Jeremy Hiltz, Jeremy Hiltz Excavating.
Ask Jeremy Hiltz to give you an overview of his workstyle and his philosophy, and he jumps off his chair to show you a picture on the wall of his conference room. It shows his equipment, all shiny, lined up. “See this?” He asks. “They are not new, but they look brand new. That’s because we take good care of them.” His explanation makes sense — “If people see my equipment going down the road looking poorly, what does that say about the work that we are going to do for them?” There are no scratches on his equipment — not on the counterweights or anything; needless to say, he does not allow smoking in the equipment or on job sites. Weekly, everything is washed and “Armoralled.” According to Hiltz, even those operators who first are intimidated because they have not worked that way become addicted to it; “They develop a sense of pride.”
And that’s his philosophy, boiled down — there’s no such thing as a small detail. And, you have to be proud of what you do. Which sounds fine, but takes a lot of thinking and planning, and paying attention to everything and anything.
“I learned it from my father,” said the founder of Hiltz Excavating of Ashland, N.H., talking about going with his dad to job sites at the age of five, pail in hand, and running a wheel loader at 12, always looking up to his father, “who did what he said and said what he did.”
By 18, Hiltz was a superintendent on job sites; he had to prove himself to his coworkers and earned their respect because they could tell he knew what he was doing. He worked with his brothers for a couple of years after his father passed away in 1994, and then decided to branch out. He was only 26 at the time.
“People had seen me at work and they knew they could trust me,” said Hiltz, who nevertheless admits that he started “on a wing and a prayer.” Maybe that’s why his first job was a retainer wall for a local church. And what about his fleet? Well, he was all set; he owned a pickup truck and rented an excavator and a dump truck.
Focusing on what he had experience in — commercial site work — he started getting enough jobs to allow him to buy his own equipment and hire workers. Still, at times cash flow was slow and he would have to make payroll with his personal credit card.
“But I always surrounded myself with good people,” he said, “and knowing that has kept me going.”
When things got tough those were the same people who came through for him. Hiltz remembered, “I’ve had employees volunteer to be laid off for a week here or there; they knew things were not going really well and they wanted to help in any way that they could.”
Today, the company owns a total of 125 pieces of equipment, and they are bidding on larger and larger jobs; J. Hiltz Excavating has anywhere from 6 to 10 projects going on at any one time.
Hiltz doesn’t lose sleep about putting food on his family’s table — now he worries about 50 tables instead. He’s still out the door at 5 a.m. and back at 8 p.m., and can usually be found in the cab of one of his impeccable machines. His obsession about details has not diminished — he personally conducts surprise equipment inspections and if there’s anything that’s not up to standard, he’ll leave one of his business cards on the operator’s seat.
Has anything changed over the years? “Technology, certainly,” said Hiltz, who comments how GPS, for example, has made them very competitive; they have actually brought site modeling in house, which gives them control over timing and implementation.
“We recently moved 10,000 cubic yards of material in a nine hour day,” said Hiltz, who’s impressed by how they can do fine grading with a dozer equipped with Trimble technology. Other things have not changed according to Hiltz. “You are still only as good as the people you surround yourself with,” he said, always emphasizing the important difference his employees make in the whole picture.
How does he handle the increasing competition? “We try to provide value at every turn; we offer them alternative ideas, for example, that save money and time.” And he believes attitude is key — “If you think ’failure’ you’ll be failure.” He relies on his vendors to support him, and he appreciates the way his Milton CAT team has come through for him.
“Milton CAT supports me and the equipment to no end. Steve Tedstone and Mike Robinson are part of my arsenal. Without those guys we would not be what we are.”