A Lifetime Climb
Chippewa Valley woman heads up Eau Claire manufacturing company
Haley Wright, photos by Andrea Paulseth
Sue (Kildahl) Tietz, president/CEO of McDonough Manufacturing, truly is a Chippewa Valley Woman in the Lead. She is a trailblazer as leader of an Eau Claire-based company that has been in business since the 19th century producing sawmill machinery that is shipped all over the country and the world.
“If you have a job that suits you, then it doesn’t matter what your gender is.” – Sue Tietz • president and CEO of McDonough Manufacturing
McDonough Manufacturing Co. was incorporated on Nov. 18, 1888, and has produced McDonough Sawmill Machinery since its inception. The founder, Frank McDonough, died in 1904 and the company struggled under the leadership of others, according to Tietz. In 1921 Tietz’s grandfather, John M. Kildahl, bought the assets from the family, and Tietz’s family has owned it ever since. The Kildahl family has seen the company through wars and economic ups and downs.Tietz has been working at McDonough almost continuously since she was a teenager, helping the company grow and evolve with changing times. The company presently employs 42 people in Eau Claire and eight in Canada.
Tietz is proud of her humble start with the company, and her lifelong career at McDonough. When she started ninth grade in 1962, she asked her father if she could work at the office after school. Her parents were divorced and she wanted to earn her own money. He agreed to a temporary arrangement. She was 14 at the time, so she needed a work permit that would allow her to work, as long as she didn’t work enough to be considered “full time.” She went to work after school, calling her father for a ride, and worked on weekends, holidays, and summer vacations.
“That was NOT less than full-time, but I loved it,” Tietz said. She did anything and everything her father asked. She typed letters, and did the order preparation and invoicing. Tietz also typed checks for her uncle. “I just couldn’t get enough of it,” she said.
“When Dad said the job was temporary, I believed him, but when it developed in to more, I was delighted,” Tietz said. “Having a career spanning a lifetime is something I’m very proud of.”
After high school, Tietz attended UW-Eau Claire, where she earned a bachelor of arts and science degree in social welfare. She chose this field with the intention of working with children with Down syndrome, but when she graduated in 1971, she was just three months from giving birth to her second child. Instead of looking for work in her field, she went back to McDonough to help in the office. Shortly after that, her father started giving her stock. That’s when she knew it was a “forever thing.”
Kildahl died in January 1990. Tietz’s sister was working there at the time, and together they took over the management of the company. Many of the engineers and sales people Kildahl hired stayed with the company. “I was 42 and my sister was 47,” Tietz said. “We both had families (two kids each), and we made it work.”
Tietz and her husband, Roger, have a daughter, Jenny, and son, Matt. She said she made running a business and being a mother work by managing her time well and ensuring that when she was home, she was focused on her family rather than work. She also makes time to go on vacation and make special memories with her family. In 1995, Tietz took over leadership of the company with the retirement of her sister. Matt, a recent UWEC graduate at that time, took on a position with the company and still works with his mother in the family business.
Tietz says she does not single herself out as a woman in business, but rather views business as an equal opportunity enterprise where you can earn respect regardless of your gender by treating others well and doing a good job at what you do.
“If a woman wants to succeed in a male-dominated industry, she needs to forget she’s a woman and prove she doesn’t need any special treatment,” Tietz said. “If you have a job that suits you, then it doesn’t matter what your gender is. If a woman feels she needs to be singled out and treated differently, she needs to find another job.”
“I believe the employees respected me because I respected them,” Tietz said. “We’re a family here and are working together to build a stronger company for the future.”
Tietz advises people who are starting out in business to watch, learn, and ask questions. “If you want to change something be sure you have the blessing of others who have been in the business longer than you,” she said.