Dave Maurer: Persistence is key to success

Dave Maurer outside of Humphrey Products, next to the Michigan Centennial Business Plaque

This past Friday, Dave Maurer gave a presentation to his fellow Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (CIS) board members entitled, “The Business Community’s Role in Providing Hope.”

A few days earlier, we had a chance to meet up and interview Dave at Humphrey Products, a Kalamazoo, Michigan-based manufacturer. Founded more than 100 years ago, Humphrey’s innovations date back to the commercialization of gaslight products in 1901.

Humphrey then

Today, with over 250 employees, Humphrey is recognized as a leading producer of pneumatic products, serving organizations worldwide.

Humphrey today

Dave grew up here, moving to the area when he was in elementary school. He graduated from Portage Northern High School and then obtained a degree in economics from the University of Michigan.

Dave first started working for Humphrey in the assembly department. It was his summer job in 1984. “By the end of that summer, they needed help in sales and in the marketing department. They knew I went to U of M and asked if I knew about spreadsheet programs. These were relatively new back then. I had learned about them so I started doing life cycle data entry and analysis for Humphrey. I did this over both summer and Christmas breaks, and they offered me a job upon graduation in the marketing department.” Today, Dave is President of the company.

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned? 

Not so much learned, but has been dramatically reinforced. History repeats itself. The book I’m currently reading really brought this home to me. I guess the older I get, the more I understand the ebb and flow of things.

What are you currently reading?

Right now, I’m reading Arthur Herman’s Freedom’s Forge: How American Business Produced Victory in World War II. This book really reinforces the cycles we go through in terms of both industrial and military strength, and especially emphasizes how atrophied we became as a country after World War I. It’s amazing when you realize the effort that was required to assist Great Britain prior to entry into World War II.

We generally had excellent leadership at the time, but many of the industrial leaders who had participated in the buildup for World War I were persecuted in post-war society. With tensions in Europe building leading up to World War II, most of the country felt we should remain neutral. “Don’t get involved; don’t pick a horse, don’t engage in helping either side of the battle.” Yet, with all the atrocities that came to light, we really couldn’t ignore it. Pearl Harbor ultimately sealed our involvement. Regardless, we had some phenomenally gifted leaders that took this country from being unable to produce a single aircraft engine to producing thousands a year. It’s just amazing to consider the supply chain that had to be created and sustained. This book is a good reminder that those cycles go back forever and how critical the role of a strong manufacturing base is in maintaining pre-eminence in the world. It’s very easy to get complacent…or even feel that manufacturing is some type of vestigial appendage of the U.S. economy.

What is your favorite word right now?


What is something you love about Kalamazoo?

There is a lot of variety in terms of things to do here!  Almost certainly driving that is the fact that we also have a lot of people that are willing to get involved. I work in some organizations at the state level and see just how blessed we are in this community with thoughtful individuals who are willing to roll up their sleeves and get involved. There are many communities that don’t have a very deep bench for this type of work. It sets us apart.


I like to fish. I like to hunt. I like to read. I like to cook. I’m a little bit of a current events junkie.

What dish are you known for?

We love the U.P. and have a cottage there. We have an outdoor, brick smoker that my late father custom built. I love to load it up with beef brisket, pork butts, and chickens and let it go all day. We’ve also done cedar-planked white fish in it. It tastes great!

Behind every successful person is a caring adult. Who has been your caring adult?

I had wonderful parents. My dad was very active, served on a number of boards, served in the church and was a good mentor and model. So was my mom, in addition to being an outstanding cook. She was involved in the Institute of Arts, the church, and a number of other groups. They were both excellent role models. I learned good balance from them: community service, family care, self-care, and faith.

What advice do you have for our 12,000+ students—the up and coming generation of workers—to prepare themselves for obtaining a job in the manufacturing industry?

Do not give up on math and science.

They can be difficult concepts, sometimes, but they are cumulative. You have to go through one discipline to get to the next. And once you give up, it’s very difficult to get back on the escalator of math and science understanding. It breaks my heart when this happens. It often feels like this is a problem in the United States more than any other country and I sometimes wonder if that is because our kids are given the flexibility to check out of the most rigorous disciplines in these areas…I’m afraid we’ve lowered some of our expectations and provided weak alternate paths.

Particularly in some of the Asian countries I travel to it seems like there is a much higher level of expectation with regard to persistence through advanced STEM curriculum. As a student, you are expected to persist through these disciplines. At the same time, I also witness their interactions with their parents and see first-hand that the kids are often more stressed about achievement—so it’s not 100 percent healthy either. There has to be some “happy medium” out there we can aspire to. Lowering our expectations cannot be the answer. Our kids are going to have to compete against these folks and we aren’t doing them any favors if we’re lowering our expectations.

What one thing can parents do to help prepare their child for today’s labor force?

I think we have a generation of parents who didn’t necessarily persist through these disciplines either, so they feel a little at a loss as to how best to help their children do so. It’s especially hard for parents who aren’t very comfortable asking for help. They want to help and yet, they can’t provide the help themselves. Finding resources to do that is not so easy. I did persist and, still, it can be challenging to help my kids. I once had a half hour argument with my son about the proper way to do long division. A half hour…and I have a degree from U-M. 

But it’s important to send that message: persist. Help your child persist.

You joined the CIS board over six months ago. As you know, there are many great organizations throughout the Kalamazoo area that support kids. Why CIS?

One of my previous favorite reads is The Coming Jobs War by Jim Clifton. [Dave pulls a dog-eared book off the shelf in his office and opens it to Chapter 10: “K-12 Schools—Where Entrepreneurs are Created.”] This is one of my favorite chapters.

One of the fundamental principles of the book is that we, as business leaders, must take an active role in the day to day nurturing of schools—be a face that these kids see—and be an active part of the community that is supporting them. CIS helps with this. As business leaders, we are in a unique position to give them hope, let them see what is available for them when they are done with their K-12 education. We can be a role model, help them make that connection from where they are today to where we are today. We can also sometimes offer some degree of job and financial security where none exists today.  But if we don’t create opportunities to connect with the kids, that connection never happens.

At Communities In Schools, we believe that every child needs a marketable skill to use upon graduation. It’s one of our five CIS basics. As an employer, what marketable skills are you looking for right now?

We tend to really like life-long learners. But, it’s difficult to assess this in an interview, in that short window of time. So we try to proxy that, find ways to ask questions that indicates how they might be a life-long learner and see if that is a fundamental part of who they are. Do they have that willingness to learn and advance?

Eighteen years is the average tenure for folks at our company. Well over half of our management team here at Humphrey have come up through the ranks. If we’re not hiring people eager to learn new things, we can get stale. We need to constantly bring in new ideas from the outside world even if we’re not bringing in new people.

It seems like you’re doing a pretty good job with this. Your company has been around since 1901.

The Humphrey family deserves credit for that. I have to give them phenomenal kudos. As a fifth generation family business, they have persisted through the years. There are ups and downs in business and there are always companies who desire to purchase us. The Humphrey family has the patience to persist. They understand all this and are happy being in this community and feeding a couple hundred families. They see this as part of their role.

Thank you for your time, Dave Maurer!


Pop Quiz: Von Washington, Jr.

Von-Washington-JrWelcome back to the POP QUIZ! This is a regular, yet totally unexpected, feature where we ask students, parents, staff, our friends, and partners to answer a few questions about what they are learning, reading, and thinking about.

Today we feature Von Washington, Jr. who was the former principal of Kalamazoo Central High School. In July, Von joined theKalamazoo Promise® team as Executive Director of Community Relations. (Janice Brown remains on staff as Director Emeritus and Bob Jorth, administrator of The Promise office since its creation in spring 2006, was recently promoted to Executive Director.)

Since Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo and the Kalamazoo Promise® are housed in the same building and Von’s office is conveniently situated across from me, I decided to officially welcome Von by popping over and springing this pop quiz on him. He was a good sport about it and I’m happy to report that he passed with flying colors! Here are the results:

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

Learning just how many Promise eligible students there are—well over 3,500 Promise-eligible students. That’s an amazing number. Many scholarships out there are ‘use it or lose it.’ With the Kalamazoo Promise®, students have ten years to use it. That’s a real gift.

What are you currently reading?

Mobilizing the Community to Help Students Succeed by Hugh B. Price. And I just finished reading The Coming Jobs War by Jim Clifton. He happens to be the Chairman of Gallup and I’d recommend his book as well.

Mobilizing the Community to Help Students Succeed sounds similar to the CIS mission. Can you share a nugget from the book?

Bottom line…it takes an entire community coming together and pooling its resources for the success of students. One of the ways the community can do this is through CIS and also using positive language about schools and learning. If your schedule is such that you can’t do something time-wise, like volunteering, you can still support students by being positive. When you do that, you are supporting schools and the efforts of everyone else. Positive attitudes only increase. Teachers feel more supported and student attendance improves.

As a principal, I often saw this. There are very few things that one can do in a school if they are not a certified teacher. There are limits and barriers stopping the average person from volunteering within a school. But here in Kalamazoo, an individual can pick up the phone or walk into the CIS office and find out how best they can contribute. I see it happening every day. People bring in backpacks, school supplies, you name it. CIS is more than just tutoring and after school supports. It is the vehicle for those who want to leverage the Kalamazoo Promise®, to help students and schools, with very few barriers.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

(Von laughs.) I’m still working on that. I have had wonderful role models. I would love to be mentioned in the same breath as John Caldwell, former principal of Kalamazoo Central High School. Janice Brown has made enormous contributions to this community. When I am all grown up and if I heard my name mentioned in the same breath as either of those two individuals, well, that would make me prideful.

What is your favorite word right now?

Collaboration. I know it sounds cliché, but collaboration means so many things. Collaboration means sacrifice, desire, community serving, and good stewardship. Many words define collaboration. The ripple effect from collaboration is what excites me right now…It is not a one time deal. It means being part of creating a vehicle to do something better and more efficiently.

Will you share with us something that has been on your mind lately?

The fact that the Kalamazoo Promise® is the most prolific scholarship program in our country and it still seems to be a quiet program. As a community, we have to let everybody know it’s still going and that it is going strong, the number of people it’s impacting and that it’s never ending.

It’s important that students aren’t just aware that there is a scholarship out there for them  but to increase the detailed understanding of this impact that the anonymous donors have made for them. When a student realizes: “some people I don’t even know me have invested in me,” well, that is powerful. When I have this knowledge inside me, it can change both thoughts and behavior. An appreciation of this gift at an early age can make a difference and lead to academic success.

Behind every successful student—and grownup— is a caring adult.  Who is one of your caring adults?

My parents. They are firm believers in hard work, experiences, and they have been the best teachers in my life. I’ve had to hustle to have or receive the things that I have. I learned from them. My son and daughter are both in college now and I’ve tried to have them follow the same rules we had growing up.

My parents are still going strong. They work with over 15,000 students a year through their company, Washington Productions, Incorporated. [WPI desires to create an accurate and in-depth view of the African American experience through the performing arts.]

I’ve met your father [Von Washington, Sr.] before, sat at a table with him at an event sponsored by Western Michigan University’s Rumi club. He has quite a dynamic presence, much like you. What is your mom like?

My mother [Fran Washington] is one of the most caring, nurturing individuals I know. She can look you in the face, and say, “I love you, I care about you, now get out there and earn it!” As a child, I always wanted to make her proud and, well, I still want to.