Excel Industries makes lawn mowers, but that doesn’t begin to tell the story of the company and its importance to Hesston.
It makes high-end, zero-turn commercial and residential Hustler and BigDog Mower riding mowers.
It has more than quadrupled in size over the decade and a half since almost going bankrupt.
Its products are now sold in more than 30 countries, and it won the Kansas Governor’s Exporter of the Year award in 2013.
But it’s more than just a spectacularly successful maker of lawn mowers. It’s a family-owned company that employs about 1,100 people from the area.
It’s owned and has been run by the Mullet family for 52 years and three generations. That closeness with the community came through in the statement by president Paul Mullet.
“The Excel family is deeply saddened by the horrific event that occurred yesterday,” he said at a news conference Friday morning. “Our hearts goes out to our employees and their families who are enduring this tragedy. Our first priority has been and will remain the safety and wellness of our employees,”
Mickey Fornaro-Dean, Harvey County’s long-time economic development director, knows the Mullets and the company well.
“It’s seen with great respect, as successful and wonderfully managed, a great corporate citizen,” she said.
“But our companies aren’t important just because they provide jobs and tax base, but because they become part of the fiber of our community. This is incredibly difficult.”
The company has been owned by the Mullet family since 1961. Paul Mullet is president and, his brother, Bob Mullet, is chief financial officer. Their sons Chad Lane, Luke Roth-Mullet and Adam Mullet have assumed senior roles in the company.
Paul and Bob’s father, Roy, a farmer from eastern Montana, moved his family to Kansas and, in 1961, bought into the fledgling Excel.
The company, which built cabs for farm machinery, started making lawnmowers as a side business in 1964, when a Moundridge tinkerer named John Regier developed the zero-turn radius mower and offered it to Roy Mullet. The company continued to develop lawnmowers through the decades, but it never amounted to more than a third of the business.
The cab business evaporated in 1997 when John Deere cut back on its outsourcing, nearly killing the business and forcing the Mullets to lay off more than half their employees. The Mullets decided to focus on the lawn mower business.
Today, Excel employs more than four times as many employees as it did in the late 1990s and, in October, produced its 500,000th mower.