In today’s AMN Q&A, Bill Skok, president of Elgin Industries, shares the incredible story of his grandfather’s journey to the U.S. at nine years old and the company he founded which is now celebrating 100 years in business.
Elgin is celebrating its centennial this year. The company was founded by your grandfather Martin Skok in 1919. His story is an incredible one. Can you share a bit of it with us here?
My grandfather travelled unattended to the U.S. from Czechoslovakia as a nine-year-old. His ultimate destination was Chicago, where my great-grandmother had recently been widowed. After he was processed on Ellis Island, he was met at the dock by an aunt who paid a fee to ship him as parcel post freight to Chicago. It’s hard to imagine something like that happening today.
He began working in an area factory by the time he was 14, was assembling engines at 16 and became an apprentice mechanic at 21. In 1918, he was running the service department of a Hudson motorcar dealer here in Elgin. One of the most common product failures on many early vehicles were the piston pins. My grandfather developed a significantly better design, the ElginLap piston pin, and then found investors to help him set up manufacturing. He sold more than 36,000 piston pins in his first year, 1919, and established the company that today is Elgin Industries.
One hundred years later, our company serves OEM and aftermarket customers worldwide, and we offer an extensive range of engine and chassis components. And it is now owned and operated by the third-generation of the Skok family.
How does Elgin Industries continue to celebrate and nurture your grandfather’s entrepreneurial spirit in the business today?
One of the most amazing parts of his story was his willingness to help other early automotive industry entrepreneurs gain a foothold in the business, either through direct financial support or simply offering advice. There are some very widely respected brands and product lines that still exist today thanks to his generous spirit.
As you noted, both he and my father, Martin Skok Jr., were open to new ideas and opportunities, whether in adding new product lines, expanding engineering and production capabilities, or offering innovative programs designed to support our customers’ success. That entrepreneurial spirit has enabled us to become one of the world’s largest suppliers of push rods, rocker arms, camshafts, valve springs and timing components. Additionally, I think customers appreciate the value of a full-line supplier that has maintained a strong U.S. manufacturing presence.
What does the company have planned to mark 100 years in business?
We’ve been celebrating the 100thanniversary all year through a variety of activities that have involved our employees and customers. That’s another touchstone of my grandfather’s and father’s success in growing this business – treat everyone like a member of your family. Our employees are fully engaged in the success of our organization and they understand that every customer we serve – whether Ford, Navistar, John Deere or a leading aftermarket distributor – is vital to our growth.
Given that Elgin is a leading exporter of OE and aftermarket components, what are your thoughts on the new USMCA agreement and the Trump administration tariffs? How will these issues affect your business?
We applaud the administration’s efforts to strengthen U.S. manufacturing, and we remain committed to fully leveraging the capabilities of a highly skilled U.S. workforce. Achieving a fair balance of trade is extremely difficult but vital to our national security. The USMCA hasn’t been implemented yet, but we hope it will be and are confident it will help reverse the loss of U.S. manufacturing jobs.
With the rapid pace of technological innovation today and the changes we are seeing in automobiles – including engine types – how is Elgin preparing for the car of the future?
Having a strong portfolio of OE business is becoming increasingly important for success in the aftermarket. As an OE supplier to several of the world’s largest engine and vehicle OEMs, we have deep insight into the changes taking place in the powertrain category. And in many cases, we’re playing a key enabling role in some of these changes by developing next-generation components that help meet our customers’ performance requirements and emissions targets.
These engines and chassis systems will ultimately enter the aftermarket replacement cycle, and we’ll be well prepared to support parts distributors, engine rebuilders and other service providers with the right repair solutions.
Motorsports is a big part of Elgin’s business. Tell us a little bit about the company’s involvement in racing and street performance and how that shapes your products today?
I think it’s clear that my grandfather was a dreamer. Not only did he want to build great parts, but he also wanted to create a globally respected brand. As he explored ways to grow the business, he came into contact with several pioneers in auto racing. In fact, Elgin, Illinois, was home to one of the most popular early racing events – the Elgin National Road Races. He partnered with a local car dealer to develop racecars and establish relationships with talented young promoters and team owners like Andy Granatelli. Within a few years, the Elgin Piston Pin Special became a fan favorite at the Indy 500, where it raced 11 times and earned one pole.
We also campaigned cars in early stock car racing and a variety of additional road races, including the Carrera Panamerica. Needless to say, his passion for racing has been passed down through the generations. We now offer an extensive high-performance product line under the Elgin PRO-STOCK brand.
Elgin is frequently recognized and honored as a leading supplier to a number of Tier One organizations, including Navistar, Jasper, Deere & Co and others. What is the key to being a great supplier partner today?
First of all, I believe that earning the business of leading OEMs and aftermarket customers makes you better at every level of your organization. These are world-class companies with extremely high quality standards, and their expectations ultimately become part of your own culture in terms of your ongoing investments in the best people, equipment and manufacturing processes. We have achieved all of the leading quality certifications – IATF16949, ISO14001, Ford Q1 and more. We were supplier of the year to Deere and Company in 2018, have earned GM’s Mark of Excellence award and Navistar’s Diamond award. But each of these achievements ultimately can be traced back to my grandfather and my father, who taught us that every customer is your most important customer. That’s a cultural advantage that has helped us continue to grow for a full century. And it will be equally important to our success over the next 100 years.