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George Baumann

Great Lakes Industrial

Location: Milwaukee, WI
Founded: 1954
Industry: Industrial Manufacturing

George Baumann joined his family business, Great Lakes Industrial, in 2011 at his father’s request. Baumann started in an operations/customer service combination role and then added finance and warehouse responsibilities. He later shifted to outside sales. Baumann believed that if he would ultimately be at the head of the company, he needed to have an in-depth understanding of how each department and function worked and where the greatest opportunities existed.

Great Lakes Industrial is a 70-year-old industrial distributor and manufacturer of standard and custom parts. It distributes rubber-based products such as o-rings, gaskets and hoses as well as fasteners, fittings, chemicals and packaging equipment to equipment manufacturers and repair operators around the world.

After three years of getting embedded in the company, Baumann recognized that he needed to expand his sphere of influence and knowledge base to take the business to a new level, and he enrolled in an evening MBA program at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

He learned that acquiring other small businesses throughout the U.S. could be key to taking Great Lakes Industrial from “small family business” to midsize company without losing the cultural elements that made the company a place where associates loved to work. In 2019, Baumann moved into the role of president, and he set out to grow through acquisition.

By August 2021, Great Lakes Industrial acquired its first company, Chinook O-Rings in Portland, Oregon. Within another 10 months, Great Lakes Industriala had acquired four more businesses. The acquisitions promoted an overall growth mindset that trickled down throughout the organization. Under Baumann’s leadership, company leaders coach their associates to focus on their key priorities, including embracing technology, seeking new demand spaces and becoming a leading value-added industrial supplier.

Baumann intends to grow the business to over $50 million in revenue with at least 10 locations and over 150 employees by 2027. Reaching those goals would double where the company stands today.

“The greatest leadership lesson I’ve learned is to always keep a learning mentality,” Baumann said. “This means to stay humble, check your ego, listen to others, know when to ask for help, teach others what you have learned, and use your resources instead of trying to do it all alone.

“Inside the business, never assume you know all the answers and rely on your team to do the work you’ve hired them to do. It also means that if you realize that you are the smartest person in the room, find a different room. Outside of business, this means continue to invest in your own growth. This can mean joining a peer group, finding a mentor, taking classes, attending workshops, reading books and podcasts or going back to school.”

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Honoree Fun fact

George is a third generation owner that is the sole owner in the 3rd generation. What makes that unique is that there is no blood lineage between the 3 generations, yet the business has stayed in the family. So, George's grandfather, George, was the step-father of his son Tom, who was the 2nd generation owner. Tom adopted George who then became the 3rd generation owner. So the business has stayed in the family with single owners and without blood lineage.

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