Not all SCORE mentor-client relationships have the staying power and friendship that SCORE mentor John R. Thomson and Doug Hartel have developed over the six years they've worked together. Not only is John one of Doug’s most trusted business advisors, but they have also become close friends. This unique relationship has meant success for the Hartel Corporation, a firm that develops manufacturing processes, systems and equipment for clients in the food, dairy, cosmetic, pharmaceutical, chemical and bio-technology industries.
Doug says, “If not for SBA and SCORE, I would have to ask myself, would I be an entrepreneur? Would this business exist without the benefit of resources that help small businesses?”
Doug formed his company in 1972 in Fort Atkinson, WI—where his family had been for more than four generations. Doug and his brother Tom made a total investment of $600 and then obtained financing for their venture though a Small Business Administration (SBA) guaranteed loan for $74,000. Fifteen years later, their multi-million dollar company does business both domestically and abroad in countries such as China, Russia, Turkey, France and Germany.
Doug sold his company in 1998. As of 2001, Doug and Tom continue to serve as consultants for the company's new owners. But while their association with the Hartel Corporation will draw to a close next year, Doug has fond memories of working with John. "John made it possible for all of this to happen," he says. "He was our guiding light in getting through what was a difficult time. He was always there when we needed him, for nothing else but a second opinion. I can't say enough about the help that John, SCORE and the SBA gave us."
SCORE Mentor John Thomson and Doug met in 1991 as the result of a referral from the SBA. Hartel was looking for a line of credit and the SBA followed up with his request by sending John, a seasoned SCORE mentor, to evaluate the Hartel Corporation and the request. Thomson was sent to determine whether the business was ready to go to the next level and could handle the increase in financing. Their relationship blossomed, and John and Doug began meeting once a month to discuss all aspects of the company—design, engineering, structure, marketing and finances.
Doug was able to open up to John and they developed a trust in which Hartel felt comfortable sharing delicate information with his SCORE mentor. “John’s involvement with the SBA and his banking relationships strengthened our company,” says Doug.
Their relationship is still going today and, according to Tom, "will probably be going as long as we’re in business." Their mentoring discussions center around vision, future growth and implementation strategies. John also offers mentoring related to reviewing contract bids and their return ratio. Doug and John’s work together has paid off—in the past five years international shipments have increased from 3 percent to 50 percent of total business, and in 1997 sales topped $12 million.
"His [John’s] strength was as somebody who was talented enough and experienced enough to know what we are doing right and what can be improved. It takes a special kind of person to do this—he's solid and understands all the aspects of business. It takes a lot of trust," says Doug.