Some people see failure when they identify a problem. Others see an opportunity to provide a solution.
LeRoy Hagenbuch, co-founder, president and chief engineer at Philippi-Hagenbuch Inc., is the kind of person who sees problems as opportunities. Whether he’s inventing or building off-highway truck attachments or designing and developing heavy equipment solutions, Hagenbuch applies the same attitude and takes a similar approach across challenges.
“Somebody a few years ago said I had an ability to go right to what the problem is,” Hagenbuch says. “For me, this is just sort of commonplace.”
Hagenbuch, or “LeRoy The Experimenter,” as his mother lovingly called him, is the oldest of five children born to Charles and Ethel Hagenbuch in Utica, Ill. Now at the helm of Philippi-Hagenbuch for more than 40 years, he developed a penchant for working with heavy equipment on his family farm. His parents instilled a hard-working attitude in him on that farm, and he learned from his father that if the family needed two of something – anything – they would make them rather than buy them.
Even today, Hagenbuch uses experiences on the farm as he explores solutions for Philippi-Hagenbuch customers.
“We have our rear eject bodies,” Hagenbuch says. “We were having a problem with the first one with the ejector plate hanging up, going back and forth. I went back to something from when I was 8 or 9 years old. “We had a Ford tractor, and I had to change a tire once. After I changed it I felt tired. I adjusted the tie rod between the two front tires and started off down the lane. But you couldn’t steer that tractor straight for anything. There was no tow end.”
That experience on the family farm was the inspiration Hagenbuch needed to develop a solution for rear eject bodies.
“These life experiences is what it’s all about,” he says.
From that Illinois farm, Hagenbuch took his parents’ disciplines to the University of Illinois, where he received an education in agricultural engineering. Hagenbuch met L.B. Philippi by 1969, and the two founded the company that’s now 44 years running.
Hagenbuch brought his design talent, while Philippi brought a sales background and an idea for commercial tailgates. They parlayed their skills into business, bringing the Autogate tailgate to market.
In the 1970s, Hagenbuch was the first to introduce lightweight bodies to the industry. He also introduced water tanks to minimize confined-space issues, as well as the on-board weigh systems commonly found on haul trucks today.
A more recent Hagenbuch patent refines rear-ejection technology, allowing operators to push the load from the back of a haul truck rather than raise the bed.
“The greatest enjoyment is meeting with a customer, identifying a need they have and creating a solution,” Hagenbuch says. “We continuously have done things that other people would have just turned off because it couldn’t be done.”
He has written whitepapers on vital topics, shared his knowledge at conferences and tradeshows, and been active with a number of associations.