It was a matter of proximity and trust – along with a little bit of persistence – that brought Brent “Bull” Montgomery to West Ohio Tool some 25 years ago as the company’s first non-family employee. After a quarter-century of service, Bull is still going strong and “keeping production moving.”
Prior to starting West Ohio Tool Co. as a tool sharpening business in 1989, company founder Kerry Buchenroth and Montgomery worked together at various Honda Motor plants and departments, occasionally trading roles as each other’s boss until Kerry left to forge his own path.
When Kerry opened his shop, he asked Bull if he’d come along, but Montgomery was just starting a family and had a steady salary and good benefits from Honda. “I told him to let me get my family started, then give me a year,” Bull said. “He held me to it.”
Kerry kept his former colleague on the radar with regular phone calls to check in and made another call a month before the last of Bull’s three sons was born. He then spent about three months trying West Ohio Tool on for size on Saturdays while maintaining his day job at Honda before deciding to go all in with the Buchenroth family and their new venture.
“I knew I could trust him,” Bull said of Kerry. “I’d seen him successfully dig himself out of dire straits, and I would have never made the switch (from Honda) if I hadn’t known him.”
Originally eyeing a career in electronics after high school, Bull became disillusioned with the training and signed on with Honda as a spot welder, moving onto MIG welding, aluminum machining, ferrous machining and, ultimately, tool making, which is his primary role at West Ohio Tool.
When Bull joined West Ohio Tool in 1997, the company acquired a new Walter Computerized numerical control machine for tool manufacturing, and the CNC process was a completely new world for him.
“I didn’t have a clue,” he said of CNC grinding. But Kerry had faith in his former Honda co-worker and gave him the room to learn. “He said I was capable of doing it, and it was just one of many things that you learn as you go.”
Being hands-on is what Bull finds most rewarding about working for West Ohio Tool. “If you’re willing to step up and learn, you have a lot of freedom to make calls and decisions – as long as you know what you’re doing,” he said. “When you’re allowed to make that call, you learn how to do things on your own. You take ownership. If you make a mistake, you fix it or learn not to do it again.”
Now that he and his wife are empty nesters (a place in life they’ve learned to appreciate), Bull spends his time keeping up with his gun and beer stein collections and enjoying local attractions and events.
After 40 years of working metal, he can finally start thinking about enjoying retirement in five or six years and has some advice for those coming up through the ranks: Never shy away from opportunity and keep your eyes on the future.
“Learn all you can while you’re young; work all the overtime you can while you’re young and save as much money as you can while you’re young so that when you’re older you don’t have to worry about it,” he said.
Of those three nuggets of advice, knowledge is the most important thing, he said. And even this old dog is still learning new tricks.
“When I graduated high school at the age of 18, I somehow mysteriously knew that I wasn’t finished learning,” Bull said. “And there’s still a lot of stuff I don’t know.”