottom center), Arthur Becker (bottom right).
12 13THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries
14 15THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries
and while he was still at Weber he discovered another opportunity to create a niche
product that was bound to succeed. Confident in the idea, he formulated plans for
his own business, and he even settled on a name for the new company—IDEAL.
In many of the industrial operations J. Walter called on during his time at Weber,
large electric motors were used to drive powerful fans, blowers and pumps,
machine tools, elevators and a host of other applications. While electric motors
served valuable functions, they required frequent maintenance. Inside each motor
He was well-liked and engaging, which no doubt helped
him advance early in his career from designing reinforced
chimneys for large powerhouses to sales engineer for
the Weber Chimney Company. In those roles, he became
intimately familiar with manufacturing operations, and as
a sales engineer, it was his job to engineer solutions to meet
customer requirements. In most cases, the goal was to increase
production, or reduce downtime, or in some way improve
efficiency in the workplace environment.
During his few years at Weber, J. Walter honed his sales
skills, but perhaps more important for his future was learning
to view everyday inconveniences as potential products. In
the early 1910s, automobile sales were still limited to people
with expendable wealth, and a small business owner who needed a truck for his
operation often found it cost-prohibitive to purchase both a truck and a car. The
family folklore has it that J. Walter sensed an opportunity and started marketing a
conversion kit that allowed Model T truck owners to replace the truck body with a
touring car body. Dave Juday, J. Walter’s grandson and third-generation chairman at
IDEAL Industries until his retirement in 2014, explains the rationale behind the idea.
“My grandfather would sell one chassis and then two bodies—a truck body
and a car body. So a person could have a delivery truck during the week, and then
he could have his touring car for the weekend to go to church.”
J. Walter’s conversion kit concept might have succeeded had it not been for
the success of Ford’s mass-production of the Model T. By 1914, the cost of an
automobile had dropped significantly and became affordable to middle-income
Americans. The cost of conversion no longer made practical sense, and J. Walter’s
venture fell by the wayside. However, he had already caught the entrepreneurial bug,
Early 1917 advertisement for Weber Chimneys,
based in Chicago, Illinois, where J. Walter
Becker learned how to market products to the
manufacturing industry.
“He was a salesman. He sensed opportunities. He pursued opportunities. But bless
his heart, if they didn’t work out, okay, they didn’t work out. And he had the guts
and the self-esteem to move on to a more profitable item. Take his entrepreneurship,
take his willingness to accept risks and accept losses. Like the old Scottish
regiment, whose motto was ‘pursue success, abandon failure.’ He did that.”
—E.T. (TUG) JUDAY (excerpted from IDEALs 75-year history)
“One of his strengths was he not only knew what to try, but he knew when to get
out. It wasn’t as if he had a single strength as a product design guy. Some people
recalled he was also a great merchant, because he knew how to read the market
carefully, understand what’s out there, and figure out what the solutions are. The
stuff he came up with was not brilliant engineering, although he really was an
engineer. It really was more a market sense that was the basis of his success.”
—DAVE JUDAY (former CEO and Chairman at IDEAL)
J. Walter Becker’s innovative auto conversion kit
allowed a Model-T truck owner to replace his truck
body with a Touring car body. Bottom: J. Walter
Becker (left) in Metamora, Indiana, on August 1,
1916: “Fording the river with a Ford”
was a commutator, the moving part of a rotary electrical switch that reverses
current and creates more torque. The constant sparking action on the commutator
rendered it inefficient after a while, requiring regular servicing by frustrated
maintenance engineers. The problem was aggravated by the fact that the best
method to date required the commutator to be removed from the motor and
transported to a machine shop for servicing. Besides the risk of damage during
removal, transport or installation, the process also meant significant downtime in
In time, another method was developed that allowed servicing a commutator
while still in the motor, applying sandpaper attached to a block as the engine
slowly turned the armature. That process helped to eliminate downtime, but
sandpaper quickly filled with copper and became ineffective. Maintenance
engineers then tried using grindstones, which cut faster but also became clogged
with copper. After experimenting with a variety of stones, none were found to be
effective over time.
J. Walter Becker became aware of the problem—and the opportunity for a
solution—through his association with William J. Catlin, an elevator engineer at
the People’s Gas Building in Chicago. Catlin saw a ready market for a device that
could service a commutator without
being removed from the motor and
without losing its effectiveness from
copper buildup. J. Walter recognized
that since the search for a perfect
grindstone came up short, the
solution might be a manufactured
stone, and he set out to develop
a formula that would fit the bill.
In 1915, he began experimenting
in his mother’s kitchen, and with
assistance from Catlin and using
technical information provided
by Union Carbide Company,
he developed a stone that
dramatically improved the
process on all counts. Within
a year, he was ready to begin
manufacturing and marketing
his new stone.
By October 1916, J. Walter was sure his new stone, technically known as a
commutator dresser, would find a ready market. To get the word out, he mailed
advertising flyers to prospects and received his first order the following day. His
instincts and hard work paid off, and with increased sales and an expanding
ommutators convey electrical current to
the conductors in an electrical motor. They
are a cylindrical arrangement of insulated
metal bars, usually brass or copper, attached
to the armature of a motor. While a necessary
component in electrical motors, commutators
posed a vexing problem for engineers because
copper leaf or gauze brushes on early motors
were constantly sparking from uneven wear
and tear, creating the need for constant ser-
vicing. The later invention of brushes made of
carbon failed to solve the maintenance issues.
In 1915, with help from William J. Catlin,
J. Walter began conducting experiments in his
mother’s kitchen to develop a manufactured
stone that would solve the problems. With infor-
mation from Union Carbide about the grinding
and dielectric properties of materials, Becker
and Catlin developed a stone with 50% efficiency. It wasn’t perfect, but it cut faster, did not clog, and lasted longer than previous products.
In 1916 he started taking orders for the stones, which were made on Anna Becker’s stove in large dishpans, the mixtures stirred by hand
and then baked in the oven. The stones were not all the same, because applications required different grades of abrasiveness and different
sizes and shapes. Once demand for the stones increased, the operation moved from the kitchen to a larger space on Western Avenue. There,
commutator stones were made in molds, although the process still required finishing with handles attached by hand.
By 1927, J. Walter and Catlin had refined the formula significantly, and efficiency was increased from 50% to over 85%. The stones were
still being ground by hand, however, producing a lot of dust. Eventually, Becker invented a precision grinder that made the process easier, and
by 1935, the grinding of stones was given its own room in the company because it was a hot, dirty, and noisy operation.
Despite IDEALs vastly expanded product offerings since its early days, the company continued to produce commutator products through
its hundred-year history—mostly to customers still using dated electric motors in developing nations.
17THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries 16 THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries
Above: J. Walter Becker, the consummate
entrepreneur and salesman, understood the power
of advertising and marketing. Rright: J. Walter
Becker’s first salesman sample case.
18 THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries
production operation in the Becker’s basement, he formally created the IDEAL
Commutator Dresser Company.
J. Walter’s rationale for naming the company “IDEAL” became increasingly
relevant as the company grew, because it punctuated the founder’s conviction that
success would come through ideal relationships with anyone associated with the
company including customers, employees, vendors, and the broader community.
The philosophy behind the name became a cornerstone principle of the company
that would endure for a hundred years.
“He was a man of strong character,” explains Dave Juday. “He sincerely
believed that if you had the right kind of relationships in whatever you did, you
could be successful. He believed that if he had an ideal set of relationships—
with his customers, with his suppliers, with his employees in his community—it
wouldn’t make much difference what he had in terms of product or market. So he
called his company IDEAL.”
December 21, 1918: J. Walter Becker’s forethought
and business savvy led him to formally trademark
his commutator dressers with the United States
Patent Office.
19THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries
Family Photos
Above: J. Walter Becker (hammock) enjoying an outing
with family and friends in McHenry, Illinois, on July 4,
1919. Right: J. Walter (second from right) ready for a
swim in Booth Lake, Wisconsin, on September 3, 1916.
Left: Near Waukegan, Illinois, June 2, 1918; J. Walter
Becker (center) parents on the left, Eunice Becker
and Ethel “Ottie” Morf (far right). Below in oval:
J. Walter Becker, McHenry, Illinois, July 4, 1919.
20 21THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries
T DID NOT TAKE long for sales of J. Walter Becker’s commutator dressers to exceed
the production capacity of his mother’s kitchen. He found manufacturing space
on Western Avenue in downtown Chicago, where he installed electric-powered
mixers and improved the process of pouring molds, baking, and attaching handles.
Working side by side with William Catlin, he continued to experiment with
formulas and increase the efficiency of the stones. His belief that innovation and
improvement should be a constant in manufacturing became a permanent IDEAL
strategy for expanding and securing his customer base. He was the pioneer of a
new industry niche who captured an untapped market, but he also was an astute
entrepreneur who understood that improving quality and functionality would be
necessary to sustain his company’s leadership position.
The move to Western Avenue also provided ample capacity that could support
an aggressive marketing effort, and after a strong sales effort in the Chicago area
continued to yield good results, J. Walter and his nephew Ray traveled eastward
to market commutator dressers to industrial operations in other states. Ray
established a base of operations in New York, and sales in the East added to
growing revenues.
In 1917, the United States joined the Allied nations in their war against Germany
and the Central Powers. On the one hand, the war benefitted IDEALs growth as it
accelerated demand for electrical power in industrial applications. More electrical
motors translated into more maintenance, which in turn increased the demand
for the company’s commutator dressers. However, the war ended in November
1918, and what followed was a decline in the global economy. The United States
felt the pinch, although to a lesser degree than nations abroad. By January of
1920, the relatively modest economic decline
became a severe deflationary
recession, which resulted
in a significant jump in
unemployment and an
extremely sharp decline
in industrial production.
Factories that had geared
up for wartime production
were forced to close shop
or retool their operations.
Opposite Page: 1918 IDEAL ad offering a free trial.
Below: Early electrical handbook, notebook and a
bag used for returns.
22 THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries
While growth at IDEAL leveled off during the recession, the company
nevertheless continued to remain profitable. At a time when many businesses
were failing, IDEALs sales for the year 1921 were $27,000 with reported profits
of $5,000. After the recession officially ended that summer, the nation’s economy
rebounded, and IDEALs sales for 1922 jumped 250% to $67,000. What followed
after that was explosive growth in the economy as the nation began to experience a
period of prosperity historically referred to as the Roaring Twenties.
How J. Walter managed to remain profitable during the brief recession years
can be attributed to his sensible approach to the company’s finances. He kept
expenses to a minimum, was reluctant to incur significant debt, and always
planned for the long term. He simultaneously pursued an aggressive
and personal approach to sales and marketing, practicing what he
preached about developing and maintaining ideal relationships. All of
J. Walter’s early business practices became fundamental fiscal policies
throughout IDEALs history; and years later, the founder would
point to them as reasons the company managed to prosper during
subsequent economic declines.
On June 19, 1918, J. Walter married Eunice Morf, an elementary
school teacher in Evanston, Illinois, and the young couple settled in
Wilmette, a quiet little town just north of Evanston, Illinois. Their first
child, Jean Louise, was born the following spring of 1919, and in early
1924, Eunice gave birth to another daughter, Doris Ann. The fact that
J. Walter had no sons set the stage for IDEALs history of involving
sons-in-law in the family business from one generation to the next.
Right: The commutator dresser allowed
maintenance personnel to clean an electric motor
without removing it from its casing. Below: The
J. Walter Becker family pose in front of their new
home in Sycamore, Illinois, in the early 1920s. First
daughter, Jean Louise, stands in front of her father
and Eunice holds second daughter, Doris Ann.
IDEAL fared well in the early 1920s. Sales continued to grow, and the
manufacturing operation expanded accordingly. While he might have been content
with the company’s progress, J. Walter grew less content with its location in
Chicago. The city was experiencing growing pains, as race relations and labor
unrest became increasingly violent. A rise in organized crime coincided with a
political system that was progressively becoming more corrupt. None of that suited
J. Walter’s long-term vision for raising a family or growing his business, so he set
his sights on finding a new location for both.
With so much of his client base in Chicago, he conducted a thorough search
of possible sites no farther than Indiana to the east and middle Illinois to the west.
His criteria for making a selection included both family and business prerequisites,
and that meant finding a small but stable community that would provide a safe,
comfortable environment for his family and his employees. An avid outdoorsman, he
preferred to be closer to nature and the open spaces that were becoming increasingly
rare in the Chicago area. He also wanted to relocate to a town with a progressive
business spirit, accessible transportation routes, and an available building that could
readily accommodate his manufacturing operation. In 1924, he found all of that in
Sycamore, Illinois.
ycamore, Illinois, began in 1858 as a village located west of Chicago along the shore of the Kish-
waukee River. By 1924, when J. Walter moved his company there, Sycamore had become a quiet little
town with tree-lined streets and lovely homes, but the city’s progressive leaders were nonetheless eager
to attract businesses. Many industries already called Sycamore home including Borden’s Farm Products,
Hero Furnace Company, Illinois Thresher Company, and Sycamore Preserve Works, among others.
The town had a lot to offer. It was, and still is, the county seat of DeKalb County. Transportation
was bolstered in 1883 when the Chicago & North Western came to Sycamore, and again in 1887 when
the Chicago Great Western arrived on north side of town. Unlike many small towns in the early 1920s,
Sycamore had a power plant. It was the first town in DeKalb County and one of the first in all of Illinois
to have electric power.
By 1925, many of the streets such as Route 23 were paved, and the Sycamore Community Park
was built. There was a thriving streetcar line, the
intra-urban, that ran all the way to the Northern
Illinois Normal School (now Northern Illinois Univer-
sity). There were several stores and schools, and a
harness shop was still in operation. The town held
Fourth of July and Labor Day celebrations, picnics
and baseball games in Electric Park, a couple of
miles out from downtown. As IDEAL grew, so did Syc-
amore, although it remains today a small town within
an area of less than ten square miles.
23THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries
24 THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries
ust prior to the move to Sycamore in 1924, J. Walter Becker bought the Art Craft Products Co. The firm produced
small, high-quality products such as napkin rings, trays, sugar and creamer sets, cake baskets, and salt and
pepper shakers. According to a newspaper at the time, the company used the “latest scientific electrolytic plating
technology” to produce its products. The products, which were carried by a local store, Wetzel Bros, were considered
expensive, with some items retailing for as much as $8.50. Among its products was “high class Dutch silver.”
America had endured a recession in 1921 but by 1924 times were once again pros-
perous. Becker felt there would be high demand for Art Craft products, which were
already established and being successfully marketed by direct mail advertising to
over 9,000 customers.
The newspapers in town mentioned the move by Art Craft Products with
far more excitement than IDEAL, probably because it was an established
company with more employees. In Chicago, Art Craft had employed between
30 and 50 people, but few of the employees made the move to Sycamore.
Becker had no trouble finding “competent people” in Sycamore, however. By
contrast, IDEAL only employed eight people in 1924.
In April of 1927, a tornado ripped through Sycamore,
and the Art Craft factory was severely damaged. For a while, the factory was used to man-
ufacture aircraft, under the name Stiles Aircraft. Although it’s not known exactly when
J. Walter abandoned the Art Craft Products line, by 1929 and the onset of the Great
Depression, no more pricey Art Craft products or airplanes were being made in Sycamore.
Becker’s daughter Jean said much later that her father abandoned the Art Craft Products
simply because of a lack of profitability.
the bank and R.G. Dun & Co. (predecessor to Dun & Bradstreet), revealed they
were a solid operation. For their part, the Sycamore Chamber provided financing
for IDEALs purchase of the deserted Marvel Tire building, which would serve as
the company’s first manufacturing location in Sycamore. The city also agreed to
extend water and sewer lines to the plant. In general, and thanks in large part to
Sometime before J. Walter made his decision
to move to Sycamore, as the nation’s economy
boomed and IDEALs profits continued to increase,
the company made its first acquisition. Art Craft
Products Company produced a line of high-quality
silver plate and bronze novelties. The products
included such items as trays, salt and pepper
shakers, statuettes, electric lamps, and a host of
other expensive items sold through stores in the
Chicago area. Like IDEAL, Art Craft marketed
its products primarily through direct mail
advertising and maintained a list of more than
9,000 customers.
In mid-February 1924, J. Walter wrote a letter to the Sycamore Chamber of
Commerce stating his intentions to move his business from Chicago to a new small-
town location. For reasons not entirely clear, he wrote the letter as president of Art
Craft, not IDEAL, but the response from the Chamber was nonetheless enthusiastic.
On February 24, a Chamber representative visited J. Walter in Chicago and touted
the advantages his community could offer a manufacturing operation looking for a
new home. That was the beginning of a vetting process by both sides of the equation,
and negotiations between the city and IDEAL went very well.
For its part, IDEAL offered to bring its entire operation to Sycamore, providing
the progressive little city with new industry and all the economic benefits that came
with it. They also assured the city they were not asking the community to purchase
stock in the company, and careful scrutiny of IDEALs financial standing with
Above: Downtown Sycamore, 1912. Below: IDEALs
first manufacturing plant in their new home,
Sycamore, Illinois, in 1924. The building was the
previous home of the Marvel Tire Factory. (Photo
Courtesy of the Sycamore History Museum)
Family Photos
Clockwise from left: April 12, 1925, Sycamore,
Illinois (left to right), Grandma Becker, Grandpa
Becker, Grandma Morf, Ottie (seated), Jean Becker
(young girl standing), Eunice, J. Walter, Doris
Becker; Eunice Becker; J. Walter hugs Eunice
while on a trip to Lake Geneva, Illinois, August 19,
1917; J. Walter Becker with friends on a picnic.
the Chamber’s efforts to promote the move as a boon to the city, the Sycamore
community enthusiastically supported their arrival.
“J. Walter wanted to find a place in this Midwestern region that was good
for business and good for employees and their families,” says Meghan Juday, J.
Walter’s great-granddaughter and IDEALs family council chair. “He settled on
Sycamore after looking at sixty cities, and I think he chose that community because
to him it felt very family-friendly. It was also very business-friendly. And the city
bent over backwards to get them to come and create employment opportunities for
the residents there. There was a strong labor pool, and there were good schools.
Over time, it proved to be the right choice.”
THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries 26 THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries
hose who remember her describe Eunice Becker (known to her grandchildren as “Nana”)
as tall and handsome with striking features. At 5’9”, she towered over most women at
that time. She was a traditional wife and mother, leaving the running of the business to her
husband. Unlike others in the Becker family, she didn’t fish or hike, or even swim; and she
wore dresses and pearls at family picnics.
“My grandmother would often talk about the North Shore, which even then was
considered an affluent area. She would often talk about service plates, and why
they were so important. I’m not sure I know what a service plate is, but that was
some sort of standard that you would hold yourself to if you were having a fancy
dinner party. She would wear white gloves to drive in a car for any distance. She had
fancy jewelry. I don’t remember her ever wearing slacks; it was always a dress.”
Eunice Becker excelled in her role as matriarch, and she was very supportive of her husband
and daughters. Her grandchildren recall Nana Becker as a very kind, welcoming person, and
despite her very proper demeanor, someone who enjoyed a good joke.
“ I remember one time I had managed to skip school and go to downtown
Chicago in December with some of my older sisters. One of them called
in to school for me to say I was sick, or had a doctor’s appointment. We
didn’t tell my mother. We had dinner at Nana Becker’s house that evening,
so we told her what we did. She thought that was just a hoot; but we had
to keep it quiet from my mother. So she was that kind of a person.”
“She was great with her great-grandkids. They would pull her earrings
off her ears, and she thought that was pretty funny.”
28 29THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries
YCAMORE, ILLINOIS, IN 1924 was a small but progressive town just 70 miles west of
Chicago. Just outside the downtown area were wide-open fields and forests,
and on the north side, the winding South Branch Kishwaukee River. An avid
fisherman, J. Walter thoroughly enjoyed the outdoors, and Sycamore had plenty
of it. Eunice Becker’s response to the move was not so
favorable. Some of her descendants say she never forgave
her husband for taking her away from Chicago’s North
Shore. Nevertheless, the move proved to be a sound
business decision, and future generations would consider
Sycamore a great place to be born and raised.
“My mother [Jean Becker Juday] never knew any
different,” recalls Dave Juday. “And I remember her
stories about driving her high school friends to downtown
Chicago, to the opera, or to the symphony. So they still
had pretty close ties to the city.”
In mid-March of 1924, J. Walter and his brother, Lou
Becker, now partners in IDEAL, purchased the former
Marvel Tire plant at the corner of Park and Borden
Streets in Sycamore for $20,000. They wasted no time
preparing the space for immediate production, but the
move from Chicago proved more difficult than expected.
Some of the moving trucks were stopped en route and
charged overweight fees. Other trucks left Chicago one
Opposite Top: The Becker/Morf family, August 17,
1924. Opposite Bottom: IDEALs move to their new
plant was welcome news in Sycamore. Left: J. Walter
Becker (far right) in Sand Dunes, Indiana, May 5,
1918. Above: Copy of the agreement signed by J.
Walter and Lou C. Becker on December 1, 1917.
30 31THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries
morning but were forced to turn back because a deep
snow closed the Lincoln Highway. Despite the unexpected
hurdles, by early April the move was finished, and
production of Art Craft and IDEAL products began at the
new location.
Although the two companies shared the plant, they
were quite different, and not just because of the products
they made. The well-established Art Craft enterprise
employed 35-50 people, but IDEALs employee roster
listed just eight people at the time of the move; and
that number didn’t change until 1927. By 1932, IDEAL
employed 14 people.
New industry moving to a small town typically
energizes the community, and such was the case in 1924
when J. Walter brought his companies to Sycamore.
Newspapers ran front-page stories about it. Chamber of
Commerce members envisioned a host of new business
opportunities, and mainstream residents anxiously
anticipated new job opportunities. Business leaders
and longtime residents welcomed the IDEAL and Art
Craft families with open arms and pitched in to help
them find housing and get settled in
their new environment. Only a few
Art Craft employees moved with the
company to Sycamore, but hiring new
employees proved to be no problem as
applications from the Sycamore area
exceeded the available job openings.
It was kind of an idyllic upbringing growing up in Sycamore. The
town was small back then. It was safe. There were a lot of kids in the
neighborhood that we played with all the time without any worry.
Sycamore felt really safe to me. It was a small community, the kind where you could ride
around on your bikes and not be afraid. And you knew everybody knew you, so if you ran into
trouble there was always somebody you could run to in the neighborhood. It was a great town.
Sycamore was delightful. It’s nice now but that was a long time ago, and it was a little
more delightful. It was a quiet town, and we were comfortable riding our bikes anywhere…
to the park, to the pool, or if we wanted to sneak over to the Kishwaukee and swim in the
river. My grandparents, my mother’s parents, lived in Sycamore. My aunt and uncle and
cousin Margaret lived there. Great Uncle Lou was there. We had a nice mix of the family,
and we got together frequently for Sunday dinners, and to go out to a nice restaurant.
J. Walter and Eunice Becker lived in this house
on South Main Street until the early 1950s when
they moved across the street from their daughter,
Dodie, and her husband Wolfram Baack. They sold
the house to the superintendent of schools, and in
1974, Dave Juday bought the house.
Above: J. Walter and Lou Becker in Madison,
Wisconsin, on June 12, 1910
32 THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries
By 1924, electrical power in homes, offices and
factories had already become standardized, and
manufacturers of electrical equipment were
experiencing explosive growth. In spite of the
challenges of relocation, J. Walter remained fixed on
improving his primary products and developing new
ones. Throughout the 1920s, IDEAL introduced new
or improved electrical products including upgrades to
the commutator dresser, portable electric blower and suction devices (with sprayer
attachment), fuse pullers, and the short finder, which measured the distance to
shorts in electrical wiring.
While the commutator dresser continued as the primary product manufactured
at IDEAL, many of the company’s early products were initially produced by
outside suppliers. J. Walter was a wise marketer. His deliberate strategy was
to introduce a new product to the market, and if it proved successful, IDEALs
production team would improve it and integrate it into the manufacturing process.
IDEALs primary marketing efforts focused on direct mail campaigns, which
offered demonstrations and free trials of the products. Half of the company’s sales
force was comprised of manufacturers’ agents and the other half commissioned
salesmen. By 1928, sales had reached $120,000, and the company continued to be
profitable from one year to the next. Not one to rest on his laurels, J. Walter seized
the momentum and made a milestone investment in his marketing effort. It was
time for someone to manage the expanding sales effort at IDEAL. Sometime after
the move to Sycamore, J. Walter hired a young, aggressive salesman from Chicago
named Bert E. Holub, who made up for his lack of experience with enthusiasm
and salesmanship. Holub in effect became J. Walter’s protégé, and by 1929, he was
serving as IDEALs sales manager.
Initially, J. Walter rented a house, but after a few years he settled his wife
and daughters into a larger, more comfortable home on South Main Street in
Sycamore. Within a short time, his parents moved to Sycamore also, and they
occupied a house on Exchange Street, where Lou Becker also resided. The
community embraced the Becker family, and soon their activities were being
reported on the society pages of the Sycamore newspapers, the Tribune and the
True Republican. The business prospered, and the IDEAL and Art Craft families
that moved there from Chicago quickly became an integral part of the Sycamore
community. In 1925, just one year after the move, J. Walter was elected to the
Sycamore Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, and he continued to serve
in that role off and on for decades.
THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries
Below: IDEALs 1928 letter to prospective
clients promised to “blow profits your way
at the rate of 180 miles per hour.”
Left: A 1928 Rolodex card announces IDEALs
assignment of the Bluefield territory to the
Superior Supply Company. Below: A classified
ad posted in the Belvedere Daily Republican on
Monday, May, 23,1925, seeking expansion in
IDEALs sales department. The job was filled by the
young and ambitious Bert E. Holub, who would rise
to sales manager.
As IDEAL prospered, J. Walter Becker held true to his belief that
ideal relationships with customers, associates and employees were
keys to success. He worked hard to improve products and satisfy
customer demands. He stressed fairness and mutually beneficial
arrangements with vendors and suppliers. He earned the trust of his
employees by making sure they were economically secure. In 1925,
IDEAL issued $1,000 life insurance policies to employees with at
least one year of service at the company. Few companies at the time
offered life insurance to employees, and in 1925, when a loaf of
bread cost 12 cents and a half-gallon of milk cost 33 cents, a
thousand dollar insurance settlement would provide a year’s
support for most families.
In the early 1920s, one particularly innovative product revolutionized
the process of connecting electric wires. The handy twist-on wire connector was
rapidly replacing previous methods of joining conducting wires, which generally
meant soldering the two (or more) wires together and wrapping the connection
with tape for insulation. Still in its infancy, the twist-on wire connector, often
referred to as the wire nut, offered an enormous opportunity for an American
manufacturer willing to invest in it.
rior to the invention of wire connectors, electricians generally employed a method called “solder and tape” to join conducting wires
together. After stripping insulation from the two wires, the electrician would clean the exposed wires, twist them together, and dip them
into a pot of molten solder. Once the wires were firmly joined and cooled, the electrician would wrap the connection with insulating tape.
The process was time-consuming and dangerous, as William P. Marr discovered when he injured himself by spilling molten solder
while making a wire connection. In 1914, Marr, an electrician for a Canadian company, developed the first pressure-type connector with a
setscrew that became the model for later twist-on technology.
Many versions of wire connectors hit the market, and many of
them still required soldering before use. The new Jasper device was
much simpler than its competitors. It had two parts, a cylindrical
interior sleeve and a thimble-shaped hard rubber cap. A helical wound
spring was inserted into the sleeve and held in place by small grooves
on each side of the interior. By cutting threads, it was easy to install
and easy to remove. It eliminated the need to solder, and the shell pro-
vided excellent insulation. Later modifications to the original design by
IDEAL improved the safety and strength of its wire connectors. Today,
wire connectors continue to be a practical and efficient apparatus in
the industry and a significant category in IDEALs product offerings.
35THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries 34 THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries
Above: A wire connector sample box consisted of
color-coded Wire- and Wing-Nut Connectors with
directions for use. Below: An early 1920s depiction
of the original Jasper Connector with the slogan,
“Join it with a JASPER.” The Jasper Wire Connector
quickly became an industry standard for its speed,
simplicity and safety.
36 37THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries
the pending patent and entered the market. By all accounts, J. Walter was a man
of integrity, and perhaps no circumstance tested his resolve to do the right thing
more than the patent infringement issues surrounding the Jasper wire connectors.
Unlicensed wire connectors were often sold by unscrupulous suppliers, sometimes
in unmarked boxes and for cash with no bill or receipts. J. Walter was urged to
go after them, but instead he refused to engage in threats or scare tactics, opting
instead to wait until the patent rights were finally secured.
Some of the multiple companies infringing on IDEALs pending patent were
large corporate entities that included General Electric Company, Bryant Electric
Company, and Colt’s Patent Fire Arms Manufacturing Company. Colt’s marketed
its “Wire Nuts” to electricians in national advertisements, which naturally
increased their revenues and market share. It also expanded use of the term “wire
nuts,” which eventually became an industry standard.
Competing against these infringing companies was clearly a frustration
for IDEAL, but there was an upside. All of the competition and promotion
surrounding wire connectors dramatically increased their usage. And in the long
run, J. Walter’s patience paid off. In February 1929, the lengthy American patent
process for Jasper wire connectors was completed. Soon after, J. Walter acted on
his earlier warnings that he would hold the infringing companies accountable.
On October 3, 1929 a letter was sent to Parker & Carter law firm requesting
their client, Colt’s, to desist manufacture of wire connectors—and they did. For
the next several years, cease and desist letters were sent to more than a dozen
businesses, as IDEAL successfully defended its patent rights with other companies
including GE.
Reflecting on that moment in IDEALs history, Dave Juday marvels at his
grandfather’s courage and tenacity: “He took on a huge risk in the late twenties
when GE and others encroached on IDEALs license for wire nuts. He went to
court. He sued GE! That’s backbone… and he prevailed.”
One version of the new wire connector technology was patented
in 1920 by a company in the Netherlands and named “Jasper’s
Wire Joint Caps” after its inventor. A year later, the same company,
Electrostroom, filed for a U.S. patent, but legal wrangling with
domestic firms held up the process. Seizing the opportunity, J. Walter
negotiated with Electrostroom in 1924 to secure the American rights
to manufacture and sell the connectors, and production began.
The Jasper wire connectors offered electricians a less expensive
and much simpler alternative for making electrical wire connections.
The original Jasper wire connector was a thimble-shaped ceramic
cone with a straight-sided spring inside. It worked, but it had a
limited application. While the patent was still pending, IDEAL
initiated improvements to the Jasper design and construction, and
in a short time, IDEALs wire connectors became a major addition
to the company’s product line.
Final approval of the Electrostroom patent did not come until 1929, five years
after IDEAL had secured rights in 1924. During those intervening years, as demand
for wire connectors grew, a large number of unlicensed connectors infringed on
Opposite Top: IDEAL first began manufacture of
wire connectors in the 1920s, but in 1945, with
the introduction of the phenolic connectors, the
company began manufacturing every part of the
connector. Opposite Bottom: Secured in 1924,
the final United States patent for Electrostroom’s
wire connectors. Left: A 1931 postcard displaying
IDEALs Universal Wire Connectors and the five
basic steps for connecting two wires. As always,
confidence in the product led J. Walter Becker to
offer free samples.
39THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries 38 THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries
ITH GREAT EXPECTATIONS FOR the future of the business, IDEAL proudly
issued its first product catalog on October 7, 1929. Three weeks later,
on October 29, 1929, aka “Black Tuesday,” Wall Street stocks tumbled;
and in the months and years following, banks failed, unemployment soared,
and businesses all across the U.S. closed their doors. By that time, the Art Craft
business had already declined to some degree, and in the depressed economy, the
market for luxury items such as silver plated novelties shrank considerably. As
always, J. Walter was willing to abandon any venture clearly heading toward a
dead end, and sometime after the onset of the Great Depression, he shut down
the Art Craft operation.
However, IDEAL not only survived the Great Depression, it continued to
grow. Sales volume dropped moderately immediately after Black Tuesday, but
annual sales volume continued to grow slowly but steadily through the first half
of the 1930s.
Opposite: Cover of IDEALs first catalog, published
October 7, 1929, just three weeks before the Wall
Street crash known as “Black Tuesday.” Left: The
IDEAL Precision Grinder was a popular product
manufactured and marketed by IDEAL in 1935.
The economic repercussions of the Great Depression included skyrocketing
unemployment, mostly in urban areas but also in small towns similar to Sycamore.
During the early and mid-1930s, other businesses in the Sycamore area did not
fare as well as IDEAL. Bank closings became a serious concern,
threatening to cripple many businesses already struggling to
stay alive. J. Walter was an established community-builder by
then, and realizing what was at stake for the families in the
area, he felt obligated to get involved. When the First National
Bank in Sycamore faced liquidation in 1930, he stepped in
and organized the local Sycamore business community to
help secure financing for a new bank to acquire the failing
bank. When the group failed to raise the $125 million before
the liquidation deadline, they did not give up; instead, they
convinced the current bank owners to reorganize and remain
in the community. However, in spite of their efforts, the bank eventually
closed its doors, and years later a different bank assumed the name First
National Bank.
IDEALs continued success in the midst of
adversity was largely due to J. Walter’s confident
entrepreneurial nature and his long-range view
of building the business. Growth had always
been deliberate and measured—and by design
and practice—recession-proof. More important
perhaps was J. Walter’s extraordinary marketing
mind. In the face of a rapidly declining economy,
he held firm to his philosophy that intensifying
marketing and sales efforts was the best way for
companies to survive a recessionary economy.
All through the Depression years, he invested
20% of gross sales to advertising. He also
introduced new products—more than eighteen
in 1938 alone.
IDEAL also continued to hire during the
Depression. The company employed 13 workers
when the Depression started, and by 1934,
there were 20 employees. Not only were those
employees thankful to have employment, they
were more than thankful for IDEALs genuine
concern for their welfare. J. Walter realized early
on that creating a secure and pleasant working
environment for his employees would help
to ensure longevity and productivity. In 1932, IDEAL began issuing bonuses at
Christmas time to employees with one year or more; and in 1934, bonuses netted
employees 10% of total annual pay. In 1936, IDEAL began giving each employee
(wage and salary) 5% of their annual pay.
As the markets for IDEAL products expanded, J. Walter’s vision for the
company extended beyond the U.S. borders. In 1929, IDEAL made its first
move into a foreign market when the Canadian company Irving Smith Limited,
a manufacturer’s agency, took over the Canadian sales of IDEALs product
line. In the early 1930s, in an interview with the Sycamore Tribune, J. Walter
stated IDEAL had 131 sales reps and 20,000 distributors serving a worldwide
market. Like many industrial entrepreneurs of the day, he knew expanding the
marketing to reach international customers was vital to the long-term success of
the company.
While IDEALs best sellers continued to be commutator dressers and other
devices for electric motor maintenance, the product lines were evolving to appeal
to broader markets. Bert Holub reminded the newspaper reporter that IDEAL had
more than 35 foreign markets for 25 products.
THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries 40 THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries
IDEAL’S sales and marketing materials often
included detailed features and benefits.
Below: By 1930, IDEAL sold products in more
than 35 foreign markets. Bottom: After the First
National Bank was forced to close during the Great
Depression, the building was repurposed into
Strain’s Food Mart.
40 THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries
42 THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries
and assembly benches were added, and some fourteen different machine tools
installed including milling machines, drill presses, lathes, grinders and saws. A new
stockroom, woodworking shop, drafting room, new washrooms, and a vault were
built. The entire factory had been painted inside and out and landscaped to provide
a more pleasant workplace.”
By 1934, J. Walter Becker realized the Depression would not last much
longer, and he knew the company should prepare for inevitable growth. A
marketer first and engineer second, he had always relied on aggressive sales
and marketing to sustain the business, even if it meant marketing products
manufactured by outside suppliers. That approach had served him well in
years past, especially during the Depression years when smaller manufacturers
struggling to survive the desperate economy were producing products at
ridiculously low prices. But J. Walter knew that was about to change. Intent
on being ready to face a surge in business, IDEAL set out to beef up its
manufacturing capacity in a big way.
First, on July 1, 1934, J. Walter and his brother Lou posted an ad in the
Chicago Tribune for an electrical and maintenance engineer to lead the company
through the transition. The following day, Marc Buettell answered the ad and
was later hired. Formerly an assistant general manager at Dodge Manufacturing
Company, Buettell accepted a position as assistant to the general manager at
IDEAL, beginning what would be a long tenure at the company.
By late December 1935, multiple changes were made to the manufacturing
operation. According to IDEALs 75-year history, during that year and a half,
“the manufacture of resurfacing stones had been removed to a separate room to
eliminate the abrasive dust from the newly created machine tool shop. The old
wooden floor was ripped up and replaced with a concrete floor; tool makers
Below Left: A 1934 article in the Daily Chronicle
claimed IDEAL shipped orders to every country in the
world except Russia.
43THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries
Above Left: October 7, 1934, the north side of
IDEALs main factory. Above Right: March 16, 1936,
IDEALs engineering department.
In the years following the Jasper patent acquisition, IDEAL was involved in
numerous court cases to halt the production of cheaper but less safe wire
connectors. Over time, the company learned that patent infringement victories
against small companies were not very lucrative, and decided to devote more
energy and resources to advertising and marketing. In 1935, J. Walter and Bert
Holub launched an ad campaign that emphasized the superiority of the Jasper
connector and encouraged consumers to only buy from licensed manufacturers
producing thread-on wire connectors. In subsequent years, the company
DEAL’S inaugural 1929 catalog, an extensive 58-page publication bound by removable metal clamps, was unique to the industry. Many of
the IDEAL products were unknown in the electrical industry, so great care was taken to make product descriptions very detailed. The catalog
also included a brief history of IDEAL, provided details about commutator maintenance, and covered other pertinent information including
definitions of electrical terms, how to resuscitate someone from electrical shock, and formulas for calculating amperes, horsepower, etc.
J. Walter wanted to familiarize customers with IDEAL products without hard-pressure salesmanship that might scare them away, so he
employed several successful strategies in addition to the catalog. He offered customers a trial use of certain products, and he also provided
a rental option for some products. The goal, of course, was to introduce customers to the practicality, quality and effectiveness of IDEAL prod-
ucts without asking them to immediately invest in an unproven tool. The first page of the catalog stated, “Since 1916, we have shipped IDEAL
products on trial—no money down. Knowing you are free to return any IDEAL product, if not satisfied, our representatives do not attempt high
pressure salesmanship or substitution.”
Subsequent catalogs, divided into major product categories, also included testimonials from customers. One IDEAL customer caught the
attention of the Sycamore Tribune, which ran a feature article noting that the renowned explorer, Commander Richard Byrd, had ordered IDEAL
fuse pullers for his 1933 expedition to the South Pole.
44 THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries 45
December 7, 1935, looking southwest towards the
IDEAL factory.
escendants of J. Walter Becker rarely speak of the man without noting his love of the out-
doors and his willingness to share that love with his family. In the fall of 1937, J. Walter
bought a vacation home in Northern Michigan and started spending summers there. The
site became a permanent retreat for his immediate and extended family, as well as friends
and generations of descendants who came after him. They all treasured time spent there in
the great outdoors with the patriarch of the IDEAL family. His granddaughter, Nancy Juday,
recalls that J. Walter unselfishly devoted a lot of time with his family at their summer home,
especially his grandchildren.
“We called him Grandy. When I was growing up, we would go up to visit, and
he was very generous about spending time with us, especially David and
me. He would take us out and try to teach us how to fish, and with great
patience. We thought that was it, to go out fishing with Grandy.”
The summer home in Northern Michigan remains a favorite retreat destina-
tion for what are now fifth-generation descendants of J. Walter Becker.
invested significant advertising dollars in industry trade journals to popularize their
newly trademarked connector, the Wire-Nut.
J. Walter’s forecast for dramatic growth following the Depression proved
to be accurate. In 1936, sales more than doubled from the previous year to
$370,000, and in 1937, sales volume exceeded a million dollars. In 1937, IDEAL
purchased the Marshall Electrical Company of Elkhart, Indiana, and built a new
8,000-square-foot annex to its Sycamore plant. At that time, the company had a
mailing list of 55,000 customers and advertised in 610 trade magazines.
J. Walter was proud of IDEAL, and he was transparent about its operation.
He wanted everyone associated with it—the ideal relationships—to understand
what the company was all about, where it was headed, and what it could do for
his family, employees and the surrounding community. In December 1938, an
annual sales meeting convened in the new recreation room at IDEAL, marking
the first time “outside men” (commission salesmen) attended. An Open House
was hosted by the IDEAL Employee’s Social Club, and more than 500 Sycamore
residents toured the company and saw 18 new products on display.
Family Photos
Clockwise from top left: July 15, 1931, the Becker family
poses on vacation at Yellowstone National Park; Jean,
J. Walter and Doris Becker on Easter Sunday, April 12,
1936; The family relaxes at their vacation home in Torch
Lake, Michigan.
47THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries
Below: The December 1938 annual sales meeting
that included commissioned salesmen for the
first time.
46 THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries
48 THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries
N SEPTEMBER 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland, igniting World War II.
The outbreak of war in Europe transformed American labor. The mass
unemployment of the thirties swiftly melted away as the nation turned to
arming and supplying Great Britain and the Soviet Union. President Franklin
Roosevelt called upon America to be “the great arsenal of democracy” and supply
war materials to the Allies through sale, lease, or loan. The Lend-Lease Act
became law on March 11, 1941, and after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor
on December 7, 1941, and Roosevelt’s subsequent declaration of war, companies
across America responded to the call and adapted their manufacturing operations
to produce wartime materials. Over the next four years, the U.S. provided more
than $50 billion worth of war materials to the Allies, as it also greatly expanded
its own military capacities. In 1939, U.S. materiel included approximately
2,500 airplanes and 760 warships; by 1945, those numbers had increased to
approximately 80,000 airplanes and 2,500 warships.
IDEAL was better prepared for wartime production than most companies. The
business had weathered the Depression years very well, adding new products and
product lines, and consistently increasing sales revenues and profits. By 1939, the
49THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries
Opposite: During World War II, IDEAL experienced
shortages of space and leased additional space in
various locations including downtown Sycamore.
Below: IDEALs early manufacturing operations
were equipped with milling machines, drill presses,
lathes, grinders and saws.
products. The warehouse supervisor was “Red” Johnson, later the long-time
mayor of Sycamore. In all, there were six locations operating at once, and J. Walter
Becker and Lou Becker frequently visited each one to inspect operations and
encourage managers and employees.
Purchasing raw materials presented another significant challenge. To operate at
greater capacity, IDEAL needed more raw materials, but suppliers were struggling
to meet the increased demand in the wartime environment. Vince Mulligan
was hired in February 1943 with the critical task of securing enough materials
for manufacturing to move forward. It helped that IDEAL had an excellent
credit rating, a reputation for paying its invoices promptly, and the persuasive
salesmanship of its leader, J. Walter Becker.
Another issue was labor shortages. After Pearl Harbor, large numbers of
factory workers across America—mostly young males—went off to war, creating
major shortages of labor in industrial operations. Sycamore was no different. The
War Manpower Commission rated DeKalb County as a Group One (acute labor
shortage) area until late 1944. Despite the difficulty in finding workers, three months
after the United States entered the war, IDEAL was operating three shifts a day, seven
days a week. By 1941, there were 175 employees at IDEAL—up from 36 in 1935.
IDEAL catalog included more than forty products, and most of those items proved
to be necessary for the war effort. IDEAL had always targeted electricians and
electrical motor maintenance customers, but the surge in manufacturing opened
up a growing market with original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). As the
OEMs beefed up their production for the war effort, IDEAL added essential tools
and equipment to its product lines and stepped up its own production to meet the
growing industrial demand.
The escalating need for wartime products meant that IDEAL became a very busy
enterprise almost overnight. Without hesitation, owners and employees pledged
to do their part to support the Allies and American soldiers, but they were
immediately faced with overwhelming challenges.
There were shortages of space, and the company had to lease production and
warehouse facilities in various Sycamore locations. Battery assembly was done
in an old ice plant on Chauncey Street, which later became Driv Lok, and is now
a part of Upstaging. The former Montgomery Ward store on Somonauk Street,
later a furniture store and now offices of Autometer, was used for engineering and
various administrative functions. Commutator resurfacers were produced and
stored at a facility on South Maple Street, now Nat’s restaurant. Another location
was used as a warehouse for raw materials, parts awaiting assembly, and finished
n 1939, a rechargeable wet-cell flashlight battery made its first appearance in the IDEAL catalog. A
domestic shortage of dry-cell batteries created a demand for the product, and during the war, IDEAL
produced as many as 60,000 wet-cell flashlight batteries a month. While that
product was clearly developed for wartime use, most of the company’s exist-
ing products were already essential to the war effort. Following Roosevelt’s
mandate, IDEAL ramped up its production of etchers, commutator stones,
brush seaters, fuse clamps, fuse pullers, E-Z wire strippers, connectors,
vacuum cleaners and blower attachments, fish-type reels, solder lugs, and
Thermo-Grip® soldering tools.
According to historical reflections in the April 1983 edition of
Idealines, IDEAL added a number of items to its product lines
during the first three years of the war including “magnetic
chucks, electric tachometers, several more types of bench
strippers, a box cutter, test-glo, wire and cable reel, foot
switch, insulation former, lo-volt transformer, screw-tite
solderless lugs, and thread-on solderless lugs.” In the last
two years of the war (1943-45), the company added a line of
pneumatic tools including drills, screwdrivers, rotary files, riveting
hammers, the E-Z mark etcher, a dust collector, lathe chucks, granite surface plates,
and handheld flashlights.
50 THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries
Early IDEAL Catalog and Handbook and a 1941
25th Anniversary edition promoting new products
and boasting over 35,000 industrial users of
IDEAL products.
51THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries
53THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries 52 THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries
Right: Vince Mulligan, hired in February 1943,
had the vital job of utilizing IDEALs good line of
credit to secure enough materials for production
to proceed throughout the war. Below: Various
IDEAL factories and office locations. Opposite
Page: Due to labor shortages during the war, many
women can be seen in the IDEAL factory where they
temporarily filled the jobs of men. They utilized
the TWI (Training Within Industry) Program, which
ran from 1940-1945 to better equip them with the
necessary skills to meet production demands.
54 55THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries
could happen. The quality of their work was excellent. They
were more quality-minded and wanted to meet the specs—maybe
more so than the men.”
Socializing took on new significance at IDEAL as employees
dealt with the stress of being at war. The IDEAL Employees
Social Club was formed prior to World War II, but when the
war brought a huge increase in the number of employees, the
activities of the Social Club expanded. The annual summer
picnic and the Christmas party drew the largest crowds.
In 1944, the Christmas party had 600 attendees, and the
1945 summer picnic attracted 900 people. There were also
bowling, softball, and volleyball teams, as well
as a horseback riding club. The Social Club
also reached out to the Sycamore community
sponsoring picnics, dances, and dinners
throughout the year that were open to everyone.
Since the mid-1930s, the IDEAL Social Club
had published a breezy in-house newsletter
that included announcements of weddings,
hospitalizations, plant expansions, and the
like, in a few mimeographed pages. Sometime
after the outbreak of the war, the Social Club
published a two-page paper called The Home
Front, which was “intended for the eyes of those
former employees serving in the armed forces all
over the world.” In June 1944, the first edition
of the monthly IDEAL NEWS was published,
containing articles about activities at IDEAL,
happenings at the plant among the employees, and more serious topics. The
Sycamore Tribune described the publication as “entertaining and varied to read.”
Most of the new employees hired were inexperienced, and training such
large numbers of unskilled workers became a crucial factor. IDEAL wisely took
advantage of the Training Within Industry program (TWI), which was created by
the Department of War. The TWI program ran from 1940 to 1945 and provided
consulting services to war-related industries whose employees were being sent off
to war. By the end of the war, over 1.6 million workers in over 16,500 plants had
received a TWI certification. At IDEAL, twelve supervisors, foremen, and lead
men were enrolled in the course, which was designed to help them train other
employees on the job.
American women played a vital role in the war effort. Women in uniform served
in a wide variety of support roles including office and clerical tasks, driving
trucks, repairing and test-flying airplanes, and many other critical assignments.
In industry, women were hired to do jobs formerly held by men. IDEAL hired
large numbers of inexperienced women as workers, but quickly found they often
performed as well as, or better than, men. One TWI-certified trainer at IDEAL
noted that he had “women running rather large lathes, which nobody thought
During the war, many women became active in the
workplace, filling a variety of positions from clerical
to mechanical. The quality of their work was a major
step toward equality in the workplace.
Top: The Ideal Social Club News was a published
newsletter of events, parties and social gatherings
involving Ideal and its employees. Above: The
1944 IDEAL Christmas Party with over 600 IDEAL
employees and their families in attendance in
Sycamore, Illinois. Left: An IDEAL bus was used to
transport employees in the early 1940s.
56 THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries
IDEALs wartime expansion made it necessary in 1944 to create a Personnel
Department. By then, there were close to 500 employees. Recruiting efforts were
ongoing, and the company even sent buses throughout the community to get
workers to the plants. The small operation that J. Walter brought to Sycamore
twenty years earlier had become a major industrial corporation, and that meant the
company’s business practices had to evolve.
The dramatic growth challenged J. Walter’s commitment to preserve and nurture
ideal relationships with his employees, but the man who had always known everyone
personally still believed taking care of employees was a foundational principle to
the company’s success. Since 1931, IDEAL had paid bonuses to its workers, and by
1934, each employee was taking home 10% of their total annual pay in bonuses.
In September 1944, IDEAL announced the creation of the Profit Sharing Trust and
Pension Plan for employees retroactive to January 1944. The plans were developed
by employees and managers working together. The new Pension Trust provided
a regular income after age 65, and each employee was to receive 40% of the base
salary they had earned between the ages of 50 and 60. The plan was so innovative
and generous it served as a model for plans at Northwestern University, the Illinois
Institute of Technology, and the Indianapolis Bar Association.
On September 2, 1945, Japan surrendered, ending World War II. That the
Allies would prevail had become apparent a year or so earlier, and many U.S.
manufacturers had already geared down their wartime production and diverted
their resources to developing and producing post-war products. At best, that might
have been a prudent business decision, but at worst, it was a breach of the public
trust. IDEAL chose a different course, continuing full wartime production until
victory was declared and the war officially came to an end.
Right: In 1944, IDEAL built offices for its Personnel
Department, another measure to account for
IDEALs growth and ensure the satisfaction of its
workers; Below: An IDEAL employee works during
the 1940s. J. Walter Becker insisted that IDEAL
continue its wartime production until the U.S. had
officially won.
Family Photos
In 1941, J. Walter Becker’s daughter, Jean Becker, married
Eugene Thurston “Tug” Juday, a 23-year-old graduate of
the University of Wisconsin. They had met while both were
students, and Tug worked in banking after graduation. Their
first daughter was born before the war, but Tug enlisted and
served as a Marine in the South Pacific during World War
II. While he served overseas, Jean moved back in with her
parents and gave birth to their second child, a son who was a
year-and-a-half when Tug returned.
THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries
Left: Eunice Becker in the 1940s relaxes on a swing. Below:
June 21, 1941 (from left) J. Walter Becker, Eunice Becker,
Jean Becker, Eugene “Tug” Juday, Rose Thurston (Tug’s
grandmother), Ida Juday (Tug’s mother) and Doris Becker.
58 59THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries
FTER VICTORY WAS DECLARED in September 1945, companies engaged in wartime
manufacturing faced the difficult challenges of reverting to a peacetime
production standard. In most cases, the changeover required retooling
operations to produce previous product lines, reestablishing pre-war relationships
with customers and vendors, and dealing with personnel issues such as the need to
downsize or train new employees. Before the war ended, U.S. economists predicted
massive layoffs and sharp declines in revenue, which would certainly result in a
post-war recession and a high unemployment rate. Yet the opposite proved to be
true, as the elimination of government controls on industry and pent-up demand
for peacetime products ultimately led to one of the largest periods of economic
growth in U.S. history.
More than most companies, IDEAL held its own in the first few years following
the war. With the cancellation of wartime contracts, the company did experience
declines in sales and a slight reduction of its workforce in the late 1940s. However,
even in difficult times, J. Walter remained a visionary, and he knew a post-war
rebound would eventually come. Soon after the war, and bolstered by a collective
confidence in America’s future, consumers were scrambling to buy houses, cars
and appliances. As the economy began to rebound, IDEALs industrial customers
stepped up their demand for wire connectors and other electrical components
already produced or marketed by IDEAL for wartime use.
Less than a year after the war’s end, IDEAL boldly announced expansion of its
production operation and advertised the company was actively hiring more workers.
Below: IDEAL employees enjoy their lunch in the
company cafeteria.
grow if it continued to broaden its product lines and expand its market reach.
In December of 1945, they incorporated in the State of Delaware as IDEAL
Industries, Inc., signifying the company was entering a new era with a far more
global mission.
There was also a strong component of estate planning that was part of the
incorporation decision. The 67,100 shares of stock were split between J. Walter,
Lou, and J. Walter’s daughters, Jean Juday and Doris Becker. Both of the Becker
brothers wanted to ensure the family would continue to guide the company into
the future.
To quell any doubts in the minds of Sycamore residents and IDEAL employees,
J. Walter publicly gave assurances there would be no changes in personnel,
operations or policies. He further pledged the new corporation would continue to
provide profit sharing and the recently implemented pension trusts. By retaining
the name IDEAL, he was also confirming the company would continue to build
on its foundational principle of nurturing ideal relationships with employees,
customers and the Sycamore community.
In the fall of 1945, 28-year-old Tug Juday, who had left the Marine
Corps as a Captain, started working at IDEAL. Years later, longtime
employees recalled feeling relieved that Tug was joining the company,
ensuring continuity in ownership by the family. To help his son-in-law
learn the business, J. Walter decided to have him serve as an apprentice
in each department. During his first six months at IDEAL, Tug worked
in at least seven different departments, from receiving to shipping;
years later, he joked that he had worked everywhere in the plant
except the women’s lavatory.
While Tug was sure he did not want to return to his pre-war
career path in banking, he was not so sure he wanted to work at
IDEAL. Privately, Tug and Jean had decided Tug would only work
at IDEAL for a short time to gain some experience, but that notion
soon dissolved. Years later, Tug explained that he and his family
became part of the community, and as months turned into years,
they found it more difficult to leave. In the same interview, he
credited the strong character and leadership of his father-in-law for
providing the inspiration to remain in Sycamore and make IDEAL
his lifelong career.
In late 1945, as he prepared his company for eventual post-war growth, J. Walter
recognized management and ownership of the family business would soon have
to change. He would turn 60 in 1946, and after 30 years, he and his brother
Lou realized the organization had outgrown their original partnership. They had
also become keenly aware the IDEAL Commutator Dresser Company could only
n the two years following World War II, over 20 million Americans left jobs related to wartime employment, but remarkably, civilian employ-
ment rose by 16 million. Soldiers returning from war were ready to start careers and families; and war brides, including Jean Becker Juday,
were ready to stop living with their families and move into their own homes. Suddenly there was a housing boom, which coincided with the
continued saturation of electrical power across the country. Thanks in large part to President Roosevelt’s Rural Electrification Act of 1936,
electric power was reaching beyond urban areas to all corners of America, including isolated rural farms. For many Americans, one of the most
memorable experiences of a lifetime was the day electric power came to their home. Often with great anticipation, homeowners were readied
for “zero hour,” the moment the lines were energized. Newly constructed houses were wired, light bulbs were switched on, radios were plugged
in; and if the family could afford them, appliances such as electric ranges and refrigerators were installed and ready for use.
While IDEAL Industries had yet to expand its product lines beyond industrial customers, it was becoming more apparent to the company’s
leadership that broadening its product offerings would be necessary to reach retail markets and grow the brand and the business.
61THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries
Left to right: J. Walter Becker, Lou Becker, Doris
Becker (holding Ginny), Eunice Becker, and Jean
Juday (holding David).
J. Walter Becker’s son in law, 28-year-old Captain
Tug Juday joined the family when he married Jean
Becker and eventually joined IDEAL in 1945.
60 THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries
62 63THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries
vice president of sales for Edison General Electric
Appliance Company (known for its Hotpoint brand),
and he brought with him Gordon Koch, who had
been a regional sales manager for Hotpoint. In their
former positions, Schafer and Koch had garnered wide
experience working with exclusive distributorships,
and they set about implementing that same system
at IDEAL. Unfortunately, the process of building a
network of exclusive distributorships in the electrical
supply field differed in many respects from the
appliance field. The transition moved slowly, and
sales suffered.
To the surprise of many, in June 1947, IDEAL
announced a new factory would be built in
Petersburg, Illinois, a town nearly 200 miles south of
Sycamore in Menard County. It was a much smaller
town than Sycamore, with a population of only
2,000 people and virtually no industry. However,
with a larger population of 8,000 people, Menard
County wanted to attract industry and jobs for
many people hungry for employment. The local
newspaper, the Petersburg Observer, announced the new plant and noted that
IDEAL had all but exhausted Sycamore’s labor pool. While that might have been
a factor in the decision, it was also true that IDEALs management, Marc Buettel
in particular, were concerned about an attempt by the United Steelworkers of
America to unionize the Sycamore facility.
In actuality, throughout its history, labor unions never gained a foothold
at IDEALs Sycamore plants, as the employees had little reason to doubt the
company’s genuine commitment to their welfare. Nevertheless, the new Petersburg
plant began operations on October 20, 1947. Its concentration was wire
connectors, and sales rose and fell when there were fluctuations in the general
economy, which led to layoffs when demand waned.
Ironically, while the Petersburg plant was in part a move to avoid unionization,
in 1952, the plant was partially unionized by United Auto Workers; 19 years later,
the entire plant was unionized by the International Association of Machinists. The
plant operated for more than forty years and had a significant impact on the small
town. In 1948 and 1949, the Petersburg plant had a small weekly column in the
Petersburg Observer called “Ideal Newscast” that served essentially as a social
column for and about IDEAL employees.
In 1947, the wire connector patent expired. Wire connectors represented a
third of all IDEAL sales, but wire connector technology was not complicated, and
many companies began manufacturing their own versions. Later, in the 1950s,
Still, changes in management were inevitable. The company had grown too
large for the hands-on management style of its owners. For three decades, only
J. Walter and Lou had served as general managers, but they agreed it was time
to name an able successor. Early in 1946, with no family member ready to step
into his shoes, J. Walter Becker named Marc Buettel as assistant general manager.
Buettel had already been entrusted with more and more responsibilities as the
Becker brothers stepped back from day-to-day oversight. He was a talented
marketer and astute businessman, and at the first stockholders meeting in 1946,
Buettel was allowed to purchase a sizeable amount of stock.
The selection of Buettel coincided with a change in the company’s marketing
strategy. After an intense and thorough study of IDEALs marketing policies
and practices, a Chicago business consulting firm concluded that the company’s
longtime dependence on direct mail advertising and direct sales was outdated. In
order to grow the business, the consultants recommended IDEALs sales strategy
should instead be accomplished through wholesalers.
Bert Holub, who had served as assistant sales general manager for many
years, disagreed with the new direction. That and other internal issues prompted
Holub to resign, and in short time, he created his own company essentially
marketing the same product lines as IDEAL. His departure left a vacuum and
aroused concern among district sales managers, but under the temporary direction
of his replacement, A.G. Garman, the company began the difficult process of
implementing the new sales strategy.
In late 1946, J. Walter hired Ward Schafer as general sales manager to develop
and lead implementation of a new marketing structure, which in essence was
a limited and exclusive distributor-franchising program. Schafer had served as
Above: Marc Buettell in 1954, named the first
assistant general manager at IDEAL. Below:
IDEALs Petersburg Plant.
IDEALs advertisement for new universal wire
For his part, Tug Juday concentrated on improving operations.
During his apprenticeship, Tug had kept careful notes on problems
that needed to be addressed. Across the board, he lamented the
lack of interdepartmental understanding and cooperation. In 1949,
he initiated weekly meetings for employees in the Order Service
Department to help foster cooperation between departments.
He also attended the IDEAL staff meetings on a regular basis,
although he was mainly there to observe J. Walter Becker or Marc
Buettel running the meetings. Like his mentor father-in-law, Tug
valued every employee and felt it was important for management
to communicate the company goals to them and encourage them
to see themselves as part of the overall strategy for success.
In September 1949, IDEAL initiated an accelerated new
products program aimed at generating ideas from employees
and outside sources. Incentives were offered to employees with
suggestions for new products or significant improvements to
existing products. An IDEAL employee, Max Alexander, and
the company also solicited new product ideas from outside the
company. In 1949, there were 17 suggestions for new products
from IDEAL employees, 214 from inventors, and 25 from
competition from 3M Company was fierce, and IDEAL lost ground. In the 75-
year history book, Tug recalled the 3M threat: “3M hit the market with a greatly
improved connector, the Scotchlock, and with extensive missionary work, they
took a good share of the market from us. Later, we came back with the improved
wing-type connector and regained a good share of that market.”
Dave Juday recalls the development of IDEALs Wing Nut as an important
new product in the fifties: “We had hot mold connectors, cold mold connectors,
both from a GE process, and then we went to a thermoset material which was
compression molded. We also had a couple of products that we injection molded
from nylon, which led to development of our Wing Nuts, still a major factor in the
connector market.”
As sales continued to decline in the late 1940s, J. Walter remained true to the
new sales strategy, but he recognized that more needed to be done to move the
program along. Among other things, distributors needed to be trained and better
incentivized. In July 1948, J. Walter replaced Schafer and announced that Gordon
Koch was promoted to general sales manager. Koch doubled down with his staff
internally, seeking their input and advice, while he also solicited the views of
the district sales managers after assuring them that constructive criticism was
welcomed and necessary. He educated distributors about sales and merchandising
techniques and helped them better understand the benefits of IDEALs new
marketing structure.
ccording to IDEAL legend, the T-Stripper was invented by an IDEAL employee, Max Alex-
ander, who also worked as an electrician wiring houses on weekends. True story or not, it
nevertheless represents the prevailing attitude at IDEAL that new or improved product ideas
were encouraged. At the end of a workday, so the story goes, after leaving a coil of wire in
a basement, Alexander returned the next day to connect it to the box. Overnight, a resident
wanting a hot line connected the wire to the box, and when Alexan-
der unwittingly cut the wire with his wire cutter, the ensuing electric
surge created a near-perfect hole in the blades of his cutter. All that
day, he discovered how effective the damaged wire cutter was for
stripping thermoplastic wire.
The next day, Alexander introduced his idea for a wire strip-
per, and with help from IDEAL employees, he developed blue-
prints for dies to stamp the parts. The IDEAL T-Stripper was
born, and on its first day on the market, more than ten thou-
sand were ordered. The T-Stripper became a standard tool for
electricians and a major seller for IDEAL Industries to this
day. For several decades, the company has produced
more T-strippers annually than there are licensed
electricians in the field.
64 THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries 65THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries
IDEAL built a new factory in Petersburg, Illinois, in
1947 to produce wire connectors. Later, in 1955,
IDEAL bought the Simplet company and moved
production to Petersburg. Opposite Page: In 1949,
IDEAL initiated an accelerated new products
program to generate ideas from employees and
outside sources.
outside sources. IDEAL advertised for new products from a variety of sources. At
times, the company approached inventors with good ideas and secured agreements
to purchase and sell the products.
In spite of those refinements and new initiatives, sales continued to slide,
especially in 1949, when volume dropped nearly 30%. Fortunately, in those few
difficult years following the war, the district sales managers remained loyal to the
company during the transition to the new sales strategy. Their resilience reflected
the overall confidence of IDEALs founder and employees throughout the company.
Within a few short years, as they stayed the course and entered the decade of the
“fabulous fifties,” the IDEAL family, employees and associates were rewarded with
a remarkable turnaround and the promise of long-term growth.
uring World War II, the Sycamore IDEAL Employees Social Club served an important purpose in bolstering the spirits of the IDEAL and Syc-
amore community. After the war, the Social Club remained an active encourager in the community, hosting events such as plays, a Spring
Frolic, fishing trips, skating parties, picnics and holiday gatherings. The Social Club also sponsored a volleyball team, three bowling league
teams, and table tennis and checker tournaments.
66 THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries
Family Photos
In June 1947, Wolfram Baack married
J. Walter’s younger daughter, Doris
Becker. Wolf Baack and his mother had
immigrated to America from Germany
in 1930, joining his father who had
come to the U.S. a year earlier. He
worked for IDEAL both before and
after WWII. Like Tug, he apprenticed
in all the different departments at
IDEAL, eventually working his way up
on the manufacturing side to the role
of vice president of manufacturing.
Unhappy in that position, he selflessly returned to previous roles on the
manufacturing floor, where he worked for the remainder of his career.
Top: J. Walter Becker, Eunice Becker, Wolfram Baack,
Doris Baack, Hannah Baack (Wolf’s mother) on
their wedding day, June 7, 1947. Above, from left: J.
Walter Becker, Lou Becker and Wolfram Baack enjoy
a Christmas meal; December 1953.
67THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries
68 69THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries
N JUNE 1950, THE U.S. entered the Korean conflict, and Americans were once again at
war. As it had in past conflicts, IDEAL Industries made the necessary adjustments
to handle a nearly 60% surge in business caused by wartime production. The
new corporate structure and sales strategy, as well as improvements to the physical
plant, helped to accommodate the increase. With so many government contracts
available, American manufacturing in general became a seller’s market. J. Walter
Becker wisely warned IDEALs associates against overconfidence, noting that
marketing products in a seller’s market does not provide an excuse to “high-hat”
customers. Integrity and nurturing long-term ideal relationships were still core
values at IDEAL, and J. Walter remained the company’s leading light. Fortunately
for the company and his descendants, he remained active long enough to model
his business practices for succeeding generations; especially newcomers to the
Below: Commercial air travel and better long
distance communication technology allowed for
even greater expansion such as the IDEAL operation
located in Mexico.
70 THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries
added aerosols, industrial chemicals and a few electrical maintenance products;
and the business began to grow. In 1953, Crown moved operations to Woodstock,
Illinois, and Tug was able to free himself from day-to-day management.
IDEAL acquired another company, Tincher Products, in 1950, just a few
weeks after purchasing Crown. Tincher produced equipment for sealing porous
castings and a liquid metallic seal that were sold to a different market than
IDEALs other products. Tincher failed to become very profitable and was later
sold in 1958 to Tug’s brother, Tim Juday, who had stepped in years earlier to
help grow profits at Tincher.
In 1953, IDEAL purchased Sandusky Abrasive Wheel Company of Kalamazoo
Michigan (SAWCO), which produced abrasive products for the metal working
industry. That acquisition also had limited success. Within a year, IDEAL moved
the SAWCO operation to Sycamore, improved those products that could be
integrated into IDEALs product line, and sold the remaining SAWCO product lines
to other companies.
In 1954, IDEAL acquired the Simplet Company of Chicago, which
manufactured electrical conduit fittings, certain fixtures, and fixture hangings.
Simplet marketed a line of liquid-tight connectors for flexible metallic conduit,
a product similar to one IDEAL had been developing but had yet to perfect. In
1955, Simplet production moved to Petersburg, but after a few years of significant
investment in developing the liquid-tight connector, and not enough return on that
investment, the operation was moved back to Sycamore.
company, Tug Juday and Wolf Baack, who both married into the family and
ultimately experienced long careers at IDEAL.
Following the Korean War, the U.S. entered a period of tremendous growth
and economic prosperity. Significant increases in family incomes gave rise to
mass consumption, urban sprawl and an expanding middle class. Manufacturing
output in America reached an all-time high, largely because industrial capacity in
Europe and Japan had yet to recover from decimation during World War II. With
significant advances in commercial air travel and long distance communications,
American manufacturers and distributors began to think globally, broadening their
product lines and setting their sights on overseas markets for future growth.
Despite the wartime adjustments, the decade of the 1950s held great promise for
IDEAL Industries. After the war ended in 1953, annual sales improved steadily
each year, and much of the increase occurred as a result of several strategic
acquisitions designed to expand the company’s product lines in the industrial
market. As always, J. Walter relied on his experience and business instincts to
find companies with products that could be successfully marketed by IDEAL,
even if that meant improving them to meet customer demands. Such was the case
with Pyramid Products, a Chicago manufacturer specializing in wire stripping
tools. After acquiring Pyramid in August of 1950, IDEAL later liquidated it but
continued to develop and improve Pyramid’s wire stripping tools and adding them
to the IDEAL product line.
In 1950, IDEAL also bought Crown Industrial Products Company with plans to
reorganize it to market products that no longer fit into IDEALs new distributor sales
strategy. Those products included coil winder equipment, etchers, and demagnetizers.
The strategy proved unsuccessful initially, but under Tug Juday’s direction, Crown
The charts below reveal that in the first forty
years, the IDEAL plant grew steadily and was
producing 90% of its products. Bottom Left:1950s
IDEAL laboratory. Bottom Right: IDEAL trade show
attended by Jean (wearing hat) and Tug Juday
(third from the left).
71THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries
IDEALs sales representative meeting in the 1950s.
72 73THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries
In 1959, J. Walter, who had always served as president, assumed the newly-
created position of chairman of the board of directors and named Buettel president.
Lou Becker continued in his position as vice president and treasurer, and both Tug
Juday and Wolf Baack continued to serve as vice president and secretary, respectively.
Throughout IDEALs history to that point, J. Walter never waivered on his
intentions to build a sustainable business that could benefit family members in the
future. From the beginning, he had found positions for relatives who wanted to
work at the company. At times, his family loyalty led to difficult circumstances that
often occur in family-owned businesses. While family businesses have always been
the backbone of American industry, many of the concepts and practices that enable
families to create an effective balance between business and family issues were not
in common practice. Yet, thanks to J. Walter’s long-range planning and quiet but
firm direction, IDEAL stood the test of time and ultimately became a model for
family business governance.
The burden for managing the transition of ownership would eventually fall primarily
on the shoulders of Tug Juday. With J. Walter as his mentor, he became increasingly
active in all aspects of the business. He oversaw many of the company’s acquisitions,
he requested division managers establish specific objectives, and he set about
implementing modern management techniques that would serve IDEAL well in the
coming years. Not surprisingly, Tug’s style and principled business practices in some
respects mirrored that of his father-in-law. Neither was unduly affected by prosperity,
and both were content with the quiet pace of life in Sycamore.
On the surface, IDEALs acquisitions seemed a sound strategy for expanding
its product lines and broadening its market. However, there were unforeseen
challenges that came with the practical implementation of the strategy. In
particular, managing all of these disparate companies – each with their own
cultures, leadership styles, and business practices – proved to be an overwhelming
organizational undertaking that spread IDEALs management team too thin.
Nevertheless, J. Walter’s policy of maintaining steady growth and knowing when
to cut his losses, continued to keep the IDEAL ship on an even keel.
In 1956, at the age of 71, J. Walter Becker was keenly aware that his leadership
would soon come to an end, and he became increasingly concerned about passing
the baton to the next generation of leadership. The issues he faced in the transition
were complicated, in part because the company had outgrown his entrepreneurial,
hands-on style of leadership. That had been one consideration years earlier when
Marc Buettel was brought in to bring more corporate structure to the company as
it transitioned into a larger entity.
However, while Buettel’s leadership of the business had been established for the
time being, the future of family ownership and direction of the company was another
issue. In 1956, J. Walter issued a five-page memo to family members to clarify his
expectations for the business and the role of future generations in years to come. He
noted that he wanted Buettel to continue to manage the business until his retirement,
after which the baton would pass to one of J. Walter’s heirs. Naturally, the most
likely candidate for succeeding J. Walter in that regard was his son-in-law, Tug Juday.
Below: A management organizational chart from
the 1950s.
74 THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries
principles. J. Walter believed the essential traits of a successful manager included
the same characteristics that Tug Juday had already embraced – among them
intelligence, the ability to get along with people, common sense, a willingness to
work hard, and Christian principles.
By the end of the decade, business was booming; in 1959, IDEAL achieved record
sales of nearly 6 million dollars. The prospects for the company in the coming
decade were very promising, but J. Walter would not be around to see it. On
February 1, 1961, IDEALs founder and leader for more than four decades passed
away while on vacation in Florida. The family and the company mourned his
passing. Clifford Danielson, president of the Sycamore National Bank and Trust,
spoke on behalf of the Sycamore community when he noted that J. Walter Becker’s
“leadership, high ideals, and devotion to his family made him outstanding in his
relations with the city, associates, and the entire community.”
With help from his brother, Lou, and other family members, J. Walter had
guided the company successfully through fair and stormy weather. While other
companies struggled for survival through wars and economic downturns, IDEAL
managed to maintain steady growth without fear of failure. Thanks to his long-
range perspective and planning for the future, J. Walter’s passing did not create
undue turmoil in the company, and he left IDEAL Industries well poised for future
growth. However, in his planning for the next generation, he was careful not to
place burdensome restrictions or mandates on the next generation of leadership.
“In the 1950s, my granddad, J. Walter, began to do some serious estate planning,
which arguably was a little late, but in fact it turned out just fine,” explains Dave
Juday. “After meeting with lawyers in Chicago several times to discuss succession,
my father, Tug Juday, told J. Walter that he finally understood how the process of
“My dad tells me stories about he and J. Walter driving to Chicago to meet
with lawyers,” recalls Tug’s son, Dave Juday. “One of the lawyers told them they
should be driving Cadillacs and move their headquarters to Chicago, so they could
live on the North Shore with the wealthy elite. J. Walter said no, he didn’t want to
live on the North Shore.”
By 1959, J. Walter was only onsite a few hours each day, and he was often out
of the office for extended periods of time. Still, he was keenly aware of what was
going on in the business, and still in charge.
“J. Walter slowed down, but he stayed very involved,” says Meghan Juday,
repeating the perceptions of the founder that have been passed down to later
generations. “When he passed the baton to Tug, he still continued giving directives,
writing letters to associates about specific products or issues, and still running the
show, so to speak. I think it might have been a challenge for Tug to find his own
leadership style at that time.”
However true that might have been, Tug Juday was certainly holding up his
end of the bargain and garnering J. Walter’s confidence that he would be a worthy
successor. J. Walter had always complemented his son-in-law on his ability to
prioritize and handle challenges; and although he would not be around to see it
happen, he would have been proud to witness Tug’s adherence to his values and
J. Walter’s passing on February 1, 1961 left an
indelible mark on the company and the community.
For over four decades, the company had prospered
under his leadership, and his foundational
principles remained cornerstones for future success.
Tug Juday (second from left) and Mack Johnson
(far right) pose at an event with a manufacture’s
rep and his wife, Mr. and Mrs. Leary. Mack Johnson
would later become IDEALs president in 1972.
n any family owned business, the transition to the second generation can be challenging for both the business and the family. Too often, there
are schisms and irreconcilable differences that lead to counterproductive internal struggles, and in many cases, failure. IDEAL fared much
better, in large part because J. Walter’s two daughters, Jean Louise and Doris Ann, embraced their responsibilities as heirs to the founder’s
vision, as did their husbands, Tug Juday and Wolf Baack.
“It was absolutely critical for the second generation to work closely together,” says Dave Juday. “The two Becker sisters and their hus-
bands had normal inter-family disagreements, but they were able to maintain their close relationships in spite of them. Their good work placed
us, the G-3, in a position where we could do what we needed to do for the future of the company.”
“I’m not sure J. Walter knew he had a family business until his two daughters married potential CEO material,” says Meghan Juday. “And
I don’t know if they felt pressured to find business people who could carry the torch; but they were always very supportive. They thought it was
a great employment opportunity, and they really wanted their families – their husbands – to work there.”
75THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries
Family Photos
77THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries
Walter Becker never wavered in his mission to create a company known for its ideal relationships.
Speaking for five generations of the IDEAL family, Meghan Juday says, “When I go back and look
at the stories of how J. Walter grew the business, I see that he was an excellent businessman. He
knew how to work with people. He knew how to manage transformational growth. He also knew how
to have fun, as reflected in the many photos of him fishing. He loved being outdoors, and he loved
creating communities for people where they could live and work. For him, and all of us who follow, it’s
about ideal relationships.”
In 1960, the year before he died, he wrote a reflective letter to his managers that underscored his
genuine concern for everyone connected with IDEAL Industries:
“As I look back over the history of IDEAL, I think one of the nicest things that we accomplished and
that was good for human relations was to operate IDEAL for thirty years without laying off a single
worker for want of orders. Since 1946 when we had to have a layoff because the government was
not buying our materials, I have always dreamed and envisioned the same thing for the future. It is absolutely axiomatic that each and every
employee of every company needs their paycheck on payday, just as much as we do. We ought to consider it a solemn obligation on our part to
do everything within our power to attain that state of affairs.”
76 THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries
Construction of IDEAL’S corporate office
building was announced in 1961, the same
year of J. Walter Becker’s passing.
passing on ownership would work. He acknowledged that the plan was brilliant,
but he also told J. Walter that he was confused about what he should do as the next
generation. And J. Walter said, ‘I don’t have any idea. All I can do is pass it down
one generation; you’re going to get it, and you’re going to have to figure out what
you’re going to do.’ That was J. Walter’s approach, basically saying he had brought
the company as far as he could take it, and now it was up to his successors to keep it
going. And after all these years, that’s what we’ve done.”
Just one month after J. Walter Becker died, in March 1961, IDEAL announced
it was beginning construction on a new corporate headquarters, dedicated to
the company’s legendary founder. The new headquarters, still home for IDEALs
corporate offices today, symbolized the founder’s commitment to leaving his
family’s business in great shape to face the future.
Above: Tug and Jean Juday enjoying an IDEAL event in
the 1960s. Right: Wolfram Baack and Tug Juday on a
fishing trip.
Left: J. Walter Becker with a young Dave Juday in the
wilderness in 1957. Oval: Doris, Eunice and Jean on
Memorial Day, May 30, 1948.
78 79THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries
N THE EARLY 1960S, America’s political and social landscape was shaken by racial
unrest, war in Vietnam, a war on poverty, and the assassination of John F.
Kennedy. Change was in the air, but despite the tension created by the issues,
the nation’s economy continued to grow at a steady rate. Likewise, changes were
underway at IDEAL Industries. IDEAL continued to experience increased revenues
and expansion, but the company’s founder was gone, and significant challenges
were on the horizon. Corporate leadership fell to Marc Buettell as president, but
also to Tug Juday as vice president, assistant general manager, and presumptive
successor as president in the near future.
Marc Buettell had served the company effectively during J. Walter Becker’s last
days, but now he was contemplating his own retirement. Over time, as he became
less involved in the day-to-day management of IDEAL, the transition of the
company to a more institutionalized business rested primarily on Tug’s shoulders.
During his first years at IDEAL, Tug Juday had provided much of the push to
establish company policies and objectives; and to move the company forward in
the future, he advocated three initiatives: strategic planning, long-range studies,
Below: IDEALs 1960 Annual Sales Meeting in
Sycamore, Illinois.
80 THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries
After IDEALs strategy of expansion through acquisition failed to produce the
desired results, the company focused instead on developing and improving its
product lines and aggressively expanding its market reach beyond U.S. borders.
In 1963, to meet the growing needs of the Canadian market, IDEAL established
a wholly owned subsidiary, IDI Electric, located in the Toronto area. IDI’s first
manufactured product was Yellow 77 wire-pulling lubricant. Irving Smith Ltd., a
manufacturer’s agent, continued to serve as the exclusive sales representative for
the Canadian market, as it had since 1929.
IDI Electric quickly adopted the IDEAL corporate culture, publishing its own
section in Idealines and forming the IDI Electric Social Club. Although IDEAL
owned all of the subsidiary’s stock, IDI Electric operated as a separate company
with its own board of directors. Nevertheless, IDEALs chairman of the board also
served as chairman of the board of IDI Electric.
and modern corporate organizational structure. He recognized and wrote about
the need to institutionalize decision making, and he deemed it “a critical point in
any company’s history, and only a few survive it.”
Following the loss of J. Walter Becker, Tug respected Marc Buettell’s decisions
as IDEALs president, even though there were both philosophical and practical
differences between the two men that would eventually rise to the surface. Years
earlier, Buettell had been awarded 20% of IDEALs stock by J. Walter as a type
of deferred management compensation for bridging the gap between the founder
and the next generation of family leadership. However, Buettell’s short-term
strategies for IDEAL often ran counter to the company’s family shareholders,
who were determined to honor J. Walter’s long-range vision of continued family
ownership. While both men worked hard to increase revenues and profitability,
Buettell sought to position the company for eventual sale to a larger entity while
Tug Juday remained true to the idea of continued family ownership. The two
men also differed considerably on management style. Buettell advocated for a
closed-book management policy, while Tug maintained J. Walter’s practice of
openly sharing IDEALs short- and long-term objectives with employees and the
broader community.
The differences were complicated also by a promise from J. Walter that
Buettell’s son, Amos Buettell, would eventually be given a management position
at IDEAL; and in late 1963, Tug agreed to assigning management of Crown
Industries to Amos, along with two Canadian subsidiaries. Unfortunately, Crown
failed to become very profitable, and disagreements arose between Amos and Tug
over management style and other internal issues. The situation created strained
relationships among IDEALs leadership, but it was settled a few years later when
the parties agreed to exchange Marc Buettell’s stock in IDEAL for ownership
of Crown Industries. Shortly after that, in July 1968, Marc Buettell retired as
president of IDEAL after thirty-four years with the company.
n November 21, 1961, the company published its first edition of Idealines, a re-vamped version of earlier IDEAL newsletters, IDEAL News
and IDEAL HY-Lights. The early editions of Idealines were produced on mimeograph machines and typically were four stapled pages. Its
primary purpose was to develop a sense of camaraderie and mission throughout the organization. Most of the content was written by a staff
of hourly employees and included news of the Sycamore Social Club activities, promotions, service anniversaries, bowling scores, and depart-
mental “gossip.”
The Idealines newsletter also served as a mouthpiece for IDEAL management to communicate in a personal way with the increasing
number of employees and the broader Sycamore community. Articles written by Tug Juday and others in management provided an avenue for
them to disseminate practical company issues such as sales or quality control; and it also provided a forum for comments or opinions about
current topics and issues of the day.
81THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries
1968 IDEALs first Canadian facility in Toronto.
and its associated company in Montreal, Cinch Anchoring Systems Limited,
which assembled and sold lead construction fasteners. Later that year, in Ajax,
Ontario, IDI Electric constructed a new facility large enough to consolidate all
of IDI’s operations and still leave enough space for Supplies Canada and IDEAL-
Hellermann, Ltd. to move their operations there.
The year 1968 marked a turning point in IDEALs corporate and family history.
After Marc Buettell’s retirement, Tug Juday succeeded him as president;
and Mack Johnson, who had earlier replaced Gordon Koch as director of
marketing, was named executive vice president. Tug also felt it important to
gain input and direction from individuals outside the company, so he created
a board of directors that included Marc Buettel, who remained chairman of
the board after his retirement. But there were still lingering differences about
the future of company, and soon after Tug became president, another incident
widened the breach.
In 1965, IDEAL organized another wholly owned subsidiary, Supplies Canada,
Co., which operated as a mail order distributor of industrial, electrical and
institutional supplies throughout Canada. That same year, IDEAL established a
new in-house export division and created a system of distributors and agents to
market the company’s products globally. IDEAL had engaged in exports as early
as 1940, when the company hired E. A. Shinkevich, an export salesman in New
York, to manage foreign trade. Exports of IDEAL products had always been a
low percentage of sales through the years, but the renewed international push
brought favorable results. By 1971, IDEAL was exporting through 65 agents in 85
countries, and by 1983, exports increased to 7.7% of sales.
In 1967, IDEAL entered into a joint venture in Canada to create IDEAL-
Hellermann, Ltd., which marketed connectors and other wiring accessories primarily
to OEM customers in the electronic or aviation industries. IDEAL retained majority
interest in the venture along with Bowthorpe Holding, Ltd. of Sussex, England.
By 1970, IDEALs ventures in Canada were yielding significant increases in
revenue, and the company took steps to shore up its presence there. In May of
1970, IDEAL acquired longtime export representative, Irving Smith Limited,
n 1969, NASA scientists met President John F. Kennedy’s deadline to send astronauts to the
moon by the end of the decade. IDEAL did its part to help them achieve that milestone event by
contributing components used in the lunar landing module during its journey to the moon. IDEAL
wire strippers were specifically requested for the mission because of their reputation for quality
and precision even in the most extreme environments.
82 THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries
Above: Wire-connector production in Canada
83THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries
n 1971, at the age of ninety, Lou Becker died, and IDEAL employees ded-
icated an issue of Idealines to his memory. In August 1972, J. Walter’s
wife, Eunice Becker, also died, and their passing marked the end of the
first generation of ownership by the IDEAL family.
84 85THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries
him well as he became the driving force of the company that had already passed
the half-century mark.
Likewise, the broader IDEAL family of employees, as well as the Sycamore
community, embraced the notion of a longtime IDEAL presence in the
community. A special rezoning meeting in January 1969 highlighted the
relationship between IDEAL and Sycamore leadership. A rezoning request by
IDEAL was challenged by a lone objection, and after a near unanimous vote
in favor of the rezoning, a city official registered surprise at any objection to
IDEALs request, noting that the company had a track record of plant expansion
every five years, and that their plans called for expansion four times their current
size in fifteen years. He also noted the “amiable relations the City and IDEAL
have enjoyed.”
The early 1970s brought new challenges to IDEAL Industries. Sales growth and
profits were marginal, costs were rising and difficult to control, and competition
was fierce and growing. Despite major investments in the sixties to increase
capacity and production of wire connectors at the Petersburg plant, a backlog of
orders developed as production failed to keep up with sales. In 1971, by a margin
“Sometime after my dad became president,” recalls Dave Juday, “Marc Buettell
considered selling the company. Marc had always thought short-term and wanted
to get money out of the business, while the family of course thought otherwise. So
he called my dad into his office one day and introduced him to a potential buyer.
Marc had already begun negotiations. My dad was surprised but politely said
he would meet with Marc the next morning at 9 a.m. He went home and talked
it over with my mother and Dodie and Wolf Baack, who were the other major
shareholding family members; and they immediately said they did not want to sell
the company. So the next day, my dad told Marc no deal.”
Buettell was unhappy with the decision, but the IDEAL family – employees,
managers, and descendants of J. Walter Becker – remained absolutely committed
to a long future for the company and its shareholders. In 1971, IDEALs former
subsidiary, Crown Industrial Products, under the Buettell family’s ownership,
threatened a lawsuit against an IDEAL subsidiary. Because he served as a director
for both Crown and IDEAL, creating a conflict of interest, Buettell was forced to
resign from IDEALs board.
As the new president of IDEAL, Tug Juday set about implementing his strategic
five-year plan, which incorporated market knowledge gained from long-range
studies and continued organizational restructuring. He directed each of IDEALs
divisions to develop their individual five-year plans, outline their objectives, and
define their roles in achieving success with the overall plan.
As the decade of the sixties came to an end, IDEAL Industries was firmly in the
hands of the second generation of leadership – and just in time. The next few years
would bring many challenges, but Tug and his management team were prepared.
The business principles and practices he had learned from his late father-in-law,
as well as his hands-on experiences with every facet of IDEALs operations, served
Employees gather outside the Sycamore
manufacturing plant, Park Avenue, in 1970.
Employees pose proudly at a 1970s trade
show. Vince Nall (far right) later became vice
president of IDEALs Canadian operations and
ultimately president of IDEAL Industries.
86 THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries
Like his father-in-law, Tug envisioned a long-term future for his descendants,
and in 1972, his 28-year-old son, Dave Juday, joined IDEAL, setting the stage for
a future third generation of leadership. After attending Dartmouth College, then
graduating from Shimer College, Dave had worked four years at Bastian-Blessing,
a Chicago firm that manufactured compressed gas valves and controls. He attended
the University of Chicago’s highly respected Business Administration program at
nights before finally entering the family business.
Initially, Dave worked in IDEALs manufacturing division, but by 1974, he
had taken on the task of bringing the company’s MIS (management information
system) up to date and online. The board of directors felt the task was crucial
to the future success of the company, and they trusted Dave to handle it. Later,
he accepted a field assignment as a territory salesman in Cincinnati, Ohio, but
by 1978, he was back in Sycamore as a product manager, then manager of
construction marketing.
Although exporting to other countries was difficult in the 1970s, Canada
was the exception to the rule. The Canadian subsidiaries were so profitable they
were considered “little IDEALS”, and in effect they served as a training ground
for IDEAL managers. In 1976 Vince Nall, a Sycamore plant manager, was made
general manager of IDI Electric (Canada) Ltd., and in that position he introduced the
practice of participative management to Canada. Participative management, which
involved teams working together at all levels in the company, proved to be a good fit
for IDEAL, where an “open door” policy existed, and had from its earliest days.
During the early seventies, both the Petersburg plant and the company’s fitting
business were floundering, but by the end of the decade, IDEALs production
caught up with sales, and the company enjoyed much improved profitability. Much
of the credit goes to an experienced new manager, Bob Wilt, whose leadership was
instrumental in turning the Petersburg operation around. More importantly for
the future, Wilt introduced new technologies that enabled IDEAL to achieve the
significant market share it enjoys to this day.
The company had weathered the rough challenges of the past two decades and
appeared much better prepared to enter the decade of the 1980s with confidence
about the future of IDEAL Industries.
of less than ten votes, the Petersburg plant was unionized by the
International Association of Machinists. These and other issues
confronted a new generation of IDEAL leadership that came
together to face the challenges head-on.
In 1973, Tug Juday became chairman of the board and
CEO; and Mack Johnson was promoted to president of IDEAL.
Formerly a vice president with Federal Pacific Electric, Johnson
had joined IDEAL in 1965, and within six months assumed
overall responsibility for the company’s sales and marketing
programs. He had strong business management experience and
rose quickly through the ranks, in spite of an aggressive and
sometimes demanding leadership style. However, fresh off his
experiences with Marc Buettell, Tug was careful to clearly define
Johnson’s responsibilities, as well as limits to his authority.
s the times changed, so did the company publications. In June of 1977, IDEALines, the company newsletter, ceased publication. In 1978 a
new newsletter was developed, first called The Weekly Connector before the name changed in 1981 to the IDEAL Image. Then, in 1982, the
name changed back to IDEALines. The new publication became a slick professional organ with relevant company news and articles of interest
to IDEAL employees and associates.
Changes occurred in the human resources area also. In 1978, the board approved a “Manpower Plan” for 1979-83 designed to provide
management with “optimum human resources” and to provide guidelines for achieving corporate objectives, in particular “stability of employ-
ment, promotion from within, and equal employment and advancement opportunities.
87THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries
Opposite Top: Mack Johnson was promoted in 1973
to president after Tug Juday became CEO and
chairman of the board. Opposite Bottom: IDEAL
mainframe in the Sycamore office.
88 89THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries
HE DECADE OF THE 1980s began with two recessions in the first three years,
followed by several years of the greatest peacetime economic growth in
history. While service sector companies generally recovered quickly from the
recessions, manufacturing did not fare as well, and many plants with marginal
profitability were forced to shut down. As it had in similar economic crises, IDEAL
Industries fared well despite the struggling economy. By 1980, production had
caught up with sales, and the company enjoyed respectable profits. Nearly 60% of
IDEALs market was in construction, just below 40% was in industrial markets,
and less than 5% was in the specialty and/or export markets. The company
continued to rely on a network of distributors, and marketing efforts were
primarily aimed at supporting them.
By 1983, the nation’s economy had rebounded, and the stage was set for
several years of sustained economic growth. IDEALs sales reached the $40 million
mark that year, more than double the volume just ten years earlier when Tug Juday
and Mack Johnson assumed leadership roles in the company. Exports had reached
approximately 7.7% of sales in spite of licensing requirements that hampered
distribution of IDEAL products in certain foreign countries.
In 1982, IDEAL hired Jim Pfotenhauer, who had previously worked as
an auditor at Coopers & Lybrand, where one of his accounts was IDEAL.
Pfotenhauer, now the vice president of finance at IDEAL, recalls how fiscally
sound the company was at the time, adding that financial strength was not the
Below: (front row, left to right) Clint Gittleson, Phil
Sawer (double-checked), Pat Holtz, Wanda Trotter,
Laura Hall, and Jim Pfotenhauer. (back row, left to
right) Dave Miller, Erv Pietsch, Jack Benisek, Dick
Snow, John Skinner and Vince Nall.
90 THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries
maintain the family’s ownership, he had to negotiate with certain
individuals to get stock back from non-family shareholders. He placed
outside directors on the board to help create a more formal process for
decision-making. He brought Mack Johnson in to help the company
become less Sycamore-centric.”
Despite Tug’s accomplishments, IDEAL still faced a multitude
of challenges as it continued to grow and expand into a major
corporation with a more global perspective. Now a third-generation
company, there were more family members with a stake in the business
and naturally more opinions and debate about family business issues.
Although he had the quality education and business experience, Dave
was thrust into a demanding role that would test his leadership skills
on both fronts – business and family.
“Tug retired at the age of 67,” says Meghan Juday, who draws a
contrast between the leadership styles of IDEALs founder and his son-
in-law, Tug. “After researching J. Walter Becker, my great grandfather,
I realize that he worked his whole life; and after he passed the baton
to Tug, he continued to give directives for another 15 or 20 years.
I think it was hard for Tug to find his own leadership style when he was just
executing the plans of J. Walter Becker. So, not wanting to do that to his son Dave,
he did the absolute opposite, which was to give little guidance and feedback.
Essentially, he gave the keys to my dad and walked away.”
only reason he chose to hang his hat at IDEAL. Looking beyond the numbers, he
discovered the company also had a solid legacy of maintaining ideal relationships
with customers, vendors, distributors, and employees.
“As an auditor for four years on the IDEAL account, I saw all the numbers;
and they were very strong financially,” he recalls. “I got to know the company
and the management very well. At the time, I wanted to leave public accounting. I
audited a lot of companies before coming here, and there was only a small handful
I would have considered working for – and IDEAL was one of them. I could see
that the owners had a great deal of integrity. I liked the way they ran the company.
No funny business. And I liked the fact they treated their employees so well.”
The 1980s brought more changes in the IDEAL management and the structure
of family ownership. During his years at the helm, Tug Juday had focused on
developing new managerial talent, and like his father-in-law before him, he gave
a lot of thought to the matter of family succession. He had good reason to feel
confident about the company’s future leadership potential, particularly his son
Dave and Vince Nall. In 1983, Nall was promoted to executive vice president in
Sycamore, and in 1985, he succeeded Mack Johnson as president. In 1984, after 38
years at IDEAL, Tug retired, and Dave Juday became chairman of the board.
Today, Dave Juday pays tribute to his father’s legacy, noting that Tug had
successfully navigated the company and the family through sometimes-rough waters.
“My dad had a lot to deal with, and he initiated a lot of changes to improve
the organization. For one, no more buying companies just to buy them. To
ug Juday loved the outdoors, especially hunting and fishing at his cabin in
Northern Wisconsin. He stored hunting and fishing gear in a room in his
basement, which was long and narrow enough to set up a makeshift shooting
range with sandbags behind the target. He encouraged his children to explore
and enjoy the outdoors, teaching them to fish or hunt, and he frequently led
them on long hikes through the woods. Among other things, he thought it was
important for them to learn how to use a compass, and on one occasion, the
grandchildren learned the lesson the hard way.
One December, so the story goes, Tug led a large group of kids through the
snow. There were not enough snowshoes for everyone, so some had to bring up
the rear and walk in the tracks. The going was slow, and the hike lasted into
the evening. As daylight gave way to darkness, and it seemed they might be lost, Tug asked if anyone had a flashlight or matches so he could
read the compass. No one had a flashlight, and no one would admit having matches, as that would mean he or she smoked cigarettes. The
hike finally ended long after dark when the group came out of the woods near a tavern, where they called and got a ride back to the cabin.
“We weren’t afraid, because he was leading us,” recalls Patricia Juday, one of Tug’s grandchildren. “He had that kind of confidence, and
we could be confident in him. One of my sisters did have matches, but she wasn’t about to let him know.”
91THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries
Al Shott (left) converses with
co-worker Frank Schuchard.
In 1984, Dave Juday succeeded his father Tug as
the new chairman of IDEALs board of directors.
92 93THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries
Vince Nall, who explained to participants that its purpose was to clear away old
obstacles and “build trust with an open atmosphere and open communication...
throughout the entire corporation.” By June 1987, 63% of IDEAL employees
comprised 34 STEP teams, and in January 1989, participation was made
mandatory for all employees.
As the decade of the eighties drew to a close, IDEAL found itself in an enviable
position within the electrical supply industry. Its reputation for quality products
and award-winning distribution was strong. Yet changes in the electrical supply
business created an emerging dilemma for IDEALs marketing strategy. For years,
IDEAL had relied on its established distributor network, and Vince Nall was
a strong proponent of continued marketing to distributors as the pathway to
future growth. Looking at the broader view of the industry, Dave Juday became
increasingly concerned that approach would not be enough.
“We had an excellent distribution network, but it was not an increasing
market. It became clear we could only grow if we moved beyond our reputation as
a manufacturer that sells wire nuts through distributors. We needed new markets if
we wanted to see increasing sales in the future. In the evolving global economy, our
industry was changing, and we had to adapt. My message to Vince was to get us
into international markets and get us into retail.”
The concept of managers and employees working together in teams could be
traced back to IDEALs earliest days when J. Walter personally encouraged
teamwork throughout the organization. However, IDEAL was no longer a small
operation. Instead, it was a major manufacturer of world-class products in the
electrical supply industry, and managing multiple production operations required
increasingly difficult oversight. Production had become more efficient by the 1980s,
but quality issues had emerged; and it became clear that improvement would
require employees at every level to become more engaged in the process.
In the spring of 1981, the company initiated a Zero Defects Program that
encouraged employee participation in improving quality. In the fall of that same year,
that program was incorporated into a popular new program at the time known as
Quality Circles. The stated goals of Quality Circles were to “inspire more effective
teamwork and develop harmonious employee relationships.” Circles met twice a
month, and by September 1985, more than a third of IDEALs employees – 171
members – were participating in 27 circles throughout the organization.
In January 1986, IDEAL initiated a new program of participative management,
the STEP Team (Success Through Employee Participation), which incorporated the
Quality Circles initiative. The STEP Team program was led by IDEALs president,
In the 1980s, IDEAL newsletters promoted teamwork
and quality through the “Zero Defects Program” and
“Quality Circles.”
From left: Ray Heller, David George and Larry
Hickey in front of an IDEAL demonstration booth.
95THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries
that IDEALs future success would require a much
broader product offering than wire connectors. His
greater interest in Buchanan was its established retail
presence, which offered IDEAL a promising entrée
into retail markets.
Another emerging market with enormous potential
also caught Dave Juday’s attention. Advances in data
communications (datacomm) opened up an entirely
new market for many of IDEALs product lines.
Parallel wiring systems that carried data and signals
were increasingly being installed in commercial and
residential properties, but IDEAL had yet to tap into
that market. In the late 1980s, a small Los Angeles
company, Dragoon Industries, began discussions
with IDEAL about a joint venture marketing effort.
Dragoon sold datacomm tools but needed a partner
for distribution to the electrical market, which
IDEAL already had in place. IDEAL acquired an
interest in Dragoon, setting the stage for further
penetration into the datacomm market.
In April 1993, IDEAL purchased Shattuck
Industries, a Santa Cruz, California company
that supplied datacomm products including customized kits for terminating
and splitting conductors for users and installers of local area networks (LAN),
maintenance and repair organizations (MRO), and electronics technicians. The
acquisitions of Dragoon and Shattuck prompted the creation of an internal
datacomm division at IDEAL. The timing was good, as its formation in 1993
followed a much-improved rate of growth the previous year. IDEAL Industries,
Inc., posted an 8% increase in sales in 1992 and a respectable 6% increase for the
overall company.
Sales in 1993 exceeded $100 million for the first time in the company’s history,
and IDEAL posted a 15.5% increase that year, and 13.6% in 1994. Much of that
success was attributed to Buchanan’s 30% sales increase in 1993 and 10% in
1994. In 1995, IDEAL and Buchanan integrated sales forces, signaling a dramatic
shift in policy to more aggressively pursue retail markets. The big-box retailers
were catering to professional electricians, and IDEALs products and brand were
already established among that market segment. In essence, the emerging retail
markets created the demand for quality electrical tools, and recognizing the global
potential, IDEAL stepped in to meet that demand.
As the decade of the 1990s began, Dave Juday encountered continuing issues
common to family businesses including succession, decision-making and family
governance. Typically, family firms do not last beyond the second generation
Indeed, the industry saw dramatic changes throughout the eighties, brought
on in large part by the proliferation of the big-box retailers that were successfully
marketing construction-related products, including electrical supplies, to do-it-
yourself consumers and small contractors. By 1990, those and other changes
were affecting the IDEALs bottom line. Sales that year declined by 2%, and sales
at IDEAL Canada fell nearly 10%. Dave Juday realized change was imperative
for survival, and he advocated for more aggressive strategies to expand sales
through smart acquisitions and developing innovative new products to reach new,
diversified and global markets.
Declines in sales were offset somewhat by the acquisition of Buchanan
Construction Products in July 1990. Buchanan was a small New Jersey
manufacturing company whose primary products were wire connectors. Its
leading seller was the B-CAP, which owned about ten percent of the wire
connector market. Buchanan’s president, Tony Mitchell, was an outstanding
marketer who successfully positioned the B-CAP as a “universal” connector, even
though the product was no more universal than IDEALs Wing-Nuts. Buchanan’s
success with wire connectors was attractive to Dave Juday, but he still contended
n 1988, IDEAL acquired land for the Sycamore Prairie Business Park, a 235-acre site that would benefit the local community by attracting
new businesses. A later purchase of 40 acres that straddled Peace Road completed the land acquisition. The rationale for developing the
business park was in keeping with the founder’s long-range view of the company and his commitment to the Sycamore community. Dave Juday
felt the business park would protect the immediate environment around IDEALs corporate offices and plant facilities, and at the same time
provide space for future industrial development. Among the businesses that eventually located in the business park was SK Tools, which was
acquired by IDEAL Industries in 2010 and subsequently constructed a manufacturing and distribution center there. Since then, it has proven
to be a significant economic driver for Sycamore.
94 THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries
The B-cap, a universal connector similar to the
wing-nut, was produced by Buchanan Construction
Products until they were acquired by IDEAL in July
97THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries
In addition, because IDEAL marketed thousands of items to more than 3,500
distributors, the company was unable to take advantage of the economies of
scale that competing companies enjoyed, particularly those manufacturers who
produced specialized products to fewer customers but on a much grander scale.
Sales and profitability had been consistent through the years, but production costs
at IDEAL tended to be high. Those factors, among others, placed IDEAL in the
precarious position of being absorbed by a larger concern with enough financial
strength to run them out of business if they refused to sell.
Like his father and grandfather, Dave was determined to maintain family
ownership, and he wanted to continue the company’s commitments to its
employees and the community at large. Aside from the steps he was taking to
rethink and reshape the business, he also began to look at the structure of the
family’s involvement in determining the future of IDEAL. He had successfully
carried the ball during his first years of leadership, but his style of leadership in
many ways mirrored that of the two generations before him, and that approach
was rapidly becoming passé.
“They were all ‘benevolent dictators’,” explains Jenna Juday, Dave Juday’s
daughter-in-law and an active participant in IDEALs family governance
structure. “They certainly were in charge of what happened, but they knew
everyone including the factory workers. They could walk in and ask them about
their children, their spouses or other family members. So in that way, whatever
choices they made for the betterment of the company, they knew it was for the
betterment of all those employees. But we became a very large company, with
leadership outside the family, so that approach presented a hard challenge for
future family governance.”
“So we had to figure out what that new governance system was,” explains
Dave Juday. “I was the end of the line of benevolent dictators, and we had to
replace that model. That’s when we came up with the family council idea, and my
sister Nancy was instrumental in organizing and managing that.”
In the early 1990s, Wolf Baack and his daughter, Margaret, attended a
weekend conference led by David Bork, a family business consultant, to learn
more about the potential pitfalls and possibilities for family-owned businesses.
Soon after, a larger group of family members met with and gained more insight
and practical advice from the Loyola Family Business Institute. Family business
advisors at both events stressed the importance of creating a formalized structure
for the family side of the business, which would foster open communications,
provide a forum for conflict resolution, and enlighten family members not involved
in the operation of the business. The message from both experiences was clear:
IDEAL could benefit from the creation of a family council, which would involve all
family shareholders to some degree.
In IDEALs 75-year history book, Nancy Juday explained the structure of the
family council: “At that time, we decided that everybody in the family, age fourteen
and over, would be considered a member of the IDEAL Family Council and would
be invited, along with their spouses, to attend our annual meeting. And those age
sixteen and over would be expected to attend.”
unless family shareholders come to grips with the economic realities of running
a profitable business during good times and bad. Often, family members outside
the business fail to understand the long view and the need to reinvest capital for
future growth.
In IDEALs case, the company was facing dramatic changes in the global
economy including shifting markets, mounting competition and consolidation.
The latter issue was particularly troubling to IDEALs shareholders because the
$60 billion electrical industry was experiencing increasing consolidation as large
manufacturing companies absorbed the smaller ones to increase their product lines
and market reach. That reality posed a significant threat to IDEAL, whose quality
products, recognized brand, and solid distribution network were well established
and very attractive to larger companies.
n September 1991, IDEAL Industries celebrated its
75th anniversary. To commemorate the milestone
year, the company published a history, Building a
Tradition of Excellence, and invited guests from the
Sycamore community to a company party hosted by
descendants of J. Walter Becker. More than 500
people attended the event, which featured a string
quartet, giveaways, and plant tours.
96 THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries
Top, from left: (wearing black and white) Herb
Golding, (pink shirt) Margaret Baack, (grey and
white) Nancy Juday, (black with glasses on)
Jerry Larson, (blue shirt) Sally Juday and Andrew
Baack, (wearing red hat) Ben Juday, Steve Larson,
Susan Golding, (in front of Susan) Wolfram
Baack, (green and white) John Popovich, Dan
Golding, Dave Juday and Meghan Juday working
together. Bottom, from left: Chris Lamb, Susan
Golding, Nancy Juday, Meghan Juday, Patricia
Juday, Margaret Baack and Andrew Baack seated
around a conference table in a meeting.
98 THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries
A 1997 change in the corporate tax law opened the door for IDEAL to
recapitalize and reorganize as a subchapter “S” corporation. The new law offered
several advantages that fell in line with the direction Dave Juday wanted for the
company. On January 1, 1997, IDEAL recapitalized from preferred and common
stock into one class stock – voting and nonvoting common stock. The transition
represented the latest stage in IDEALs progression from an owner/manager
leadership approach to a board of directors that included a majority of outside
directors, a structure that allowed IDEAL to effectively discuss issues and make
decisions more like a public company.”
Another outcome of the corporate restructuring proved to be very valuable as a
part of IDEALs long-term ownership strategy. For several decades, voting control
of the stock had become somewhat precarious and not in keeping with the original
intent of the founders. The directors explored avenues that would place them in
the position of truly managing through consensus. The result was the creation of a
voting trust.
The intent of the voting trust was to put the power to elect directors, which
is essentially control of the company, in the hands of two individuals. Those
“voting trustees” were elected by the shareholder group, and if the two voting
trustees did not vote unanimously, they both would resign and be replaced
(by the shareholder group) with those who would. That process created a
meaningful incentive for the voting trustees to be sure they understood the will
of the larger group. It also incentivized them to be sure the shareholder group
was well informed and comfortable with their direction. In the new structure,
shareholders yielded their voting stock to the voting trust, but through a
stock redemption policy and a valuation process, they could choose to sell
their stock. In the years since that policy was implemented, no one has taken
advantage of the opportunity.
The structure of the IDEAL Family Council included an executive council, and
Nancy Juday served as the chair of both councils. The annual meetings included
time for family members – young and old – to reconnect socially and strengthen
relationships, but ample time was given to business matters. Attendees gained
greater understanding about issues facing the company’s leadership, allowing them
to make more informed decisions regarding family governance.
By 1995, IDEALs Family Council was functioning well, which enabled Dave
Juday to more confidently move forward with a number of difficult, but critical,
decisions on the business side. That year, IDEALs sales had slowed considerably,
dropping below a 4% increase. The company had failed to create new products,
and instead had settled on repackaging existing ones. At a League of Women
Voters forum that highlighted the impact of the global economy on small
towns, Dave recognized that IDEAL was not prepared for the challenges of the
international marketplace. The company was not developing new markets fast
enough, and it did not have an effective acquisitions strategy. In essence, the
company had become complacent at a time when it needed to be more aggressive
in the evolving global economy.
By 1995, the IDEAL Family Council was beginning to take corrective
measures to turn the ship around and chart a new course. First, the company
announced the organization of an international marketing division with three
area sales managers responsible for the European, Latin American, and Far East
markets. In May of 1996, IDEAL announced that the company had received
ISO 9001 (International Standards Organization) certification, a process that
IDEAL began years earlier. ISO certification was evidence that a company had
proven quality control management systems in place including ongoing employee
training and continuous improvement programs. The announcement was
important to IDEALs international marketing efforts, as ISO certification had
become a requirement for marketing products in Europe.
In 1996, Dave Juday realized it was also time for changes in the company’s
corporate culture and leadership, and he made the decision to release Vince Nall.
He briefly replaced Nall as president, continuing in his positions as CEO and
Chairman of the Board. Six months later, he initiated a search for someone who
could effectively lead IDEAL in a new direction, an industry professional with
a strong leadership resume, significant acquisitions experience and considerable
experience with managing multiple operations.
In 1997, IDEAL announced that Robert N. “Bob” Lane would be IDEALs
new president. Lane had previously served as CEO of Ready Metal Industries, a
Chicago manufacturer of retail displays. He became the first president in IDEALs
history recruited from outside the company. Among his qualifications, Lane was
recognized as a “turnaround” expert who understood that to survive and grow in a
global market, the company would have to make fundamental changes in the way
it conducted business.
ot long after its formation, the IDEAL Family Council functioned well enough to draw the
attention of family business experts. In their book, Getting Along in Family Business,
authors Edwin and Collette Hoover pointed to IDEAL as a model for how improving rela-
tionships in a family business leads to more effective leadership, ownership and ethics in
the company.
THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries
100 101THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries
HE NEW MILLENNIUM BEGAN with a bang. Many nations and major cities around
the world celebrated with magnificent fireworks displays as each time zone
reached midnight. While most people enjoyed the moment, many worried that
flipping the calendar to January 1, 2000 could bring about a global catastrophic
event known as the Year 2000 problem, commonly referred to as Y2K. The Y2K
scare prompted companies worldwide to prepare their computer systems months
in advance to avoid potential glitches in their operations. Years in advance, IDEAL
Industries purchased software designed to deal with the issue, but it failed to
correct all of the problems, most notably incorrect dates on invoices.
“When we bought the software in the mid-1990s,” recalls Jim Pfotenhauer,
“we were told we were ready to go for the year 2000; but that wasn’t true. We
spent nine months in 1999 making sure our software was programmed correctly,
and if we had not done that, I don’t know what would have happened. But we
ended up not having a problem.”
Y2K proved to be a small challenge compared to the larger issues facing
IDEAL in the new millennium. After he was made president in 1997, Bob Lane
was charged with aggressively growing the company, and he brought in a former
associate, Roger Smith, to join him as vice president for corporate development
and business systems. Dave Juday was cautiously optimistic about the new
team and the long-term prospects for growth. The company had fared well in
the economic boom of the 1990s, but global markets were already experiencing
significant financial crises as early as 1995 in Mexico and 1997 in Asia, and
a recession was just around the corner in the U.S. At a time when growth at
IDEAL Industries was imperative, the nation’s economy was about to take yet
another hit.
In January 1999, IDEAL purchased Mar-Tek Industries, which
manufactured and marketed specialty wire connectors in Eau Claire,
Wisconsin. Mar-Tek’s product offering included a line of wire connectors
called Term-a-Nut and Term-a-Nut Pigtail, which were a natural fit for
IDEALs markets. In February 2000, IDEAL purchased the SureTest product
line from Industrial Commercial Electronic Company. The SureTest devices
broadened IDEALs product offering in the test and measurement category
and opened a market that had been a target for years. In the spring of 2001,
IDEAL acquired Anderson Power Products, and a month later, WaveTek, a
datacomm product line of the Acterna Company.
In the early 2000s, through acquisitions, IDEAL
expanded its electrical product lines including wire
termination connectors and terminals.
103THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries
leadership remained committed to its growth strategy, especially new product
“We paid off our line of credit with Northern Trust Bank in 1982,” recalls Jim
Pfotenhauer, “and we did not touch it again for operational reasons until 2001
when we borrowed millions of dollars to acquire Anderson Power Products. Then
there was a recession in 2001, and that hurt Anderson’s business substantially.
Their sales dropped 40% the first year we owned them, and they were not
generating cash to pay back that loan. But IDEAL has always had a solid core
business, and even in that recession when we cut back, we also invested less, so we
were still putting cash in the bank. We borrowed in March 2001, but we paid it
back by March 2003, and after that we were debt-free.”
IDEAL also continued its focus on customer service, which had been a
founding principle and an area that had suffered during the Petersburg slow-down.
Dave Juday wanted the order fulfillment process to be among the best, recognizing
that the IDEAL brand of quality and service depended on it. With that in mind,
the company announced in August 2001 that it would construct a state-of-the-
art distribution center with nearly 100,000 square feet and 32-foot ceilings. The
building was completed in 2002 and significantly increased capacity and improved
customer service. The new structure also signaled IDEALs resolve to remain a
viable contributor to the Sycamore community at a time when there was a lot of
economic volatility and uncertainty in the area. Without question, and with good
reason, IDEAL had become a global entity, but the company’s leadership held firm
to J. Walter Becker’s commitment to make Sycamore its permanent home.
The early 2000s also saw the continuation of IDEALs corporate reorganization
that Dave Juday had initiated in the mid-1990s and that Bob Lane continued. The
WaveTek also expanded IDEALs product lines in the testing and measurement
category. The acquisition included a LAN certification tester used for verifying
that a circuit is capable of carrying a specified data load. WaveTek was generating
$10 million a year in revenues, but beyond the financial gain, the San Diego-based
company also had an operation in Germany, which opened yet another door to
European markets. WaveTek also operated a product development center with
a large staff of engineers, which significantly increased IDEALs research and
development capabilities.
The Anderson Power Products acquisition further strengthened IDEALs
revenues, product lines and market reach. Based in Sterling, Massachusetts,
Anderson also operated a second manufacturing facility in Fermoy, Ireland. The
company produced and marketed specially designed electrical connectors primarily
to OEMS, which expanded IDEALs market reach to that category, as well as
additional foreign markets. A major customer focus was the rapidly expanding
telecommunications industry, which was a draw as well.
By spring of 2000, the so-called “dot-com bubble” burst when many of the
Internet technology companies failed to live up to investor expectations. Stocks on
the technology-dominated NASDAQ fell dramatically in March of that year, and
the American economy slid into a recession. As always, IDEAL was prepared for
dips in the economy, and the company was able to maintain respectable revenues.
However, after so many acquisitions, particularly those companies with datacomm
products, IDEAL ’s surplus financial reserves were diminished. Nevertheless, the
company remained financially secure and confident about the long-term, and the
n 2000, Nick Shkordoff was hired as president of the Canadian operation. Shkordoff had previous
leadership experience as a vice president of operations at a pharmaceutical facility in Canada.
After hearing about the opening at IDEALs Canadian operation, located just minutes from his home,
he interviewed and was selected for the position. Today, he serves as the group vice president and
general manager for the North American electrical business, but he recalls his first interview with
Dave Juday, which proved to be a deciding moment for him.
“I came down for the first interview, and it was Halloween. I wore a blue suit and tie, but everyone
at IDEAL was in costume including Dave, who was chairman of the board. I liked that attitude; thought
it was very cool. And I remember his first question very well. He looked at my resume, then put it aside
and asked me, ‘What was fun about what you were doing for the last few years?’ I thought that was a
very interesting question, and it told me a lot about him and what he thought was important. It’s the
first question I now use in any interview I conduct, because you learn a lot about that person in a hurry.
Dave was great, and I also got to meet a lot of the folks in Canada who were also very down to earth.”
102 THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries
In the spring of 2001, IDEAL acquired Anderson
Power Products, based in Sterling, Massachusetts,
significantly expanding IDEALs market reach for
electrical connectors.
105THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries
By 2007, IDEAL had made significant strides in expanding its global presence,
increasing revenues, and improving quality and customer service. While Bob Lane
had made good progress on acquisitions and cost control, the issue of leadership
succession became an increasingly important consideration. Succession had
always been a priority, dating back to J. Walter and his son-in-law, Tug Juday. As
chairman of the board and Tug’s son, Dave Juday had for months urged Lane
to work on that. However, after months turned into years with no replacement
in sight, the IDEAL board agreed it was time to conduct their own search. In
Februrary 2008, Bob Lane retired, and IDEAL enlisted the services of an executive
search firm to find his successor.
“There were other issues,” says Dave Juday. “We didn’t have management
strength. We had not grown our intellectual property. We had to get somebody
who understood that our strength – where we make money – is in those products
we make better than anyone else. We could no longer ignore that. We needed to
figure out what it was we are good at, and then do it. And that was when we found
Jim James.”
At the time, Jim James lived in Chicago and served as a group president at
ITW, a multi-billion-dollar company and one of the world’s leading diversified
new emphasis was on business units, and business unit managers were increasingly
responsible for profit and losses in their respective units. Each business unit
functioned as a cohesive team committed to the success of their particular area.
A case in point occurred in 2001, when lighting manufacturers were beginning to
favor push-in wire connectors. In response, a development team at IDEAL worked
with a Far East manufacturer to create a new push-in wire connector. However, the
specs for the new product did not meet all the requirements of Lithonia Lighting,
the largest manufacturer of fluorescent lighting. To avoid losing an account of
that magnitude, the team proactively redesigned the connector to suit those
requirements. And they won the business.
In 2002, IDEAL continued its international expansion by opening new offices
in Shanghai, China and Sao Paulo, Brazil. In 2004, the economy was gradually
improving, and Bob Lane continued to spearhead strategic acquisitions including
Trend Communications, a supplier of telephone test and measurement tools
for the expanding global communications market. In 2006, IDEAL acquired
Casella Measurement, Inc., a leader in monitoring and measurement tools. Each
acquisition was strategic and forward thinking, and Casella proved to be a
perfect example.
“Casella was a forward thinking acquisition,” explains Vicki Slomka,
IDEALs senior vice president of global human resources. “Casella’s products
measure how much noise or dust is in a certain area, particularly in
manufacturing facilities or at a construction site. One area where all that is going
is wearable technology, where measurement devices can be embedded in a vest;
or you could have a hard hat with a visor that drops down and shows the wearer
the schematics of a project. If you’re working on an electrical circuit, it could
help you troubleshoot, or provide step-by-step instructions on the job. There are
many possible applications, and that allows the group working on them to come
up with new ideas around wearable technology.”
104 THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries
In 2002, IDEAL completed construction on a 100,000
square foot state-of-the-art distribution center.
The acquisition of Casella Measurement in 2006
expanded IDEALs market reach in monitoring and
measuring tools.
106 THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries
company. They do a lot with dividends and invest a tremendous amount back
into the company. I tell people it’s a privately held company that operates like a
publicly traded company in terms of their controls and governance. They think in
generations, not quarters – and I love that approach.”
In February 2009, Jim James assumed the role of president and CEO of
IDEAL Industries.
In the early 2000s, among other issues, family succession became a pressing
consideration. Even before he was formally elected chairman in 1984, Dave Juday
had been a guiding force with the board of directors, and he was fully aware of the
challenges of family business ownership. He was also sure it was time to plan for
his successor.
“I realized the model we created in the 1980s was not sustainable,” he
recalls. “The kids coming up were not engaged. They stand on the outside. So
I questioned how we could get past that. And that was when Meghan became
more involved.”
Meghan remembers the moment her father first posed the question about
deeper involvement: “My dad called me when I had a three-week-old baby, and
he said, ‘Now that you don’t have anything else to do, how would you like to
work on this transition for the family business?’ That was a perfect fit for me.
The family understood I had a child at home, but that allowed me to still make a
contribution. Having a fifth generation family member made me realize there was
a lot more to a family business; I felt a profound sense of legacy that I wanted
to pass on to the next generation. There were plenty of issues that were being
debated, and there was conflict that I did not want to pass on to my newborn. So
that’s when I engaged and became motivated to address the challenges and issues
we were struggling with.”
manufacturers of specialized industrial equipment, consumables, and related
businesses. He seemed firmly entrenched, and in fact showed little interest in
interviewing for the open position at IDEAL. However, a persistent executive
recruiter, Marianne C. Ray, saw a match, and over a period of months convinced
Jim to take the interview. That was only half of her battle, though, because Dave
Juday had already ruled out Jim James as a prospect.
“I told Marianne I didn’t want anyone from ITW,” Dave recalls, “because
their reputation is that they have only one way of doing business. They are like a
cult; they just fill in the blanks. That won’t work here because there are too many
variables. She went away, but came back three months later with a lineup of six
potentials, and one of them was Jim James. I told her again I didn’t want anyone
from ITW, and she said, ‘Look, I know what I’m doing. I know what you want.
I’m the professional, so be there and get your attitude right!’ And I said okay.”
“When Marianne called me back,” recalls Jim James, “she asked me an
interesting question: Is there a situation where you would consider leaving ITW?
I told her it would have to be a pretty special situation, and it would have to be a
privately held company looking to grow, a company that had a good brand and a
strong family governance. She said, ‘Well, I have just that company.’ So I agreed to
drive to Sycamore and talk. You can imagine that first meeting. I’m reluctant and
Dave doesn’t want to see me.”
The interview went surprisingly well, as both men were candidly transparent
and quickly developed a rapport and mutual respect. As part of the interview
process, Jim James met with the management team several times and sat in on
board meetings. The experience convinced him that IDEAL was in fact the perfect
“It was a great process, and I reached a point where I said this is too good to
be true. It is a very solid board. They really are a family that wants to grow the
Retired IDEAL chairman, Dave Juday, with
daughter, Meghan Juday, at the Service
Recognition Dinner in 2016.
n 2008, in an effort to better serve family businesses and the community, IDEAL estab-
lished the Loyola Family Business Stewardship Institute at Loyola University in Chicago.
The purpose of the Institute is to educate and support businesses looking to embrace
long-term systems of family management.
107THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries
108 109THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries
recessionary period in years, which triggered a period of worldwide economic
decline known as the Great Recession. Among his other considerations, Jim James
faced significant cost-cutting decisions, including a reduction in workforce that
could have jeopardized his standing in the company before he had a chance to
prove himself. However, the opposite proved to be the case.
“Jim came right about the time the market crashed in 2008,” recalls Glenn
Hollister, who started with IDEAL in 1974 as an assistant product manager and
retired in 2015 as a vice president overseeing international sales. “Those were
tough times, but even though we downsized, it was minimal. Most of our cost
savings came out of other areas. Jim did a remarkable job of looking at other
things before we even looked at head count, and it was mostly people who were
close to retirement, or people who were temps. So he did it very methodically,
and that earned him a lot of respect. And after we came out of it, we were much
stronger than when we went into it.”
IDEAL did weather the recession without losing a lot of momentum. In late
2009, the company acquired Western Forge, a respected manufacturer of premier
consumer hand tools, based in Colorado Springs. Purchasing Western Forge was the
first of three acquisitions designed to build a full line of American-made hand tools.
It also demonstrated the company’s forward-looking approach to acquisitions.
“A public company would not have bought Western Forge,” says Jim
Pfotenhauer. “Too long a payback. But we got it at a good price. It had good long-
term potential, and it still does.”
In 2010, IDEAL acquired Pratt-Read, the third-largest manufacturer of
screwdrivers in the U.S. Soon after, Jim Davidson, who previously worked in
research and development at Craftsman Tools, joined IDEAL to help the company
further develop its tool platform. That same year, Davidson led the effort to
acquire SK Hand Tool, which was founded in the early 1900s and is credited with
developing the first ratcheting tools. In 1934, an SK engineer received a U.S. patent
for the SK Round-Headed Ratchet, which became an industry standard. While SK’s
reputation for quality wrenches was solid, it had struggled through the recent bad
economy and was headed into bankruptcy.
“We did a lot of homework before acquiring SK,” explains Jim James. “The
brand was strong, and they had a lot of followers. They served a niche market,
which we liked. And because we look at the long-term, those three acquisitions
allowed us to continue developing a whole new line of tools.”
By 2010, the economy was gradually improving, and IDEALs leadership set its
sights on the future. Acquisitions had always been one avenue for growth, but
Jim James believed the company could also remain competitive and create new
markets by developing new products and product lines internally. One of the
major motivations for hiring Jim Davidson was to shore up IDEALs research and
development capabilities. Innovation became more than a buzzword, as IDEALs
leadership made a renewed commitment to focus on product development.
One of the first steps toward meeting those challenges was to conduct a
“return on emotion” survey. Return on equity is easily measured, and stakeholders
know when the dividends are enough. However, owning a family business can
be emotionally challenging, and sometimes the emotional cost outweighs the
financial return. With that in mind, IDEAL engaged professional family business
consultants, who conducted the survey with all of the family members. The results
were revealing and provided valuable perspectives on how best to communicate
and interact as family members making difficult decisions.
The decision to hire Jim James proved to be the right one, even if the timing might
have seemed unfavorable. Starting in December 2007, the U.S. entered the worst
Below: Jim Davidson, now the vice president of
research and development at IDEAL, contributed an
explanation of the successful innovation process in
Engineering Design, a classic McGraw-Hill textbook
used in senior engineering design courses.
The SK Round-Head Ratchet, a longtime industry
standard, was patented in 1934 by an SK engineer.
IDEAL acquired SK Hand Tool in 2010, opening the
door to a new niche market and development of a
whole new line of tools.
111THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries
“Prior to my coming here, there was R&D going on with the different business
units, but there was not a centralized research and development department,”
explains Davidson, IDEALs director of research and development. “We started
getting into benchmark testing so our departments better understand how they
stack up against the competition. When we say we’re the best in class, are we
really best in class? We recently added a rapid prototyping lab and 3-D printing
capabilities that enable us to experiment and develop new ideas and designs
before we manufacture and go to market. New ideas can come from the
business units or they can start with our R&D team. Either
way, we can help remove some of the obstacles to keep
it moving. For example, my team manages the patent
process, which is important as we focus on innovation.”
With the new research and development department in
place, Jim James continued to press for more innovation,
and he encouraged his teams to expand the range of
possibilities beyond IDEALs traditional product lines.
“We spent a good amount of time in self-reflection,” recalls Nolan Bello,
who came to IDEAL in the fall of 2008 after working as an applications
engineer at Lucent Technologies. “Jim James kept challenging us to take off
the boundaries and come up with something different, not just a different-
colored wire nut, or another connector. We began to ask, what are our
strengths that nobody else can replicate? What could we bring to the
market that will give us a distinct advantage? So even
if we don’t have all the tools right now to develop a
product, if there are some pieces missing, we’ll go out
and find those pieces.”
“We already had a dominant market position in all
of our core products,” explains Nick Shkordoff, “so
what we developed was a strategic plan that would
allow us to leverage our brand and develop a suite of
new products that could get us into areas where we had
zero market share, markets that are very, very large.”
The new product development strategy yielded
results quickly, as it targeted a variety of specific
industries. For years, IDEALs aerospace business was
limited to products related to wire stripping, but after
researching and discovering problematic issues with
bundling multiple cables in an aircraft, an IDEAL
team began to explore solutions. They worked with
Precision Tool to develop a replacement for plastic
cable ties. The result was a new device, a cable-lacing
fastener called LaceLok, which significantly improves
the process of bundling cables in an aircraft.
The renewed focus on innovation permeated
every area of IDEAL Industries, and research and
n 2011, construction was completed on a new 130,000 square foot manufacturing facility in the Sycamore Prairie Business Park to house
the SK Hand Tool operation. To move the project forward, Jim James enlisted the help of Dave Juday, who had plenty of experience with
building projects.
“Jim James collared Dave and asked him to be the project leader. Dave knows everyone in town, and he knows how to build buildings.
He’s really good at it, and he did a great job of pulling together that building. We worked in pairs to move that along. While we were working
with the bankruptcy court to settle the purchase and sales agreement, and since we already knew what we wanted, Dave got started on
developing the specs for the building.”
Beyond its expansive manufacturing areas, the new facility also features offices and an impressive showroom for the company’s
quality hand tools. Remarkably, the construction time on the project was just twelve weeks from ground breaking to the day SK moved
the first piece of equipment onto the floor. The project won the Chicago Building Congress Merit Award in the Industrial Category: 2012.
110 THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries
In 2011, IDEAL broke ground on the new 130,000
square foot manufacturing plant for SK Hand
Tool in the Sycamore Prairie Business Park.
Construction was completed just 12 weeks after
the groundbreaking, and IDEAL was later awarded
the Chicago Building Congress Merit Award in the
Industrial Category: 2012.
IDEALs innovative cable-lacing fastener, LaceLok,
significantly improves the ease and efficiency of
bundling aircraft cables.
113THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries
hours to 25 years. The new technology also allowed IDEAL to incorporate a switch
inside the connector, which enables the user to turn on a light remotely. Still in
development, Audacy promises to be a major advancement in lighting technology,
and one that could conceivably launch IDEAL into a new world of possibilities.
“Basically, we combined lighting controls into a connector, and hence, the
concept of a smart connector,” says Nolan Bello. “That was one of the key
elements of our whole lighting control system. So now we have technology in
areas we’ve never been in before. We have HVAC sensors, low-voltage DC lighting
control, and AC lighting control. And all of this is wireless.”
In 2014, Dave Juday retired from IDEAL Industries and handed over leadership
responsibilities to Jim James. For more than 40 years, Dave had helped IDEAL
remain a viable family-owned business, and he was able to look back at his tenure
with no small degree of satisfaction.
“I remember my first day as chairman of the board,” he recalls. “I remember
being in my dad’s office, but now it was mine. My first thought was, ‘Don’t let it
go south on my watch.’ I asked myself what I would have to do to provide for my
grandkids the way my granddad provided for me. I think what I did, and what the
next generation has done in terms of managing the family, is take the long view.
We really do plan for generations and not for quarters.”
Today, the family that owns IDEAL Industries has come together around the
concept of stewardship, recognizing that their role is primarily to protect and
preserve the legacy of the business J. Walter Becker established a century ago.
“In a sense, stewardship is exactly what J. Walter started with,” Dave explains.
“He talked about ideal relationships, and that’s the basis of stewardship. It’s how
you relate and engage with those around you over time, and he put that into action
by providing employee insurance, medical insurance, paid vacations and a profit
sharing program. So I think stewardship was always a part of what we did, but we
never talked about it that way.”
Among his accomplishments as chairman of the board, Dave Juday points to
three specific areas. Each one speaks to the constant theme of forward-thinking
leadership that was passed down from one generation to the next. First, his efforts
to create a family governance system brought about greater communication and
synergy between IDEALs shareholder group and its management team. His efforts
to find the right management style, and the right CEO to implement it, led him
ultimately to Jim James, who has already demonstrated the vision and energy that
will propel the company forward into its second century. And finally, Dave Juday
acknowledges that he is the last of the “benevolent dictators.”
“I was third in line as a benevolent dictator,” he explains. “My granddad was,
my dad was, and I was. The buck stopped with me; but there won’t be one of those
in the next generation. The next generation’s role is completely different, because
there is no place for the old model anymore. Getting that on the table, and having
that group rise up and embrace those principles, that’s a good thing.”
development teams embarked on a
mission to develop new or improved
products that would meet future
demands in the marketplace. However,
that was not enough for Jim James.
In one meeting that quickly became
legendary, he issued an unusual
challenge to his product development
teams. He asked those in attendance,
“What would it take to put IDEAL out
of business?” After some discussion,
the obvious answer rose to the surface.
A company that built its reputation on
wire-related products, especially wire
connectors, would quickly go out of
business if wires became no longer necessary.
“Throughout our history, we have made improvements to the wire nut,” recalls
Dave Juday. “The original was ceramic, with a straight-sided spring. Then we went
to cold mold plastic, then better moldable plastic. Then we had a different kind
of spring, but a different shell, then a different spring in a different shell. There
were Wingnuts® in the sixties, but very little change in wire connectors during the
seventies and eighties. Around that time came push-in technology, but we decided
that was not for us. After Jim came along, we started trying to figure out push-in
technology, and several of us made trips around the world to see if we could buy
the technology, but to no avail. Finally, one of our engineers, a brilliant guy named
Sushil Keswani, said we can do this and went to work on it.
“So, from the 1920s until about 2005, the wire connector was our signature
product, and we had improved it somewhat, but not radically. That’s when Jim
James comes along and says, ‘You guys are doing a great job on connectors, but
now I want you to make them obsolete.’ I was stunned, but his reasoning was
clear. If we don’t make them obsolete, somebody else will. That’s what led us to
developing the Audacy products.”
Basically, the Audacy technology gives new meaning to wire connectors. The
essential ingredient is utilizing ambient energy – a very low current – that was
already being developed to improve the life of a cell phone battery from about eight
DEALs founder, J. Walter Becker, established his business with an innovative product, the commutator dresser, which significantly improved
productivity and quality in industrial environments. Since then, innovation has remained at the forefront of IDEALs strategy for expanding
and maintaining its customer base. In 2012, the IDEAL Networks SignalTEK® II Qualifier was named one of the Top Thirty Technology Innova-
tions by Security Sales & Integration magazine, just one example of IDEALs commitment to bringing innovative products to the market.
112 THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries
IDEAL engineer, Shushil Keswani, successfully led
the company’s effort to develop the technology to
produce push-in connectors.
Top: An easy-to-install component of Audacy
Wireless Controls. Bottom: The Audacy Remote
Switch controls Luminaire lights with the touch
of a button.
114 115THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries
ROM THE DAY HE sold his first commutator dresser in 1916, J. Walter Becker
envisioned a profitable company but only saw profits as a means to an end.
To emphasize the point, he often referred to IDEAL Industries as the “golden
goose that lays eggs,” meaning he measured success not by short-term gains, but
rather by the quality of his long-term relationships with customers, suppliers and
employees. He focused on building a sustainable company – a golden goose – that
for years to come would provide sustenance for his heirs, for his employees, and
for the Sycamore community.
What began as a family enterprise has remained so for a century, thanks in
large part to J. Walter’s long-range perspective and the foundational principles that
have stood the test of time. As IDEAL looks forward, the picture is bright. IDEALs
management and IDEAL family directors share a common vision and mutual
respect for each other, a viewpoint reflected in the following comments from
individual stakeholders in the company.
Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer
“Looking ahead, we have some cool ideas. And we can
change the way we are. We may not be purely a product
company; we can be a products service company. There
is no boundary here for us; and you know why? Because
of the family. The family’s model is to do what we need
to do. Like I tell everybody here, where we take this is
up to us. There’s nobody stopping us from doing what
we need to do. Where else can you work where you
can have that much effect on the outcome? That’s what we have here. I always tell
people, I have nobody to blame but myself if this doesn’t work. Can we be a ten-
billion-dollar company? Yeah.”
Vice President of Finance, Secretary and Treasurer
“As Dave was considering succession as chairman, he
put off his retirement because we weren’t quite getting
where we needed to be. Then Jim James came on board
in August of 2008. One of the reasons he took the
job was the answer Dave gave to his question about
growing the company. Dave said absolutely, we want to
grow the company. And Jim has done a great job. He’s
built a quality team; he understands how to create lean
116 117THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries
or elsewhere, that’s very appropriate, but it isn’t as though they are second-guessing
decisions. There’s nothing holding us back from being successful. It’s our own choice
to be successful. We couldn’t ask for more support than that.”
Vice President of Global Human Resources
“The family members see IDEAL as a business with cool
products and great innovation. They love engaging with
business leaders; and that’s what you want in a family
business. Every time I interact with them, I come out so
jazzed because of their passion for the business. And I
enjoy working for people who have such great values. They
want to see this company succeed for another generation
and another generation beyond that. It’s infectious.”
SHEILA JOHNSON, Controller Electrical Division and Assistant Treasurer
“I was really impressed with how the family members are becoming more
engaged and actually understanding the business. I think Meghan’s driving it. Her
enthusiasm and her energy level, getting this all pulled together and making sure
that this is going to be going forward for the future is so apparent. It’s like her
full-time job and it shows. In a lot of family owned businesses, the family members
are just there to take a dividend check and move on. That’s totally not the way it is
with this family, and Meghan is working hard to ensure it never becomes that.”
TIM CLARK, Director of Information Technology
“When I first started here thirty years ago, we didn’t see the family very much,
other than Dave. It’s neat to see now where the family is taking the governance
side, and being more visible to whole company. They’re also more open about their
goals, saying this is where we are going and we want everyone onboard. With all
that we are doing in IT, we are actually providing some things to the family as well.
They can have email accounts. We provide them with antivirus. We’re setting up a
Sharepoint portal for them. Even some of the things we’re doing for the business,
we’re able to leverage for them as well, which is really nice.”
Group Vice President/General Manager
“This family and this ownership situation is the best I’ve
been with in my career. I’ve been with public companies,
privately held companies, venture capital companies…
and I appreciate the balance IDEAL has struck by hiring
professionals and not inundating the management
structure with family members. The family owners
are very smart folks. They are intimately aware of the
business; they’re very down to earth; they’re not at all
pretentious. They’re just good people.”
operations; we’ve completed some acquisitions that have good long-term potential;
and we’ve gotten costs under control. And he’s gotten to know the family. He has
the confidence of Dave, and the family is behind him. Dave retired last year, and
Jim became the first outside chairman in the modern era. That transition was very
smooth. The thing I like about the family is they don’t hold their family meetings
in the Caribbean; they have them here in Sycamore. Dave drives a pickup, not a
sports car. There’s a fit there for me with that kind of company, because that’s how
I was raised.”
Director of Research and Development
“I was in the tool industry for many years and had kept
an eye on IDEAL for a long time. I watched them acquire
companies that made products for the Craftsman brand.
They bought Western Forge, and I saw that IDEAL was
the right kind of company to take them further. I saw
they were expanding and growing in tools while most
companies in this country were declining. I started talking
to Jim James and felt it was a good fit. They were going in
the same direction I wanted to go. Innovation takes different forms. We’ve had a lot
of very well designed products. Some of our innovation has been how we’ve gotten
the right product to the right users. Some of our products are innovative because
they’re very simple and direct and do what the person needs, rather than appearing
wildly innovative. We’ve been able to manufacture them in ways that were cost-
effective and still fight against foreign competition. So we still produce the high-end
professional quality we need to, and in ways we can defend against competitors.
We’re on a steady incline of patent applications as a result of the focus we’re placing
on innovation and the need to think bigger.”
Chief Financial Officer
“I had another opportunity at a large, publicly-traded
company before coming here. Then I met with Jim James
and Vicki Slomka a couple of times and knew working
with them would be a good experience. Then I met with
Meghan Juday for the first time over coffee, and we could
have talked all day. I really liked her vision for her role
in the business. I appreciate the family support; and I
was blown away by how much the family trusted and
supported Jim. The family is proactive, and I think Dave really set the stage for them
to understand the business so well. He’s really smart. He’s delegating a clear line
between the board’s responsibilities, the family’s responsibilities, and management –
and not crossing the line too much. I’ve been in family meetings with them for three
years now, and the questions they ask, their understanding of what’s going on – it’s
as good as some of the people who work here. If we get challenged in the boardroom
118 119THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries
Board Member from 1995 to 2014
“In order to have a good, strong business, you need
to do good things. What does that mean? That means
good things for your employees, good things for your
customers, good things for your suppliers, good things
in your community. I don’t know any company that
has recognized that better than IDEAL Industries.
Doing well by doing good is kind of my mantra,
and I guess that’s why I so much enjoy being part of
IDEAL. Not many companies are as ready to invest in their family development
and education programs. It’s really important to invest in shareholders so they
understand the family’s business. Being committed to that doesn’t necessarily
mean working in the business, but being good stewards of the company for many
generations to come.”
GLENN HOLLISTER, Vice President (retired)
“It began with J. Walter Becker. He wanted that ideal relationship with
employees, suppliers, shareholders, and the community. There’s more worth to
the product than the cost of the product. Those relationships are still true today;
that’s what holds it together. There were times when it could have faltered, for
sure. I think those values have continued. Tug was quiet, but he always took
the time to show an interest. He always seemed totally interested in what was
going on. He would walk the plant. He would know the people in the facility.
Even when he was 80, he would come back in the office. He would stop, and he
was genuinely interested in you and what you had to say. And Dave has done a
remarkable job. He had to look after the family’s interests, and he had to manage
the board, the shareholders, and the company. IDEAL is privately owned, but it
is professionally managed. Jim did a great job when he came in here. He really
embraced the culture of the company, and built off that. That’s why he’s been
so successful. It’s a special balance. It’s run more professionally now, but that
culture is still there.”
IDEAL Family Council Chair (fourth generation),
daughter of Dave and Suzanne Juday
“Family business is a noble cause, I think. Generally speaking, family businesses
outperform publicly held companies. They get to make values-based decisions.
They get to treat their employees well because it’s the right thing to do, not
because that’s what government has told them they have to do. I’m sure you’ve
heard J. Walter’s core values of treating your employees well and creating a
product that’s worth more than the price paid. The concept of stewardship
undergirds all the decisions, based on the company and the family making
Advanced Wireless Solutions
“The term that I kept coming back to was responsibility. We’ve a responsibility to
the market, to come up with solutions that will help drive the industry forward,
not just the solution that’s a “me too.” So by helping a client not use as much
energy, that reduces the load on the utility, and it reduces the load on the natural
resources. That has a long lasting chain of effects. Not to sound too idealistic, but
what we’re doing is something to change the world.”
Board member from 1987-2014
“I like family businesses. I’ve never worked for a public
company and probably couldn’t. A family business is
run for the business – as opposed to quarterly earnings.
I like that mindset. Dave is the guy I give credit for what
you see today, in the sense of having the vision and the
constant focus on the long term, and letting the family
members create the environment where they can all
chat, and have ideas, and work through those, and keep
it constructive and focused, all the while building family relationships, which is
healthy in any family organization, and any family for that matter. The work that
Dave, and now Meghan, is heading up, really is a model that family companies
across this country could emulate.”
Board member since 1999
“The gentlemen who were on the board at the time
I joined were all people who had deep experience in
family-owned businesses. I think Dave – as he explained
it to me, and certainly as it played out – wanted
somebody with a different mindset, with diversity of
thought, with public company experience, and global
experience. The first thing that comes across when you
talk to Dave is the culture of the family and the love of
the company, and the pride, and the commitment of the family to the company.
That is the thing that touched me as a person. I found it so genuine, compared to
the capital markets, or the analysts. or investors that I usually deal with on a daily
basis. People who think quarter to quarter, very short-term, versus people who
really believed in what they are trying to do, who believe in their core purpose and
have core values around that.”
120 121THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries
There are three kinds of return a family gets from their business, but family
businesses typically only measure one, the financial return. In a family business,
there are two other types of return. One is emotional return, the return that
comes from executing on the values of the family such as treating employees well,
being good to the community, good to the environment. Those are all things the
family gets excited about, and the emotional return has gotten higher and higher
as the Family Council gains more knowledge about the business. We’ve seen Jim
and his team introduce new products and innovation in a way our family has
ever seen before.
Lastly, and this was a challenge for us, is the relationship return. Our family
had relationship issues in the second and third generation, but we decided to invest
in resolving those issues. It took us several years, not by rehashing old history but
by drawing a line in the sand and saying, ‘Okay, that was the past, how do we
move forward?’ And we said, these are our traditions; this is how we are going to
be inclusive; and this is how we are going to make decisions. That resolved 99% of
the issues, and we’ve never had stronger relationships.”
Past CEO and Chairman of the Board (third generation),
son of E.T. and Jean Becker Juday
“I often speculate about how Walter would look at where we are today. I don’t
think in the beginning he had a sense that this would be a long-term legacy. He
ran it as a single proprietor for the first ten years or so, and then Lou came on
as a partner when he moved to Sycamore. He operated it as a partnership until
after World War II; and it wasn’t until then that he incorporated. And I think it
was then, when he had two sons-in-law in the business, that he began to think
there could be a legacy. I think he would find it remarkable that we’re still here a
hundred years later. I think if he were to see how hard we work at being a family
long-term decisions for the betterment of current and future generations.
When we were talking about my father, Dave, retiring, he really embodied that
stewardship value by not holding on to the thing that was most comfortable to
him. He recognized for him to be a good steward at this moment in time meant
that he had to let go. So I think doing what’s right and not what’s easy is another
value that has been consistent throughout the generations.
In my capacity as a family business consultant, I work with a lot of family-
owned companies that hold this long-term stewardship value, that make a
lot of long-term investments, and yet there’s not a lot of investment in the
family. They’re not spending any time with the next generation to make sure
they’re interested and capable of being stewards of that investment that’s being
made today. So what we’re trying to do as a family is make sure that even the
youngest generation, those very young children already have an understanding,
a perspective, and a connection, not only with one another, but with the larger
family company. We’re starting that young because if you don’t have that it
makes it so much harder to ensure that investment down the road.
Below Left, Family Council, First Row: Jenna Juday,
Maggie Tucker, Meghan Juday, Ben Juday, Nancy
Juday. Second Row: Dave Juday, Margaret Baack,
Jamie Tucker, Dan Golding, Eric Savage. Below
Right, Third Generation Direct Descendants: Susan
Golding, Nancy Juday, Margaret Baack, Pat Juday,
Dave Juday
First Row (sitting): Kaila Juday, Jevan Juday, Walter
Savage, Second Row: Jett Baack, Sitting in Ben
Juday’s lap; Dashel Baack and Gus Tucker-Sorum,
Madeline Miller, Adam Miller, Erica Miller, Jenna
Juday, Carly Cannino, Dan Golding, Matt Gold. Third
Row: Tandy Larson, Chris Lamb, Elliot Savage. Ayla
Tucker, Rive Cadwallader, Asa Cadwallader, Nicole
Juday. Fourth Row: Steve Larson, Cory Lamb, John
Popovich, Nancy Juday, Suzanne Juday, Jerry Larson,
Pat Juday, Susan Golding, Margaret Baack, Janet
Dickerson. Fifth Row: Maggie Tucker, Meghan Juday,
Andy Baack, Dave Juday, Jake Golding, Jamie Tucker,
May Sorum, Eric Savage.
122 123THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries
Family Council member (third generation), daughter of E.T. and Jean Becker Juday
“I can hardly believe that we are where we are and we are positioned so
incredibly well. We have a great professional management team at the helm. The
things that they are talking about are just beyond what I ever thought this might
be. It is so exciting.”
Family Council member (fourth generation),
daughter-in-law of Dave and Suzanne Juday
“The third generation has given a number of things to the fourth generation. They
bring us guidance, and they have brought us a willingness to sit back and allow us
to figure out how to step into leadership positions. That was very hard for them at
first, but I think it is part of the legacy they got from the second generation. How
one generation steps aside and provides space for the next generation to come
forward is an integral part of having a successful family business. I think one of the
hallmarks of the fourth generation is going to be openness. We are working on ways
to be involved with employees by showing up at employee meetings and gatherings,
as well as awards ceremonies for performance. We invite people in the company
to come and talk to us. We’ve created a much more fluid kind of leadership policy,
and I’m hoping that as we interact with the company, we develop a more varied
approach. We’re very careful about how we communicate. We keep lines between
board members and family and company very clear so we don’t impede their work.
We keep our family stuff in the family, and we work on that internally.”
Family Council member (fourth generation), daughter of Margaret Baack
“There’s been a culture within IDEAL to innovate, to come up with the next thing
that would put us out of business if we didn’t develop it. We need to make sure
future generations understand in an appropriate way what IDEAL is all about, and
how to relate to it. They need to have fun together. One great mechanism that the
family is developing to make this happen is the Development and Education Fund.
Every family member has decided to contribute a portion of their dividends to a
fund that can be used for developing individuals, bringing education to the family
and providing programming for the kids.”
Future Family Council member (fifth generation),
son of Meghan Juday and Eric Savage
“When I grow up, I want to work at IDEAL. What makes it a cool company? It’s
not a big company, but still we’re one of the top sellers of hand tools. I think we’re
fourth, not sure. But it’s just being a small company and still making a difference
out there, like helping to build houses, places for people to live. What will it be like
in the future? I don’t know. We’ll see. You don’t know what’s going to happen in
the future. Hopefully, we’ll stay family owned.”
and being cohesive, I think he’d be impressed. I think he would be pleased with our
sense of diversification, how we’re not willing to put all our eggs in one basket. If
he could see that managing the family is now done with the long view, planning for
generations and not for quarters; if he could see us able to fund our growth into
the next generations, I think he would be thrilled beyond words.”
IDEAL Family Council member (third generation).
daughter of E.T. and Jean Becker Juday
“It’s really important to the board of directors and the employees that the family
is interested, is involved, is committed, is supportive, and that we are doing
everything we can to help the business succeed.”
First chair of the IDEAL Family Council (third generation),
daughter of E.T. and Jean Becker Juday
“I think IDEAL is a good corporate citizen, careful about hiring the right people
and providing the opportunities for individual growth and advancement. They are
being smart about new products and new markets. I think it’s a very well run and
successful small business, and small businesses are kind of going by the wayside. So
I’m very proud of them.”
IDEAL Family Council member (third generation),
daughter of Wolfram and Dodie Becker Baack
“Families are families. It’s the glue. You don’t get along with everybody in your
family but this glue holds us all together. It causes us to make the effort to stay
engaged with each other because so much is at stake. If we splinter, there are
several hundred families that may suffer as a result. It’s just essential that we get
along. We can’t put self in front; it’s we the family and we as we relate to the
company. Just one big holistic WE.”
Above Left, Fifth Generation, First Row: (dog) Clover,
Jevan Juday (boy, black t-shirt), Kaila Juday (girl,
purple t-shirt), Walter Savage, Elliot Savage –
holding Gus Tucker-Sorum. Second Row: Madeline
Miller, Asa Cadwallader, Ayla Tucker, Adam Miller,
Rive Cadwallader. Above Right, Third Generation
w/ Spouses: John Popovich, Nancy Juday, Suzanne
Juday, Dave Juday, Jerry Larson, Pat Juday, Susan
Golding, Margaret Baack, Janet Dickerson.
Family Photos
125THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries 124 THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries
Middle: Posing in front of the station wagon, 1950s. Standing in front: Susan
Juday; first row, left to right: Margaret Baack (wearing dress), Pat Juday, Sally
Juday, Nancy Juday, David Juday; Adults, left to right: Lou Becker, Oma “Hannah”
Baack, Doris Baack, Ginny Juday, Wolf Baack (behind Ginny), Eunice Becker, Jean
Juday, Tug Juday, J.Walter Becker. Oval: J. Walter Becker. Above (left to rigjt):
Doris “Becker” Baack, Eunice Becker, Jean “Becker” Juday, J. Walter Becker.
Right: A day in the sun (adults, left to right): Jean Juday, Lou Becker, Eunice
Becker, Tug Juday, J. Walter Becker. (kids on slide, top to bottom): Ginny Juday,
Nancy Juday, Sally Juday, Pat Juday, Margaret Baack, Susan Juday.
Left: A family meal. Left side, front to back: J. Walter Becker, Nancy Juday,
Wolf Baack, Pat Juday, Susan Juday; right side, front to back: Doris Baack,
Margaret Baack, Oma “Hannah” Baack, Tug Juday, David Juday, Sally Juday:
end of table: Jean Juday. Below, left to right: Doris “Becker” Baack, Eunice
Becker, Jean “Becker” Juday, J. Walter Becker. With fish: J. Walter Becker
(left) and his brother, Fred Becker
Snapshots clockwise from left: Eunice Becker stands beside unidentified man reclining
in the shade Around the picnic table. Left side, front to back: J. Walter Becker, Dave
Juday, Nancy Juday, Lou Becker, Eunice Becker. Right side, front to back: Susan Juday,
Ginny Juday, Pat Juday, Jean Juday, Sally Juday., Left to right: Steve Larson as a toddler,
Lou Becker, Margaret Baack Hanging out in the trunk. Front, left to right: Margaret
Baack (checkered shirt) Susan Juday Golding (middle), Nancy Juday (stripes), Ginny
and David Juday (back), Pat and Sally Juday. Holding hands. Jean and Tug Juday David,
Nancy, Ginny, Sally, Pat and Susan Juday Relaxing on the lawn. Left to right: Wolf Baack,
J. Walter Becker (holding David Juday), Ottie, Raybecker, Eunice, Flo Becker
126 THE IDEAL STORY—The 100-year History of IDEAL Industries
Many people associated with IDEAL Industries have contributed to the
development of this 100-year history including numerous individuals who agreed
to be interviewed and others who provided archival images and materials. Special
thanks are afforded to Dave Juday for his insight, counsel and contributions to
the story; to Paulette Womack for coordinating interviews and Storyline Group
visits; to Chris Lamb for her invaluable assistance with image selection and
research; and to the authors of IDEALs two previous histories, James D. Norris
and Timothy K. Malone.
All photos/images were obtained from the IDEAL Industries archives or family
albums with the exception of the following:
Page 13:
Pages 28, 30, 42, 45: Courtesy Joiner History Room, DeKalb County Archives