Enercon Engineering: Delivering Bespoke Power Solutions to Ensure a Fortified Future

by IS_Indust

When it comes to business success stories, there are many factors that come into play. From innovative products and services to effective marketing strategies, there are countless variables that can impact a company’s growth and profitability. One often overlooked aspect of success is a company’s culture. Enercon attributes its success to its vibrant culture, which today emphasizes the core values of Team, Excellence, and Commitment to all stakeholders of the business: employers, employees, customers, and partners.

When Ed Tangel founded Enercon, he was leaving a toxic work environment filled with closed-door meetings, and he wanted to start a company where everyone wanted to be there, where people actually enjoyed their time at work. One of Ed Tangel’s original core values was… FUN, literally. Ed used to say, “If you’re not having fun, it’s time for you to find another place to work.” And he meant it! Once, two of his key leaders were not having fun, arguing and complaining, so Ed took them both to a local pub to eat, drink, and talk things through. Afterward, they all decided what they had to do to have fun again, and back to work they went! Ed is a hands-on leader who mobilizes people into effective actions – both leaders spent the rest of their careers at Enercon having tons of fun!

In addition to Ed’s concept of enjoying one’s work, he considered everyone who worked with him family. He demonstrated that by always making himself available to anyone who needed to talk. That was part of the culture; everyone mattered, no matter their position; they were a part of his team. He called it his “Open Door Policy.” If you needed help with work, family, or anything – everyone knew that Ed was available and would listen, think with you, and then provide the help you needed. For Ed, it was the idea of family, and once you were on his team, you became family – someone to help, someone to get help from. Ed often declares, “One of my biggest satisfactions in our success at Enercon is that we are providing a livelihood for all the families that work here.”

Ed Tangel and Bill Rogers established Enercon with four other passionate individuals, two of whom were named Bill, a guy named Diz, and Joyce. Ed’s primary motivation was to work at a place he could enjoy; after all, one spends most of their waking hours at work, so you might as well enjoy your time. And Ed, the Bills, and Diz had so much fun they brought their children and friends. Ed brought two of his sons, Larry & Neil; Diz brought his son, Bob; two Bills brought their sons, Ron & Mike; while the third Bill brought his friend Jerry, and Jerry then brought in his two sons, Jerry & Steve! In just a few years, Enercon became a multi-family… family business!

Like many classic American startups, Enercon began in a small garage; however, unlike most startups, Enercon was profitable from day one. Within the first three years, the company exported over 50% of its products to markets that were growing faster than their power infrastructure could support. Most of those countries were not the fastest growing markets nor the most inviting, especially in 1975! Countries such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Indonesia, Columbia, and Venezuela. Today, most of these countries are important world economies, though then, few American companies were going there to offer their services, which demonstrates one of Ed’s explicit strategies: go where the competition is not.

The focus on exports set Enercon apart from its competitors and helped create its unique identity in the on-site power marketplace, allowing the company to grow rapidly in size, reputation, and market share. Enercon’s early success prepared it for the recession that occurred in the early ’80s, and its resulting financial strength allowed it to capture territory by acquiring a small gen-set packaging company, Custom Engineering. The integration of the two companies was seamless, as both companies had the same target customers – the engine/genset dealers and distributors. Many of Enercon’s multiple genset paralleling projects involved another company providing the packaging services for those gensets, while every multiple genset project, requiring enclosures, also required paralleling switchgear. Hence, the two markets, though distinct, are symbiotic; being able to provide both the paralleling gear and the packaged gensets provided Enercon with a marginal utility in the marketplace, which many customers valued. Enercon’s capacity to provide all the electrical and mechanical expertise necessary to take a customer’s prime mover and make it into a containerized power plant was unique at that time and remains rare today. Enercon calls it their “Complete Solutions” approach.

At the helm of Enercon today is a duo of leadership: Ed’s son, Larry Tangel, CEO, a visionary leader who upholds the company’s founding principles as set by his father; and Nick Keever, President, who emulates the commitment, focus, and work ethic of the greatest generation as demonstrated by his story. Nick joined Enercon as a 21-year-old Intern fresh out of university, and 22 years later, after positions in Quality, Project Management, Operations, and leading the company’s Military division, Nick was appointed President in July 2020. That just rarely happens today and is attributable to the fortunate combination of the human that Nick Keever is, the mentorship from Ed and Larry, and the culture at Enercon.

Under Larry’s strategic vision and Nick’s operational expertise, Enercon continues to thrive, driven by a passionate workforce that is dedicated to actualizing their skills and providing help to customers in need of reliable power solutions. With their unwavering passion and steadfast focus on family and community, Enercon is poised to lead the charge in powering a brighter future for all.

Let’s take a closer look at their voyage!

Inspiring Inception Story

In 1975, a group of six folks: Ed Tangel, Bill Rogers, Bill Steele, Bill Phelps, Diz Small, and Joyce, the bookkeeper left the company they were working for and began to build a company where they could have fun, actualize their skills, and take care of their families. Enercon was truly a ‘garage shop,’ operating out of a 6000 sq ft converted boat garage in Chillicothe, IL, an old river town. Ed was a visionary leader and head of sales, while his partner, Bill Rogers, was the operational muscle. Like most successful companies, there is a need for partnership and shared leadership. It is rare to have in one person both the visionary skills to develop strategies and the operational skills to make those strategies manifest. Walt Disney had his brother Roy; Bill Gates had Steve Ballmer; Steve Jobs had Tim Cook; Ed Tangel had Bill Rogers. Bill Rogers was the strong manager Ed needed to ensure that the work was executed correctly. Bill Phelps was responsible for engineering, Bill Steele handled the procurement of materials, and Diz Small built the products. They were having FUN!

These folk made a bold decision to build a company that would reflect their shared values – a place where everyone would enjoy working together and achieving their goals. A place where everyone matters and everyone can contribute while having fun in the process. Enercon began as a family business, with the Tangel’s, the Roger’s, the Phelps’, the Small’s, the Coffman’s, the Fleckenstein’s, the Thewlis,’ and many more families working alongside each other, having fun creating lifelong friendships, memories, and accomplishments. Their shared passion for the work they did drove them to excel and achieve small wins day by day, and the fun they had together helped to produce a new company making a mark on the niche industry of on-site power generation.

One of Enercon’s early successes was being chosen by Caterpillar to be their outsourced switchgear partner. From 1977 to 1995, Enercon built all Caterpillar-branded floor-standing paralleling switchgear at their East Peoria facility. This connection was crucial to their early success, as the factory would advocate for Enercon’s products to dealers when they needed paralleling switchgear and controls. When the dealers asked the factory for who they should use for a complex paralleling project, they would tell dealers, “We use Enercon!” This was a priceless endorsement.

The success with the floor-standing switchgear program led to a 47-year relationship with Caterpillar that is still strong today. Their second major success with Caterpillar was the TM invention of the Cat Power Module. The Power Module is a Caterpillar trademarked product that consists of an engine/genset inserted into a 40’ ISO shipping container, along with the required fuel tank, cooling, exhaust, and controls to produce a mobile power plant. Ed Tangel and Fred Ozmeth (from Caterpillar) used masking tape on the shop floor to lay out the initial design of the module to ensure that it would fit – old school. Shortly thereafter, Enercon began packaging Caterpillar gensets into 40’ containers, and today, the “CAT Rent” logo is ubiquitous on 1000’s of shipping containers and provides temporary power to locations worldwide. While containerized power modules were already in existence in Europe at the time, Enercon ‘invented’ Caterpillar’s new product. A product that continues to provide Caterpillar success today.

Another creative success is when Enercon helped develop for another company’s 1 Megawatt packaged microturbine, which continues to have success in the marketplace today. It consists of 5 of their 200kw microturbines tied together on a common bus to provide a maximum of 1000kW. Enercon invented this product when they were asked to redesign the company’s 200kw microturbine for improved manufacturability and serviceability. While completing that work and knowing the importance of a 1MW node in the marketplace, Enercon’s design engineer suggested containerizing 5 x 200kW machines into a single product. The company loved the idea, and after several design iterations, Enercon built its prototype units to launch the product. Today, this 1MW powerhouse is one of their cornerstone products.

In the late 1990s, Enercon was introduced to the Military marketplace through their failure! Enercon lost a bid to a competitor, who subsequently went bankrupt in the production of the prototype units, and the customer asked Enercon to step in and take the project over. The result was a multi-year contract. After 125 units, Enercon was committed to the military domain and began to restructure its business into separate units, dividing them by product and market focus. Today, Enercon is organized into three business units: One focused on system integrations for both military and commercial operations, Integrated Defense Solutions (IDS); a second focused on their electrical switchgear and paralleling controls business, Integrated Energy Solutions (IES); the third one focused on Industrial Control Panels, Engineered Solutions (ES). Each of these business units serves distinct markets with varying customers, concerns, and strategies.

Although Enercon remains a family business, they have shifted their focus from the word ‘family’ to the word ‘business.’As described above, it was friends and family who joined in the beginning to build the company. With Ed & Larry intentionally sought to maintain that family culture, and the growth they were experiencing led them to reimagine their business by shifting the order of the words in the phrase “family business” to “business of families.” Instead of thinking of themselves as a ‘family business,’ which can be thought of as both common and self-limiting, the reversed order recognizes that while the commitment is still, and always must be, towards taking care of one’s family, and the way to take care of your family is through – business – strategically coordinated actions to fulfill shared intentions. Enercon is centered on creating a successful “business of families” to provide a good life for all its families and family members!

From Inspiration to Succession

The inspiration behind Larry’s decision to pursue a career in the niche industry was his father, Ed Tangel. At the age of 14, Larry worked for his father by operating the blueprint machine and folding blueprints all day long, which was not the most enjoyable task. However, this experience opened his eyes to the potential of being in the business, as Larry’s natural curiosity led him to study the blueprints, absorbing what was available; as a result, he began to ponder the possibility of becoming an engineer like his father, traveling the world to help people with their power needs. His father’s international business was alluring to him, and he decided to attend the University of Illinois to major in Electrical Engineering.

His path was temporarily diverted by an opportunity in the world of financial markets, joining his brother, Jeff, on the floor of the Chicago Board Option Exchange. In 1987, after a seven-year career that took Larry into institutional bond trading, Larry’s father extended an invitation for him to join the family firm. Larry agreed to join Enercon in a few years, as he was committed to producing a certain level of accomplishment in his position before making the transition to Peoria. Larry succeeded in this ambition, and three years later, in 1990, he joined Enercon. Larry said, “The opportunity to work with my father, learn from him, and together build my father’s firm was what enticed me to shift away from the world of finance.”

Strategic Changes and International Expansion

One of the key initiatives upon Larry’s arrival was to expand Enercon’s Marketing efforts, which still relied mostly on word-of-mouth. At the time, Enercon was largely dependent on a single customer; knowing the danger of this situation, Larry began a major push into advertising and marketing. Enercon began to advertise, exhibit at industry trade shows, develop project case studies, and other marketing activities to diversify its customer base. The effort paid off! In 1995, when Enercon’s largest customer, who represented over 60% of Enercon’s sales, decided to build their own switchgear, Enercon’s revenue increased! Through their marketing campaign, they were able to replace that revenue and more and attract a new and diverse clientele, one of which would turn into their key partner 20 years later, the Raytheon corporation.

In 1994, one of Enercon’s customers in Indonesia invited them to come to Asia and explore the possibility of opening a manufacturing facility to support their needs in the country. At the time, Enercon was working with them on many oil & gas opportunities, and the future was full of potential. Ed, Larry, and one of their lead Sales team members, Ken Dalton, traveled to Asia and explored the Philippines, Indonesia, and Singapore to investigate the possibility of opening in Asia. After a couple of weeks of touring facilities and engaging in dialogue with clients, Enercon decided to open a Sales/Service office in Singapore until they could become comfortable with making a larger investment. Singapore is Asia for beginners as even the taxi drivers speak English.

Ken Dalton, a 20-year veteran of Enercon with a history of accomplishment in international fieldwork with several Caterpillar dealers, was chosen to lead the new international expansion. Three years earlier, Enercon had recruited a young Indonesian engineer fresh out of university, and when he was presented with the opportunity to relocate to Singapore, he eagerly accepted. By the fall of 1994, in under six months, we officially opened in Asia as Enercon Systems International with Ken Dalton and Minto Halimuddin. Ken hired two young service engineers, Lim Mun Hey and Azhar Othman, who both remain with Enercon today. Azhar was local employee #3, and nearly 30 years later, he is a partner with Larry and Ed in the ownership of Enercon’s Asian operations. Enercon was able to export its culture of family, inclusiveness, and fun halfway around the world. Azhar, Mun Hey, and others will soon be celebrating 30 years of being a part of the Enercon family! Under Azhar’s leadership, Enercon Asia Private Ltd now has facilities in seven countries with over 90 employees, progressing in their plan of action to be in 20 countries in the next five years.

Enercon A Packaging Company

With their largest customer now competing with them in their primary marketplace, paralleling switchgear, and their international expansion in place and growing, Larry turned strategically towards the engine packaging marketplace for the next expansion of the business. Enercon had established itself as an expert at working with containers and reworking them into a powerhouse. As a custom integrator of packaged equipment, we used our engineering expertise to invent a new exhaust system for containerized powerhouses. Enercon invented what they called the “flat-pack” muffler. Having to meet a 60 dbA sound spec for Ringling Brother Circus, Enercon invented a resistive/reactive muffler design that both produced the necessary noise reduction and kept the rejected heat low enough on the skin of the exhaust system to locate it inside the container. Locating the muffler inside the package had numerous benefits: less cost in transportation, less time in installation on site, as well as an improved initial look and long-term look of the powerhouse. Before this invention, mufflers were too hot and large to be located inside the container. Today, we know this innovation is superior as the ‘flat pack’ is offered by most muffler manufacturers and has become the standard in the industry.

With a large customer and major OEM now a competitor in the switchgear business, if Enercon wanted to remain a supplier to them, they would have to refocus their business. Without existing in the paralleling switchgear marketplace, Enercon shifted its focus to being a packager and began to build out its packaging business, leading to a 20-year expansion of the company’s packaging business that peaked with over 400 employees operating out of three facilities strategically located in the US. Enercon had a packaging facility in Georgia, in Phoenix, AZ, in addition to the headquarters located in central Illinois. The expansion in packaging led to more opportunities with several engine manufacturers and even with non-power generation projects. The skill set necessary to package gensets can be transported and applied to various industries beyond power, such as modular buildings, fire training modules, compressors packages, mobile boilers, swimming pools, e-houses, and other skidded equipment. Many of these markets remain open for future possible expansion. Due to the market conditions and changes in strategic focus in 2017, Enercon sold its packaging division and shut down its facilities in Phoenix and Georgia, consolidating operations in Peoria’s headquarters. At the time, it felt like a contraction, a step back, and yet, with COVID-19 hitting 3 years later, it proved to be a good choice.

Intern to President in 22 years

In the 1990s, General Electric was ruling the manufacturing space, inventing new quality practices and processes. From lean manufacturing to Six Sigma, new quality control metrics were being invented and put into practice. The leading one that nearly all manufacturers today must comply with is the ISO standards, in particular ISO 9001. While Enercon’s quality was always world-class, the clients were now looking for third-party validation of the company’s quality practices. In 1999, Enercon hired a young intern named Nick Keever, who was working on his Industrial Technology degree at the local university, to work as Enercon’s first Process Engineer. After completing his degree, he joined the organization full-time and was tasked with achieving ISO 9001 certification. In only nine months, Nick led the organizational changes required to pass the audit, and we became ISO 9001 certified.

Two years after Nick joined the Enercon family, the world experienced the tragedy of 9/11, and now, in the role of Project Manager, Nick was given the task of fulfilling a 25- unit order for 2-MW containerized power modules for GE. We had just completed the units for GE when the tragedy occurred, and Nick and his team were on-site in the staging areas, reconnecting people to power. Again, as disaster struck in Japan, Enercon’s team led by Nick Keever was able to provide 120 MW of containerized power after the Fukushima tsunami. Enercon had all three manufacturing operations focused on providing these units, and within 17 weeks of the event, we delivered 80 – 1.5MW containerized power modules. Our customer was Alstrom Power Rents, a worldwide temporary power plant specialist, who also coordinated 150 MW of turbines to be delivered in the same time frame, thus providing 270MW of power in less than ½ year.

Finally, Nick both lead the initial bid and has managed our largest military success to date, the Prime Power Unit for THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) project for Raytheon supporting the Missile Defense Agency. Enercon with Milton CAT were successful in competition against much larger organizations. This led to Enercon being recognized as a critical supplier to the Missile Defense Agency.

In 2020, Covid struck, and it hammered home on many fronts for many people, and Ed and Larry were not spared. Fortunately, Larry and Nick had been in a decade-long strategy for having Nick to become the next leader of Enercon. In July of 2020, Larry appointed Nick Keever as President of Enercon and empowered Nick to forge the next chapter of Enercon’s story. Nick, with Larry, is now responsible for creating Enercon’s future strategic direction, as well as the execution of daily operations.

Under Nick’s leadership, Enercon’s strategic direction focuses on sustainable growth by reentering the commercial genset packaging field, developing standardized product offerings for switchgear and controls, and tapping new sectors such as microgrids and EV charging capabilities for military applications. “As a small business, Enercon’s strategy for expanding its services involves targeting a select group of customers and delivering exceptional results.” said Nick, “The company intends to find partners, not just customers in each business unit, focusing on providing the highest quality of service to those partners.”

In all its markets, the company is focused on adding value and avoiding competing solely on price. Enercon seeks customers who recognize and appreciate the value it provides and are willing to partner with the company to better serve its customers. The company’s goal is to establish long-term relationships with partners rather than a transactional business with one-off clients.

Exclusive Insights

Success lives in helping others fulfill their ambitions. It’s where Ed Tangel began and where Enercon still lives. In fact, there are some employees who’ve been working there for more than 45 years – and now their children are joining. It’s something unique in today’s world focused on quick results and short time horizons. Ed has acted instinctively from the beginning (still does!), and Larry has studied laws, principles, and mechanisms with Nick in business and life. In the background are a set of fundamental business and human concerns that the Enercon leadership team embraces, watches out for, and cares for in their intention to succeed in business and live a good life with their families. You will notice, if you ever have the opportunity to tour the facilities, that although some of the faces have aged, they still hold the smile and mood Ed started so many years ago, working every day… having FUN!

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