The saddlemakers of the Traditional Cowboy Arts Association recently visited the tannery that is Hermann Oak Leather Company in St. Louis. What an educational and enlightening trip! I have always been a fan of Hermann Oak leather, but now I’m a true disciple. What Shep Hermann (current CEO) and his staff (75 strong) have done is remarkable. They have found ways to remain relevant and viable against strong head winds in today’s culture. Shep is a true craftsman in every way…when he speaks of his approach to the chemistry of tanning it sounds like talking to one of our saddlemakers. His objective is to make the best leathers possible and sometimes that requires sacrifice. For example, the ‘unhairing’ process could be shortened to half the time very easily, but he is loathe to do so because it would come at a price with regard to the quality of the final product. Hermann Oak is also a case study in how to run a business. Employees are treated with ultimate respect, yet are held accountable for the quality of their work. Shep has been ‘reinventing’ the company that now has fewer managers and more feedback from the ground up. Employees have skin in the game (pun intended)…they describe a family atmosphere in the plant and a high degree of pride in their work. Many of the employees begin work at the tannery and retire there some 45 years later. ‘Old World Craftmanship’ is alive and well at Hermann Oak Leather Company!
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