Matt Guse

Apr 5, 2023 hireCNC

My CNC Story - Matt Guse


Matt Guse’s manufacturing career began in small-town Wisconsin over 37 years ago and has grown from humble beginnings to now owning (with his wife Vicki) and serving as President of MRS Machining Co. Matt recently discussed with Jon House of hireCNC his recruiting challenges and the ups and downs of being an entrepreneur.


hireCNC: How did you get started in CNC machining?

Matt: My dad was a machinist for most of his life. One summer, they were looking for someone to sweep the floors and clean the machines. That was something that interested me because I had always worked with my hands on the family farm and fixing things. One week I was asked to run a CNC horizontal machining center because a guy was on vacation. It went from there and I took interest in it.

I had a good mentor that was helping me, and he obviously saw something that I didn't see. He said I’d have a good career path because I caught on quickly. I worked there for two years but the owner of the company - who was going to pay for my school and send me there - was killed in a car accident. They closed their doors about a month later.

But my dad and I were still working there - that's how MRS evolved. That's how I got into it. I decided to go to school, help my dad part time, and here we are today.

hireCNC: Was it clear to you in high school, that this was the route that you wanted to take with your career, or you just happened to fall into it?

Matt: I knew my dad worked in a machine shop. I didn't even know what a machine shop was. I thought it was something that just miraculously formed some kind of metal. What really got me involved in it was when I decided to start sweeping the floor and cleaning the machines. Naturally, you started seeing things being made and chips forming. Kids in high school don't see that. That's why I always want to be open to tours, good or bad. If a kid walks away from here and thinks ‘nope, that's something I don't want to do’, then that's something they won't waste a bunch of money on. That's the number one goal. The number two goal is just exposure. See what we do, see what we make. Hey, if it's cool - great. Why don't you come in and job shadow for a day and try it out for 4 or 5 hours? Just walk around, talk to people, ask all the questions, kind of get a feel for it. If that's still interesting, then we can start talking about employment and leading down that path.

hireCNC: At MRS are you job shop or do you do more high-volume work? What do you specialize in?

Matt: We're a contract precision manufacturer for many industries. We're not high volume. A 1000 piece run for us is quite a bit. The short run prototype and quick turnaround - that's us. That's our forte. We have a young workforce through all the things I've just talked about, so we're always innovating. We have all the same machines, all the QC stuff, very diversified. Recessions don't bother us too much.

We're 100% Mazak. We started from the get-go, the conversational programming was key to us because we'd turn parts around in 24-48 hours, which is kind of unheard back in the day. Nowadays parts are more complex. Most parts these days require some form of 3D machining. Most all the new machines we purchase have minimum of 5 or more axis.  We can program 80% of our components right at the machine and the other 20% we use Mastercam for programming.

hireCNC: If you were to give advice to somebody that was going to open a similar shop, maybe in a different area, would you recommend that they standardize with a specific machine brand? Have you found that to be beneficial for your shop, recruiting, training, etc? There are many shops with two, three, four different machine brands.

Matt: Standardizing was key to us because everyone is cross trained. If a machine goes down, we can take the part and put it on another machine. If “John Doe” runs the “X Brand” and he's the only one that knows how to run it and goes on vacation or gets sick, the machine sits. We don't have that. That's why we say try to standardize what you want and what you're going to do. Some machines can hold tenths - high end million-dollar machines, can hold a couple microns - depending on what you want to do, what you want to focus on. The thing that was the key to us for standardized machines was service. We're out in the middle of some cornfields and woods, and if something breaks, the guy can't just drive ten minutes and be here to look at our machine. It's a four-hour minimum ride, so we had to rely on service from the distributor, and we had to make sure it was a quality machine and going to hold up.

hireCNC: When you're hiring, are you typically hiring somebody that has machining experience from a local school or are you hiring somebody that was working on the farm that wants a career change and you have to teach them from zero?

Matt: It's everything in between. We don't have a lot of people coming in here with 10 or 15-years experience because they're all taken and happy with their jobs. Like I say, more people are going out of the trade than coming in, but the need is going up. We have to as employers and shop owners, try to correct that as much as we can. We'll take anybody and train them. And we have a good training program here. All our team bought into it because they don't want to work 60, 70 hours. They'd rather work 50. They want to see people succeed in life. The culture is the big thing. You have got to have good culture.

We’ve also got to get more women in manufacturing. That's something people don't realize. They think it's a male dominant field, but we have a lot of women working here. Women are detailed orientated and that’s a machinist. That's what you need. In this trade, that's key.

hireCNC: How important are certifications when hiring people for MRS?

Matt: It’s not important, but you must pay attention to detail, are willing to learn and have a good attitude then the rest is easy. We work with a lot of area high schools. That's why our team is so young. You must be in the schools. If you're not, you're losing out because kids are hungry for attention and mentors. Every kid has a gift and talent - you’ve got to help them find it. There's a lot of talent out there and kids in school only know what they know until you help them find it.

hireCNC: You mention work ethic that you're looking for. Are there other characteristics that you're looking for when you're hiring someone that doesn't have a lot of the pertinent machining experience?

Matt: First thing is attitude, then if you like fixing things, “farming” - it seems they catch on much faster than someone that doesn't know what the word machining means. On the other side of it, they're good with computers. They like playing video games, or they're tech savvy. This month we had a kid job shadow, and he didn't even know what machining was. By the end of the day, he compared it to playing a video game on his cell phone. He went into the CAD system. He saw the model, pointed it out, and we showed him how to program some stuff in Mastercam. He caught on just like it was nothing. Then we put him on the machine, and we started showing him around. He was zooming in on the graphics and showing the program. He caught on, but he didn't know speeds and feeds or work fixturing. I guess it can go both ways.

hireCNC: Could you talk about a little bit about the progression from starting at the bottom to becoming a shop owner?

Matt: There are three things if you're starting a business. Number one is be prepared to work 24/7. Number two - be willing to risk everything financially. Put it all on the table, because if you don't, you're not going to succeed. And the third one, is probably the most important - your family, your wife, your kids, have to be 100% on board.

Because if they're not all in, then it's going to cause issues. Expect to do that for three to five years. If you make it through those 3-5 years, you'll be very successful. That's how it was for us. Luckily, I had a wonderful wife, and my mom was always on board. And I tell you, we put every dime, nickel we had on the table at times, because starting out, you'll have one or two customers, and tomorrow they could be gone.

My dad and I got into it by accident because when the original shop closed down, they had some expensive material. They had Inconel and Monel - they made ball valves at the time. That customer just asked us if we could finish machining it. We did.

We didn't know how to run a business. What's a balance sheet? What's an income statement? We knew none of that, so I had to learn it myself.

When I was 21 years old, I asked my dad, ‘where are we going with MRS?’ He wanted to stay in the garage and be small. I decided to grow it and he back me. I ended up joining a peer group and learning a bit more about business income sheets, balance sheets, setting that all up and learning how to build a business plan. One and three-year plans. Have a plan for success. There were bumps and hiccups along the way, but the peer group was key to me.

We also started hiring people smarter than us. That was tough at first. My dad was a micromanager, and I kind of was too. It's like giving someone your car to drive. You just want to make sure they're careful with it. Once we got over that hump, things really took off.

Nowadays, you have to be recruiting 24/7. My part time job is working with high schools and kids. I'm not into the day-to-day stuff anymore because I have to continue to keep finding good team members to grow. Your best recruiters are your team members. Wherever you go, have your business cards, hand them out, you never know. Back in the Depression years, people came to you to sell themselves to come work for you. Those roles are reversed. We have to sell ourselves in order for people come work for us, and we do have some amazing folks here

hireCNC: What preconceived notions should we set straight regarding the CNC trade? Someone who's not familiar with the industry - what would they perceive that probably isn't true?

Matt: It's high tech. Everybody thinks it's just a machine - you're low skilled. That's incorrect. Being a machinist, you're really three or four things. You're an engineer, you're an operator, you're a chemist, metallurgist and have to figure out alot things quickly. You must know what tools, what inserts and must keep up with new technologies as they evolve. There are many factors. Every time you run a machine; every procedure is a little different. Things happen, and you must be able to react to it. It’s clean. It's not this dirty, grimy place as that’s gone by the wayside. It's like going to a hospital in some shops. It's fun, it’s science and you’re making a pieces of art everyday.

hireCNC: Finally, where do you see the industry or the technology in five to ten years? Is there anything you're excited about or anything you see as inevitably changing in the industry?

Matt: AI is going to develop a lot of cool things where you can just plug in a model, and it automatically programs a machine for you. Robotics are cool in certain areas. What we do here is hard to automate because we're only doing few pieces, and something completely different on the next job. For some shops automation is great, but the AI, I'm really excited about that. And cutting tools. Back in the 90s, we had about five grades of carbide. Now days there’s thousands. You could go to school just for tooling alone and get a degree. Every week, we have our tool salesmen come in here and we trust them. They're always bringing in new cutting tools. We have cycle times on parts that took an hour but gotten them down to half the time just because of the new technology.

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