Q&A with Steve Breitzka,

President and CEO of Apex Tool Group

My training was in finance, but I quickly moved into manufacturing and specifically into materials where I demonstrated a knack for problem-solving and an ability to improve delivery performance and inventory turns. From there I accepted a quality leadership role that offered me the opportunity to meet Dr. W. Edwards Deming, the American statistician who taught businesses to improve product design and manufacturing through the application of statistical methods. He was a tremendous leader and spoke directly to me about how to understand and control variation. This opened my eyes to so many things beyond quality and has served me well to this day. I then held general management positions in automotive, aerospace, power quality and sensor businesses before I landed in the tool industry. All these roles were international and the varied experiences prepared me well for everything I confront as the leader of ATG. And the best part is I never had to change employers: the division I started with at Honeywell was acquired by Pacific Scientific, which was later acquired by Danaher Corporation. Danaher and Cooper Industries merged their tool divisions to create ATG in 2010.

When I was a freshman and sophomore in college, one of the boosters of the basketball team was the president of a meat company that sold to restaurants. He took us to his factory and to meet with his customers. I was just so impressed by the way he commanded the room and how he positively impacted the lives of the people around him. It made me think more about what it means to be in business, which up until that point was more of a general concept to me.

I really enjoy driving through and being in the small towns in Germany, like Westhausen and Besigheim. They are so simple and well-kept. With their small shops and pedestrian traffic, they seem to be frozen in time. 

I have both a metric and an SAE set of GearWrench® ratcheting combination wrenches that hang over my workbench in their V racks, and I use them constantly. I just recently used the Crescent® OddJob to work on my ATV and already know it will be another one of my go-to tools

Many people understand only a fraction of what we do, but our brands have many claims to fame. The Armstrong® brand was tapped by the U.S. Military to make new General Mechanics Tool Kits for use on military vehicles and equipment. Our Wiss® snips were introduced more than 75 years ago and remain the top cutting tool among sheet metal workers and HVAC pros. Crescent® introduced the very first adjustable wrench – now a ubiquitous tool – more than 100 years ago.

I’m proud of the commitment to innovation coming from all our 36 brands. On the hand tool side of our business, we have SATA®, which is the hands-down market leader in China. GearWrench® shook up the North American automotive hand tool business with the introduction of the 5º ratcheting wrench in 1996 and never stopped innovating. In power tools, our Cleco® brand has taken a technological approach to assembly lines by building intelligence into the tools, and as a result created solutions that deliver real improvements in productivity. Last, but not least, our soldering products from Weller® touch nearly every smartphone in the marketplace at some point during manufacturing before reaching the consumer.

Again, I believe we can all improve every day. Doing so helps drive unnecessary processes – also known as waste – out of the business and ensures a safe workplace for all of our employees. It gives us the ability to solve problems efficiently and prevent problems each and every day. 

In a word: non-political. We empower our managers to make decisions and learn from their mistakes in order to drive real innovation. People are rewarded for taking calculated risks and doing what they say they’re going to do, not for saying the right thing.

Of all our core values, “Continuous improvement in every aspect of our business” is the one I believe truly defines us. We encourage our team members to ask themselves every day, “What can I do better?” It also helps us live our other core values, which focus on customer service, integrity, innovation and our talent. 

Our vision is to become the leading global supplier of tools that optimize productivity for professional end users in the vehicle service and assembly, industrial, aerospace, electronics and construction markets. We will get there by keeping our focus on the customer and growing through innovation, quality and competitive price points.