In an awards banquet Saturday night at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, Jeremy Hiltz Excavating was named Equipment World‘s Contractor of the Year for 2014.
Hiltz Excavating in Ashland, New Hampshire, is an $8 to $10 million company that incorporated in 1996. They specialize in commercial site work, municipal and utility work and road building.
The winner and 12 finalists are selected by the editors of Equipment World in a competition sponsored by Caterpillar. They are flown to Las Vegas for an awards banquet and a trip to the Las Vegas Motor Speedway to watch that weekend’s NASCAR race.
Although Hiltz started his own company in 1996, his roots in construction go much further back. When he was five years old he would get up early, creep downstairs, grab his lunch pail and wait for his dad by the door, hoping to get a ride to the jobsite.
“I was pretty low maintenance,” Hiltz says, “just happy to go.” By the time he was 11, Hiltz was running a wheel loader for his dad and working every hour that school didn’t claim for the family excavation and site work business.
When he started his own company, he and his small crew worked 20 hour days to build up enough cash to purchase equipment. By the end of his first year he’d banked $500,000 in sales. The second year, he doubled that and it was off to the races. Today more than 20 people from his dad’s old company work for Hiltz.
“We call them the alumni,” he says. “We’re like a family here. There is no pecking order, everybody is the same, laborer or engineer. Each is equally important and we all wear many hats.”
Hiltz is a fanatic about two things: productivity and taking care of equipment. Whereas a typical operator might load a truck every minute and a half, Hiltz coaches his guys on technique until they can get it down to 45 seconds.
When GPS came along, he instantly recognized the potential and now runs one system full automation and another in indicate mode. At the end of every shift, the company’s operators and drivers are expected to clean out the cab, dusty surfaces are wiped clean and the dash gets a hit of Armor-all.
If they come back to the yard, they pressure wash their machine or truck. Everything is waxed on a regular basis. This brings two benefits: One, the trucks and equipment bring top dollar at resale, andtwo: it gives the crews pride in the machines they operate and the work they do.
Jeremy learned how to run equipment working alongside his dad. But the most important lesson he learned from his dad is to be humble.
“Being humble means not living outside your means, putting your money back into the company. My dad used to tell me when he’d see other contractors with big boats or expensive sports cars, ‘Son, that’s allfine and well, but if you have a good year, put it back into the company, because next year you may not have such a good year. Instead of buying a sports car, buy a compactor. Or give the guys a bonus for working hard.'”