Carmie Mick remembers her journey to the top and how it all began with her dad

In honor of Father’s Day, we recently sat down with CWMF’s President & CEO, Carmie Mick, to hear about how her father, Loren J. Mick, influenced the success, culture, and growth that CWMF embodies today as a thriving family-owned business.

Farm to Ship to Shore: Founding a Family-Owned Business in Welding

Kate: Alright, Carmie, thanks for taking the time to share your stories and insights with me today. I’ve read that your dad started Custom Welding and Metal Fabricating in 1968. Was your grandfather a welder, or how did your dad get into this trade?

Carmie: No, my grandpa was a farmer. My dad actually grew up on a dairy farm. He went into the service at age 17 and became a welder in the Navy. They actually trained him to do underwater welding to repair ships.

A Legacy of Trust

Kate: Well, that’s pretty incredible. I always get the impression that you and your dad were really close. Were you “daddy’s girl” growing up?

Carmie:  You know, he was pretty tough. So, I wouldn’t say that any kid was “daddy’s kid,” but I would have to say that I got away with the most. (Laughing) I never got in trouble because I always did well in school. I was always very independent. Of all four children, I was always straight and narrow.

Kate: So, they trusted you a little more because you kind of had your shit together?

Carmie: Oh yeah! He’d let me take their Nissan Pathfinder with their big cell phone bag from Cell2000 in the center council. I’d take my girlfriends all the way up north to stay in Lutsen. We used to have a cabin up in Grand Rapids, and he would let me take his Lund fishing boat with all my girlfriends, I don’t even know if we were 21, and I’d trailer it up there, back it up, unload it, tie it up and go out fishing all day. Dad’s only advice was, ‘Just make sure you have the plug in the boat, so it doesn’t sink!” And he just let me go and take it.

Kate: Did your dad teach you how to pull a trailer?

Carmie: Nope! The first car he got me was a stick, so I had to learn how to drive a manual. I don’t really know how I learned to pull a trailer. I just did it. I would always change my own oil and everything too. He would usually show me how to do something once, and then I was on my own.

Kate: I know that you are a dog lover. Did your dad like having dogs around as well?

Carmie:  My mom got a dog named Sammy from a rescue shelter years ago. He ultimately became my dad’s dog, and Sammy went everywhere with him. Literally everywhere. When Sammy died, it was terrible. My dad loved that dog. Actually, I just got a new pup this year and thought it was fitting to name him Sammy as well.

Kate: When you were little, did you come up to see him in the shop a lot?

Carmie: No. Not really. In 1978, CWMF kind of morphed from repairs to trucking. During that time, he was on the road a lot, mostly hauling for the pipeline in Alaska. Trucking, in general, was a hard industry unless you had many of them, so he started making these headache racks on the back of the semis to help organize roadside tools and cargo securement supplies. Anderson Trucking put in a huge order, so he had to make a whole bunch of them, and that’s when he really got into manufacturing.

But I didn’t start coming here until I was in my early teens, and I wanted to earn money. My mom would bring me in to clean the office; that’s all I knew. I had no idea what he really did. Even when I graduated high school, I had no intention of ever working at CWMF.

Finding the Ones to Get it Done in a Family-Owned Business

Kate: So, you had no interest in taking over the family-owned business?

Carmie: No. My story is a lot different than my brothers, Brian and Travis. My dad was very traditional; in his mind, ‘guys do guy things, and girls do girl things’. So, he would hunt and fish with them, but I never did any of that. Although, I did take his snowmobile and smash it. (Laughing) My brothers will say they always had to work here. As for me, I didn’t even know what Dad did. I just came here to clean for extra cash when I needed it.

After high school, I got into accounting and international business at St. Cloud State University. I was going to get out of here and work internationally. 2 years into my degree, Dad asked me to come home because he wanted to talk. It turns out he wanted me to come work for him because he didn’t trust the people he had in place at the time. He said, “I need you to go in there and find shit out!”

Kate: Oh my gosh, how old were you at this point, like 21?

Carmie: I was 20 years old, and I told him, “I will come and work for you with one condition: I am finishing my degree.”

So, I came in and just said to the employee running accounting, “Dad said I need passwords and I need access to everything. So, hand them over!”

Kate: Were you really that assertive when you were 20 years old?

Carmie: Yeah. Believe it or not, I was even more assertive back then. It wasn’t long before she put in her notice and wanted to show me how to do payroll taxes before she left. I looked at her and said, “Seriously? I don’t need your help! You might as well just go now.”

Kate: And your dad was just totally comfortable with you running that ship?

Carmie: Yep! He knew I’d just figure it out. From there, I had to find a gal to be full-time because I was still in school. I hired a woman named Deb Brown, and she was great. I trained her in, and she handled all the books while I finished my degree. At this time, we also needed someone to take over purchasing, so I said I would. When everyone said, ‘You don’t know what you’re doing!’ I said, ‘I’ll figure it the f**k out!’ And I did. When I’d order a gearbox, I’d say, ‘When it shows up, let me know. I want to look at it. I want to know what the hell I’m ordering.’ So as every new part came in, I wanted to know, ‘What is this? Where does it go? I want to see how it is put on.’

Kate: Did your dad always use colorful language like you do? (Laughing)

Carmie: Oh, absolutely. He always told me I had a trucker’s mouth, but where do you think I learned it from?!

Kate: So, by handling purchasing, you literally learned how everything works piece-by-piece?

Carmie: Yes, and when I graduated, I continued doing purchasing and bookkeeping.

Kate: At this point, were you feeling fully invested in CWMF and accepting that this was going to be your full-time role?

Carmie:  Yep, it was 1997 when I graduated. (It took me longer because I was working so many hours here.) However, it wasn’t until about 2005 that my dad started going away for the winter and looked to my brothers and me to start managing more.

Family, Faith, Service, and Community

Kate: Got it. Okay, so I know that you have a strong faith and a very patriotic value system. Was your dad that way?

Carmie: Yes. My dad and my sister, Lori, were both in the Navy. The military was always a big deal to my dad. He always felt law and order were necessary, and we were raised to understand the importance of freedom.

Kate: How do you think these values have contributed to the success of CWMF? Obviously, this is an American-made family-owned business. So, do you think that has influenced the company culture here?

Carmie: In many ways, yes, but I think it could be even better. As I get older, it is becoming more and more important, especially in the current state of things. This year we are teaming up with Shoot for the Troops, which is a fundraiser to support military service members, veterans, and their families deployed or stateside who are in need of resources due to economic or special hardships. I know this is something that really resonates with our shop employees, as many of them have family in the service.

Kate: Your dad passed away in 2011, just two years after he retired. What did he do during his retirement? Did he still come into the shop a lot?

Carmie:  He would pop in and help in the shop, especially in the summer months. He’d just sort of wander around and bug people. When it started getting cold, he’d head down to Arizona or Vegas.

Kate: What kind of impact did your dad have on the community here?

Carmie:  My dad wasn’t one to just sit still. So, on the weekends, he would just take off and drive around. He’d show up at people’s houses and just B.S. with them and have a beer. Some of his oldest friends will still come to me in tears because they miss my dad, just stopping over to visit all the time. That was something we had no idea he was doing all those years. We didn’t learn about it until after he had passed.

Kate: If Loren were still here today, what do you think he would say about what you’ve grown CWMF into?

Carmie: I know he’d be super proud. I grew up with him being a risk taker, and I know he would have been on board with the growth we’ve experienced these 10+ years. Our first big expansion was in 2012, just after he passed when we added the 30’ x 120’ paint booth facility, which vastly enhanced our in-house finishing capabilities. It would have been really interesting to have him around for all of that. As we continue to grow, I’d love to have his input on certain things. I know he would be super supportive of all we’ve done with CWMF.

Authors Note: This interview was originally packed full of stories that showed Loren’s love of shenanigans – especially those that may or may not have involved a bit of illegal gambling. However, if you’d like to hear those types of tales, you’d better stop by to B.S. for a bit. I have a feeling that’s what Loren would have wanted you to do anyway.

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