2 long-term employees celebrate with the VP of Sales

They Have Just About Seen It All

Two long time employee-owners share their memories as Michigan City celebrates 25-years.

Words: Dave Barr
Photos: Kimberle Laws

When you’ve been around Central States Manufacturing as long as Ken Hanft and Malcolm Reed have – you’ve seen just about everything. The company has experienced unbelievable growth during Ken’s 23-year career placing him third in tenure within the entire company. Malcolm has seen people come and go while lifelong friendships have been established in his 22-years placing him just behind Ken in company seniority at number five.

Like all EO’s, Ken and Malcolm traveled different paths to get to Central States. Sometimes, it’s all about being at the right place in life when an opportunity comes around.

“It’s a weird story, but I worked at a temp service,” Malcolm began. “I had worked there for a year and never got hired and never missed a day at work or anything. By that time, I was kind of irritated. I’ll be honest with you. I was 30-years old at the time and so it was time to look for another job. One of the quality control guys there told me that a place right up the street was hiring called Central States and that his brother-in-law works there. I asked him who his brother-in-law was. Believe it or not, he said Ken Hanft! He told me to put him down as a reference. I didn’t know Kenny well at that time. We went to high school together. He was a senior when I was a freshman. He graduated with my sister.”

Things happen for a reason. The karma of working hard for a year and believing in himself sent Malcolm to our front door. Little did he know what was waiting for him on the other side.

“To make a long story short, I got an interview here with a gentleman named George Cronus. We went through the interview; it was going well and the last thing he said was how do you know Ken. I just about lost it. I told him, look I’m going to be honest with you, sir. I do not even know him and so I told him the story. He listened and said, you know what, just for your honesty, we’re going to hire you. That’s how it all came about. It’s still crazy to me today the way that it happened and here Ken and I are together 20-plus years later.”


Ken Hanft, a 23 year employee-owner presented with an award

Ken Hanft has spent 23-years with Central States as an employee-owner.

It’s all about the culture.

Those types of stories touch every location on the CSMI map.

Between Ken and Malcolm, they held seven different positions in Michigan City and both EO’s have seen a plant in its infancy, expanding to an ever-evolving, high-producing integral part of Central States success. Their memories not only show the growth of our company but their personal growth as well.

“It was pretty different just because the culture stuff was already in place when I got here,” Ken said. “In previous jobs there was never really anything like that. It was kind of a shock right off the bat with the meetings, organization and how things were done. That was probably the biggest thing. Even though we were small, you couldn’t tell that by how we operated. Since then, I’ve seen us add on twice to the main building. We’ve had a trailer barn built.  Our new parking lot is almost finished and now renovations in the office. Just lots of change and growth over the years. We were the second plant and now we have ten. I could have never dreamed we would be where we are today.”


The reasons for staying with one company for that amount of time for them both – family and of course the Central States ESOP program.

Today, it is very unusual to have someone…let alone two people stay at the same company for 20-plus years. Financial freedom, job security and the promise of a comfortable life once their working days were over has kept both EO’s wearing Central States on their chests for almost a half century each.

A long-time Purdue Boilermakers fan, Ken and his wife Chris have been married for 27-years and love to travel and visit wineries. They have two sons who are both in college.

Malcom and his wife Tonya have a blended family of two sons and three daughters that includes six- grandchildren. They also like to travel especially taking cruises. They recently got back from Curacao, Aruba and Haiti and have another trip planned for July.

So what keeps them coming back to work every day?

“I’d say some of the main reasons, of course, would be the ESOP,” Ken replied. “I have millionaire friends as crazy as that sounds. I have people that I’ve built relationships with around Central States from all over, not just Michigan City and a lot of times they pushed me. I love to see people grow. It was, quite honestly, for my family, too.”

“There’s no doubt there are definite benefits with the ESOP that’s for sure,” Malcom continued. “Another big influence for me are people that I’ve seen work hard, who are great people and have retired from Central States and gone on to live their best lives. I used to work with a guy named Andres. He lives in Honduras. But he started with Central States in Arkansas. When the doors opened here, he was one of the people that came and started working.  He’s retired now and lives in Honduras. He travels from there to Los Angeles every other month because his kids live there. I talked to him all the time. Stuff like that keeps me going.”


Malcolm Reed, a 22 year employee-owner presented with an award

Malcolm Reed has spent 22-years with Central States as an employee-owner.

If I could give my younger self and other EO’s advice.

If Ken and Malcolm could tell their younger selves what they know now the message would be the same to them as it is to current EO’s.

“Stay the course,” Ken advised. “It’s a long journey but it will pay off in the end for you and your family.”

Malcom chimed in with similar advice. “Hang in there. When I first started here, they talked about ESOP, but I’ll be honest with you, I don’t know if it’s because I was still young, but I never really thought that I would be where I’m at now as far as the ESOP goes and I don’t think I really started paying attention to it until I was 10- years into it and then here in the last three to four years -it’s just unbelievable. My dad always told me that there’s light at the end of the tunnel, and I see exactly what he meant by that now.”

To learn more about the ESOP, and what it really means to be an employee-owner, visit our CAREERS page or stop on by and see us, talk to other employee-owners, and apply for your next dream job with lots of benefits for your future.


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