Building A Leadership Culture | Jeff Bullock Interviews Roger Hargens

Life Of Leadership: An Interview With Roger Hargens

MORE ABOUT Roger Hargens

As President, Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of the Board of Managers, is an experienced sales executive and business leader. Mr. Hargens was an early investor and Director of Accumold and was promoted to his current position in February 2000.

Prior to joining Accumold on a full-time basis, he was President and CEO of Heartland Machinery and Sales Inc., a company he founded in 1995. Prior to founding Heartland, Mr. Hargens served in a variety of positions during a seventeen-year career at Iowa Machinery and Supply Company in Des Moines, Iowa. There he served as Regional Sales Manager, Vice President of Marketing and as a Director, receiving many awards for outstanding performance and teamwork.

Roger began his professional career in 1974 at LH Kurtz Company in Des Moines, Iowa as a Territory Manager. Mr. Hargens currently serves on the Iowa Innovation Council, the Board of Directors for the Iowa Association of Business and Industry (ABI) and the Des Moines Area Community College Foundation Board. Lifetime member of the Society of Manufacturing Engineers.


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Jeff Bullock: Well, we’re here today with Roger Hargens who’s founder and CEO and kind of the creative genius, if that doesn’t embarrass you, of a company called Accumold, which is a very, very successful company in Iowa. And as I understand it, Roger stated in a garage.

Roger Hargens: It did. I had a business partner that was a tool-and-die maker and a mold maker. And I knew him through other businesses and yeah, he started and I joined him right away as an original investor and director part of the team 30 years ago.

Jeff Bullock: So that would have been 1985 or 86?

Roger Hargens: 85 yes.

Jeff Bullock: So just tell us about Accumold, what you can tell us about it. What do you do? What are you? How many employees you have?

Roger Hargens: Sure. Our company started out in a truck garage, a utility truck garage, and we built our manufacturing, and there, my business partner had a great idea of how to invent to micro molding what we could do to really solve problems for the high-speed electronics industry to get consistent parts at a very high temperature thermal plastics. So this was the original idea and we started with that and grew for the first 15 years.

We were in a truck garage. And when we moved to our new facility, I was on the board. And then we, in 1999, we looked at what did we want to do so we added a couple people to our board of directors. And they decided I should be there to run the company full time as president and CEO.And we had one of our current people wanted to retire and then a few years later my business partner retired as well.

So in 2000, I took over as president and CEO of the company. And we moved to place in Metro North Business Park in Ankeny across town. So we were no long land locked to it. So we moved to a new facility and optioned all the land around us all 17 acres. And since then we built many buildings on our property where we started with just a few people and now we are 334.

Jeff Bullock: Wow, that’s quite a successful trajectory of growth in a relatively short amount of time but how did you get there? I mean, you don’t come out of the room thinking about thermal plastics and moldings and all this. How? What’s the story behind this story? How did you get interested in this in the first place? How did all that happen?

Roger Hargens: I grew up in the farm in Western Iowa and the middle of seven boys. So on the farm, you always had to be creative and think about how you can keep things running on the farm, keep the machinery working, make sure all the livestock were square away. So I think a lot of these came from my early days as a kid with great parents who taught all of us seven boys how to work hard and be honest and treat people how you want to be treated.

But we all liked to work on cars, so we all were kind of gear heads when we were young kids, very young kids. So having a natural inclination to mechanical ability was all of us. We all had that ability.

So as I grew up, I graduated from high school.

Jeff Bullock: Which was where?

Roger Hargens: In Western Charter High School, a long time ago. Graduated in 1970. I wanted to join the Air Force, and I wanted to fly fighter jets. But I had a terrible car accident. It was no fault of my own. it was by another person and all the money I’d saved all went to pay for my hospital bills and the Air Force didn’t want me anymore.

So I graduated at the ripe old age from high school at 17 because I started school young. I left the farm after harvest in the Fall of 1970, knew nobody in Des Moines with my 57 Chevy, another one, and $50 on my clothes neatly folded in the car and came to Des Moines.

Jeff Bullock: Wow… wow…

Roger Hargens: 1970

Jeff Bullock: So 1970, so seven boys… tell me about your mother. How did she raise seven boys?

Roger Hargens: She’s a saint.

Jeff Bullock: We have three boys and that’s enough. Now you double that and add one. that’s like…

Roger Hargens: Well, my mom was a saint. My dad was a gentle giant of a tall German six-foot-five, very much of a structured person but very fair. But you know, they took great care of all seven of us. We didn’t have enough as kids but we had enough. We had our own food. They loved us. They took us to church and all the right things we got as kids even though we rebelled like a lot of kids did at those teenage years, And it really served us well through our whole life. So they taught us those core principles of working hard and being honest and treating people how you want to be treated.

Jeff Bullock: Now I was going to ask you, so there’s always, you know, one of the myths of America is that we’re self-made. You know, we’re not self-made. We’re the products of those important influences in our lives. And clearly, your parents were important influences. So they taught you hardwork, honesty, faith. As you look back to that portion of your life, are there other people in your life that had similar influences or who added to the work that your parents had done for your and your brothers?

Roger Hargens: That’s a very good question. I would say a couple of key people in high school. One was my football coach. He was an outstanding person, very much of a person that wanted to develop people and I saw that. He had a faith in us as football players especially in me when I was not the biggest guy on the team but I had to do it all. You know both sides of the ball. And we had a very successful season because of the whole team. I learned how to be a team player very young.

Jeff Bullock: How is that carried over to what you are doing today?

Roger Hargens: I totally believe in being a team player is the secret to life. You have to really understand, you know, what your skills are and how you can truly develop them and hone them and get better but bring people along as well. I believe that is really the secret because one person cannot make a company. 334 people make a company and we’re growing way past that. We have 333 outstanding people there.

Jeff Bullock: So when you think of your company, it sounds like your thinking of it kind of as the leader, as the president-CEO, your thinking about a way to build that team. So it’s about the team. That’s the… without the team, the company is not successful. Is that correct?

Roger Hargens: Absolutely correct because we have a smart, hardworking, bright group of people all the way through the business. And people ask me all the time, “What is my job? What is my role?” in Accumold. My job is to build the team and lead the team. And I really believe that is the secret to success and develop a collaborative style of leadership from the person that’s brand new employed to somebody that’s been there 26 years. That’s the pieces you got to tie together. And there’s a lot of smart, hardworking, young folks out there that are… that we have to tap into.

Jeff Bullock: So how do you nurture that collaborative style in your company? So if I were a young millennial, if I’m 20 years old and interviewing for you, I’m working for your company, how may I had experienced collaboration within your culture?

Roger Hargens: I think the way new people experience, they see the leadership of the team, of the company, not just me but the whole top leadership, middle leadership teams, we work together, we trust each other. We respect each other. We build a culture of productivity. You get that from innovativeness and people that are serious about their job but enjoy their work at the same time.

Some will work a lot of hours to make sure that projects get finished one time. But we really have got to make sure we’re doing our job right at the top first. If not, you cannot expect the new people that are coming in to do it.

I think that the other thing that we need to recognize is most people want challenges. My age group is different from people that are 40 and different that the millennials. It’s different challenges for different people. And we have got to recognize to make sure people understand that people want to be challenge. I did when I was in that age group. And the millennials are no different. They want to be challenged. And if we don’t challenge them, and recognize their skills and challenge them, somebody will. They’ll self-select that and go and find that place or career path where somebody will challenge them.

Jeff Bullock: So it sounds like you really care about your people. And when I listen to a lot of the stereotypes about the larger media like presidents and CEO’s, make it seem like that those of us and those kind of leadership positions really don’t care about our people. But that, when I listen to you, I just hear great passion for your people and your company. Where did that come from? That certainly isn’t the stereotype, and it sounds like when I hear you talk about that coming, that’s a place I want to be at because it’s an environment I want to be in. Where did that come from?

Roger Hargens: I think it just comes from a… I guess over the years, I’ve gone to so much training and learned to add to some basics as I talked about growing up. But I’ve always been a person that always wanted like a sponge, I need a… I always wanted to improve myself, learn more about how I can become a better manager, leader, employee, what have you. And I think over time, it’s just, it’s assimilated in me and it’s part of the results I’ve seen at bringing people along, are quite phenomenal.

I got to tell you another one, it’s not just the millennials. We had a gentleman apply with us, 9 years ago, had his plant closed south of Des Moines in Osceola. He was 60 on three almost 64. He came in and said, “I’m a tool maker. I need some work. You know, could you guys mind hire me? Just part time, 15-20 hours a week.”

So I handed him into the tool room and said, “Guys, talk to this gentleman, and see what he says.” And he said, “Oh yeah. We think he can help. We’ll give him a try.” So then, the 90-day introductory period, I said, “So should we keep this gentleman?” They said, “What do you mean keep him? Of course, we’re going to keep him!”

So we kept him and then he came in to me six months later, and said, “Roger, I kind of like that my wife likes I’m kind of making good money again, and now I’ve been retired once, but would you mind if I go full time?” And I said, “Well okay. That’s good.” Anyone pond up working 40 hours a week plus and then he came in to me when he was ready to turn 65 years old and he asked me, “can I have a sit with you?” And I said, “Sure!” He said, “I’m turning 65 another month and I want to know if Accumold has a mandatory retirement age.” And I said, “Yes we do. It’s 95.” And he thought that was great. He just turned 73, a few weeks ago.

Jeff Bullock: Oh my Lord.

Roger Hargens: Doing fantastic. Loving his work. Very good to the younger folks, to the millennials, and the experienced veteran. A great collaborative culture.

Jeff Bullock: They’re learning from him. He’s learning from them.

Roger Hargens: Absolutely.

Jeff Bullock: And so, one of my theories about any organization, you know, certainly, you are a highly focused organization and strategy… strategies, strategic planning is critical but my argument is culture. The culture of the organization, Trump’s strategy because we can never plan completely, perfectly, but the right culture will overcome our deficiencies in planning and respond to whatever the challenge may be. Would you agree with that?

Roger Hargens: I would totally agree with that. I think we have a culture where we respect people. It’s a great work environment. But more importantly, we share a lot of data with them. Tomorrow, where having our quarterly employee where we share how we’re doing, how we’re as a plan, as a company, things that we need, initiatives to improve on, what have you. We share. We try to communicate on a regular basis. But I couldn’t agree more. The culture really is why people come to us and why people stay with us.

Jeff Bullock: That’s very heartening for our millennials audience because as you know, that’s what they respond to. And so as we all like to talk about our, you know, success stories, etc. but the best lessons in life that I’ve learned are from the mistakes I’ve made, from the bad decisions I’ve made, or the poor decisions I’ve made. I guess that way I’d frame this question is you know, what are some of your hardest lessons that you’ve learned relative to the topic of leadership that have made you, you know, I’m not asking you to disclose all this stuff, but you know, we learn from hard lessons. What are some of the harder lessons that we can learn from as we begin in our careers? How would you respond to that?

Roger Hargens: I think one of the hardest lessons early on, I have learned was collaboration. You can’t go it alone. No matter you’re one-man individual and you think you can change everything, you’re wrong. You can have an impact but learning early how to collaborate with everybody in the organization. No matter if they’re the building maintenance all the way up to the CFO. You got to make sure that we collaborate.

And the other thing right along with that is learning early how to trust others, making sure that you are able to hand off, delegate and trust. Today, we’re in a position where I can leave for 2 weeks as I did this past January, been in Asia then in Europe.

And we have a leadership team that gets it done everyday, everyone, 24/7, never a question at. Everything is done in a professional, honest, correct way, and that is really important. So learning to trust your leadership team is key.

Jeff Bullock: Sound like you love what you do. You’re passionate about what you do. You are also a person of faith. And none of us, lives forever. We do but in eternity. What do you want your legacy to be when we’re all gone from this life? What are the three most important things that you would like your… to read about yourself?

Roger Hargens: I think the first thing would be about helping others. I really believe that we’re supposed to work hard, being honest, treat people like you want to be treated. And with that, means you should earn all you can, save all you can, but the third most important is give all you can, and giving means helping others. That’s one of my biggest things, and making sure that we really do it in a meaningful way. Helping others whether it’s for college or in your local community, or internationally. You know, there are people that are very disadvantaged in a lot of areas.

The second thing is really making huge advancements in our advanced manufacturing. And what I believe, that does for us long term, is to help people be gainfully employed not just in our company but in the whole industry which lifts the whole industry in America. I really believe that is huge.

And the third thing is making sure I took great care of my family.

Jeff Bullock: So Roger, one of the things that really good leaders are looking for is they’re looking to build culture and to attract new people. And a lot of our audience are millennials. And so please, take this moment, tell our millennial audience how they can learn more about your company and if they’re interested in doing some more research, how do they go about doing that?

Roger Hargens: Sure. The easiest way is to apply at our website. Our website’s There’s an employment page, click on it, and go ahead and apply. We’re looking for people that really want a career path in advanced manufacturing, high-tech manufacturing. We have many different areas. We run 24/7. We have five ships. We’re looking for technical people whether it’s automation techs, programmers, tooling, mold people, processing, production, quality. All the areas of our business is growing so feel free to apply. If you’re looking for a real challenge, here’s a challenge and a career path. Thank you.

Jeff Bullock: Great. Well, Roger, thank you. It’s great to have you with us. I hope that you consider coming to the University of Dubuque some day. We got all, you know we’re a campus full of millennials, obviously, but we’re campus that our story very much parallels your story as an organization. And as a fellow leader, what I  can say is just really the fun is being around with people who love what they do and love each other, who together are doing the impossible and we think that’s what makes the world go round. And it’s a privilege for us to be able to talk to you and people like you so thank you for your good work and we look forward to talking again someday hopefully.

Roger Hargens: Thank you very much.

Photo ofRoger Hargens
Roger Hargens
Job Title
President & CEO
1711 SE Oralabor Rd,
Ankeny, Iowa, 50021

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