Most businesses don’t make it to a third generation; Lincoln Industries has taken on that challenge and is thriving.

Katie Haszard, Kassy Knudson, and Marc LeBaron.Katie Haszard, Kassy Knudson, and Marc LeBaron.Lincoln Industries has always been a privately held family business, and Katie Haszard and Kassy Knudson — granddaughters of the company’s founder — want to keep it that way. Haszard always had a quick answer when anyone asked her as a child what she wanted to do when she grew up.

“I want to work at Lincoln Industries,” was the response from Haszard, the daughter of company president Marc LeBaron and granddaughter of founder Dale LeBaron.

“Part of the deal with Marc was that we needed to work outside the company for a couple of years,” said Haszard. For both, it solidified their understanding of what makes Lincoln Industries so special: its culture. 

“So many companies talk about culture, few want to put in the work to make it great,” said Knudson.

Largest Surface Finishing Company in North America

Lincoln Industries is the largest plating operation in North America.Lincoln Industries is the largest plating operation in North America.Today, as the company is now well into its journey as a third-generation business and as majority female owned, the future is looking strong.  Many consider Lincoln Industries the largest surface finishing company in North America, with over 1 million square feet of manufacturing space in three states and close to 1,000 people.

For Haszard, Director at Lincoln Industries, becoming an owner of the family business has been a dream come true.

“I've wanted to be a part of this company since I was little,” she says. “When I was 7, I had official Lincoln Plating Company business cards made by a family friend back in the day. They said, ‘Katie LeBaron, Boss,’ on the cards, and I thought that was pretty cool.”

Knudson was Vice President of People Resources at Lincoln Industries and now leads its Business Development Department. She has been with the company since 2010 after working in the publishing industry following college. Being an owner of the company has been a destiny of sorts.

“Ever since Katie and I were little, we can remember my dad has always said he wanted Lincoln Industries to continue being a privately held family business,” Knudson says. “That was important to him.”

incoln Industries has over 1 million square feet of manufacturing space in numerous facilties and over 1,000 employees.Lincoln Industries has over 1 million square feet of space in numerous facilties and over 1,000 employees.

A Distinguished Career

For LeBaron, the word “retire” isn’t even in his vocabulary. He remains as passionate today, at age 70, as he was when he first started in the business. 

Lincoln Industries is a major automotive finisher, working with some of the top OEMs in the world.Lincoln Industries is a major automotive finisher, working with some of the top OEMs in the world."My primary focus is on our long-term strategic vision for the next 10-15-20 years,” he says. “I entrust the day-to-day operations to our president, Bill Ellerbee. Setting strategic vision is what he does best, and he uses that strength to help Lincoln Industries and the various nonprofit and civic organizations he works with.”

LeBaron dedicates part of his time to collaborating with a group of entrepreneurial executives in Nebraska, contributing to a startup incubator program, and mentoring young CEOs. 

"Being an entrepreneur is ingrained in me," he says. "I'm involved in various boards, staying active, and maintaining good health. The pace of my involvement depends on the progression of Katie and Kassy, who are steadily assuming more responsibility. As long as they see value in my contributions, I'm committed to continuing."

The leadership transition at Lincoln Industries to his daughters marks a significant departure from LeBaron's experience of inheriting the business from his father, Dale. Having grown up immersed in the company's workings, from living above the original Lincoln Plating operation to assisting his father during his formative years, Marc LeBaron's journey underscores a generational shift in leadership.

LeBaron says he began earning an actual paycheck in 1972 when he was a senior in high school, so he just passed his 55th anniversary in the finishing business. Still, it has been closer to 60+ years over seven decades.

When the 1980s rolled around, LeBaron approached his father about buying the business. He felt the operation needed to expand its base to grow, and he had big ideas on how to do it.

“I was pushing pretty hard because I wanted to take the business in a different direction,” LeBaron recalls. “He was pretty comfortable with how the business was doing, the size of it, and where it was going. We had about 35 people at that point. 

He says keeping Lincoln Industries a private company has always been important, and he has always wanted to see it stay family-owned. But he admits it hasn’t always been easy with the acquisitions and expansion projects they have taken on in recent years and the ever-changing economic landscape that makes business ownership a more difficult endeavor.

“When we hit 200 people, I was worried about how we can maintain this kind of a family culture of respect for the people,” LeBaron says. “Then, we got creative and found ways to continue creating that environment. It continues to work well.”

“I've lived my whole life in Lincoln, and my children and grandchildren live here,” LeBaron says. “For me, it's important that we continue this journey of having a privately held business with good leadership that can impact the community and help our cities thrive.”

Over the decades, LeBaron and his team have created an incredible culture for Lincoln Industries that focuses on its people and helps them succeed in their personal lives with programs and benefits that help them physically and mentally, too.

The family-like culture—LeBaron says, “If a company doesn’t create its culture, someone will create it for them”—has been one of his proudest accomplishments, even more so as Lincoln Industries has grown from 35 to close to 1,000 team members.

“When we hit 200 people, I was worried about how we can maintain this kind of family culture of respect for the people,” LeBaron says. “I thought, sooner or later, I will have to think about how we change that. Then, we got creative and found ways to continue creating that environment. And then I thought when we get to be 500 people, that's going to l be the tipping point. And then, our number went higher, and it continues to work well.”

Lincoln team members work on polishing and protecting massive exhaust pipes for the trucking industry.Lincoln team members work on polishing and protecting massive exhaust pipes for the trucking industry.

Creating Strong Organizational Leaders

Knudson says Lincoln Industries has focused on attracting “fantastic leaders throughout our organization.” That includes developing a “servant leader mindset” that extends to operations managers and Lincoln’s executive team.

Lincoln Industries has its own division to bend and construct tubing.Lincoln Industries has its own division to bend and construct tubing.In addition, Ellerbee remains President of Lincoln Industries. He has been a company veteran since 2008 and was promoted to his current position in 2016.

“We have a world-class leadership team that enables our success,” Knudson says. “Our senior team is a blend of people who have grown their careers in our business and those who joined from the outside. Some of these leaders have worked at large public companies with a wide scope of roles, and they have that context to bring to us.”

Being surrounded by “strong and capable leaders” takes much pressure off her and her sister as they move forward.

“We don't have to do everything,” Knudson says. “We can do what we do best, and others can do what they do best. It's very much a team effort.”

Growth as a core strategy

Haszard and Knudson will now have a major say in how Lincoln Industries manages its operations and planned continued growth. That growth has been significant over the last decade.

It started in 2015 with the purchase of DS Manufacturing in Minnesota, which specialized in small-diameter tube and metal fabrication. 

Much of the expansion occurred in 2018 when Lincoln Industries acquired two vastly different businesses: Southwest Metal Finishing and SourceOne. Southwest Metal Finishing specialized in decorative chrome plating and zinc and aluminum die-cast finishing, which expanded Lincoln Industries’ plating portfolio.

SourceOne, a longtime Lincoln supplier, was acquired in the same year. The company provides additional manufacturing capabilities, engineering and design services, and powder coat finishing to the lineup. This acquisition has been crucial in expanding its’ KhromeWerks aftermarket motorcycle brand and digital display offerings.

“I'm focused on Lincoln Industries being an employer of choice,” Haszard says. “We want our name to be recognized as a special place to work and for people to want to be part of our team.”

The growth saw Lincoln evolve even further into the tube fabrication sector, going from 20,000 square feet to more than 200,000, with an additional 50,000 square feet available to expand.

Their aftermarket brands also saw significant growth in this time. Lincoln Chrome, focusing on the aftermarket Class 8 truck accessory market, has grown from a start-up to a significant business in 10 years. Similarly, the Khrome Werks brand, which focuses on aftermarket products for the motorcycle industry, has grown significantly after a significant rebrand.

Lincoln works help its team members tp succeed in their personal lives as well with benefits and perks that help them physically and mentally, too. There is an on-site fitness center, as well as daily stretching exercises for employees to prevent injury.Lincoln works help its team members tp succeed in their personal lives as well with benefits and perks that help them physically and mentally, too. There is an on-site fitness center, as well as daily stretching exercises for employees to prevent injury.

The Next Generation

Haszard is part of the company’s People Resources Department—a distinction from human resources because Lincoln Industries “doesn’t have employees; we have people”—to focus on community engagement, environmental, and management systems. 

“My focus is two-fold,” she says. “I'm focused on Lincoln Industries being an employer of choice. We want our name to be recognized as a special place to work and for people to want to be part of our team.”

Secondly, Haszard oversees their environmental services and management services departments.

“These two departments are critical to our success as a company; they ensure consistent quality, regulatory compliance, efficiency, and customer satisfaction while driving continuous improvement and innovation,” she says.

Knudson's role in leading the Business Development group involves growing new sales at Lincoln Industries, engineering market-driven innovations, and marketing.

“The company has had success for years by focusing on expanding work with current customers,” Knudson says. “As those segments mature, we want to continue adding to our portfolio of customers and segments to ensure the business's longevity. Our team uses technology and innovation to solve customers’ problems.”

Diversified Beyond Electroplating

A period of growth saw Lincoln Industries’ production go from 1,000 tubes weekly to over 10,000.A period of growth saw Lincoln Industries’ production go from 1,000 tubes weekly to over 10,000.While Lincoln Industries may be known as one of the largest platers in North America, it changed its name from Lincoln Plating in 2007 to show that plating is only one solution it offers. It has also become integral to its customers' manufacturing and distribution processes.

“We've now diversified beyond just plating,” Knudson says. “Our innovation team is very much focused on looking for new technologies that support our customers where they might have challenges and problems, which not only helps differentiate us but also provides more value to those customers.”

For example, Lincoln Industries has been working on certain coatings with high-release properties that can withstand higher temperatures. They have also done extensive work on insulation and various other products they can offer customers where temperatures can be problematic for finishes or other requirements.

“We have always looked for opportunities that can help our customer base with solving problems or help build out capabilities that we don't do today,” Knudson says.

In addition, Knudson has been leading a newer group from SourceOne that manufactures digital displays for clients, a growing market for the company.

“They do interesting and cool things, such as engineering, fabricating, and installing highly customized digital display frames, and they have also done some really big automation projects,” Knudson says. “SourceOne has a unique internal capability with having some powder coating lines and fabrication as well.”

Growth of Branded Products

Khrome Werks’ business has exploded, and many of its products—especially its muffler components—have become extremely popular with cycle enthusiasts.Khrome Werks’ business has exploded, and many of its products—especially its muffler components—have become extremely popular with cycle enthusiasts.Lincoln Industries’ focus on servicing its broad range of customers has been complemented by the growth of its branded products with its two divisions: Lincoln Chrome and Khrome Werks.

Lincoln Chrome, which makes aftermarket heavy-duty trucks and accessories company, doubled its output on bumpers from 2021 to 2022, and that growth is still going strong, so much so that SourceOne added a second and third shift dedicated to nothing but manufacturing parts for the Lincoln Chrome division.

Likewise, Khrome Werks’ business has exploded, and many of its products—especially its muffler components—have become extremely popular with cycle enthusiasts.

“Everything we've done until today is still important, and we intend to grow and do more of those things,” Knudson says. “But we are also excited about growing our brands and see that as something that will play a bigger role in our future.”

Haszard says the company will continue looking for opportunities to grow Lincoln Industries’ finishing operations if an acquisition makes sense.

“We have always looked for opportunities that can help our customer base with solving problems or help build out capabilities that we don't do today,” she says. “That's where the Minnesota and Wisconsin acquisitions happened; they're doing the types of manufacturing or finishing that we don't do in Lincoln and would take a lot of capital resources to do here. We are looking at how we grow those businesses and continue to put larger volume, high margin work in those facilities.”

LeBaron and his team have created an incredible culture over the decades that focuses on giving back to its people, including taking some employees who meet personal fitness goals on a retreat to Colorado where they walk up a large mountain, where they meet LeBaron at the top.LeBaron and his team have created an incredible culture over the decades that focuses on giving back to its people, including taking some employees who meet personal fitness goals on a retreat to Colorado where they walk up a large mountain, where they meet LeBaron at the top.

Outside Advisory Board Helps Family Leaders

Katie Haszard, Marc LeBaron, and Kassy Knudson.Katie Haszard, Marc LeBaron, and Kassy Knudson.A big advantage for Haszard and Knudson—which LeBaron also enjoys—is having an outside advisory board for Lincoln Industries to help give an outside view of business strategies.

Haszard and Knudson say they will rely on those advisors to help them transition Lincoln Industries into the next generation.

“Marc has been very strategic in cultivating an advisory board that brings different perspectives and ideas. Our board of advisors comes from diverse backgrounds and helps us look at strategic issues from different viewpoints. They provide invaluable ideas during every meeting, which help us confirm the direction we want to go or pivot and highlight where change is needed.”

Visit https://lincolnindustries.com