KGA Engineering Logo

KGA Engineering Company

Libertyville, IL
Years: 1958 – 2020
Membership Level: Founder

KGA Engineering Story

This story starts from two tracks. One of Kenneth G. Anderson and the other of Donald L. Watson; since the company carries Ken’s name in initials, KGA, let’s start there.

Story Track # 1 Kenneth G. Anderson (an orphan) started with Revere Electric in Chicago, IL and then decided to go into the manufacturing representative business. When he heard of a new enclosure product called a junction box, he went to Hoffman Engineering in Anoka, MN. He met the originator of Hoffman (Harry Hoffman) and they agreed to appoint Ken as their first manufacturer’s agent. He asked for and got the territories of Illinois and Wisconsin and portions of Indiana. Quite a start! But then Hoffman was just starting to develop their line and reputation.

Ken’s first location was in Elgin, IL as a stocking rep and he carried conduit, pipe, and other products. His operations developed with the hiring of Jim Carroll and other employees. His locations moved many times when Hoffman developed the distributor stocking requirements and Hoffman’s inventory support directly from Anoka, Minnesota no longer required reps to be stocking. Ken’s moved around the city of Chicago, in various office locations, culminated in the purchase of the present location at 1008 North Milwaukee Ave., Libertyville, IL.

Hoffman Engineering Enclosures
The rep agency prospered with Hoffman products by active selling and appointment of selected distributors with good strong reputations and willingness to stock adequately for their market. This semi-exclusive arrangements lead to very profitable business for distributors and active selling by them on Hoffman products.

The KGA agency developed with other significant lines, but the focus on the enclosure market continued to be the center. Bebco Industries who had developed a purging process for turning industrial enclosures into safe products for hazardous and corrosive markets became synergistic with Hoffman, and again became a deeper reputation in “The Science of Enclosures”. (A byline later developed by Don Watson)

Later in time, a senior employee of Ken’s went to Hoffman and solicited the territory of Wisconsin for himself. Unfortunately for Ken, the business levels were such, that a separate agency for Hoffman covering Wisconsin was enough for them to appoint the new agent and initiate termination procedures by Hoffman.

It was at this point, the roads crossed with Ken and Don, as Ken was going to a Bible study at the Chicago Allen-Bradley office, where Don was the District Manager. The employee who solicited the Wisconsin territory had been at the study as well so the “story” was understood by Don & others. The study was taught by Ace Mokry who had been recommended by someone from Wisconsin where Don had been a Regional Manager for Allen-Bradley. When he moved to Chicago he offered the location, as Ace was looking for a down-town location.


Allen Bradley cup coasters
Story Track # 2 Now let’s begin with Donald L Watson’s track. Don graduated from University of Wisconsin as a BSEE in 1957 and went to work for Allen-Bradley (A-B) where his father Les Watson was Distributor Sales Manager. (A-B at that time was a privately owned company by the Bradley family) Les was developing the limited distribution concept combined with factory and in-field training for distributors. That later developed into the” PAGENT OF CONTROLS” where trained distributor personnel put on a pageant for invited customers explaining the features and concepts of the A-B line coupled with displays, dinner, and fellowship.

Don trained in the factory for one year, with training trips to various field offices. He was assigned to Cleveland office under R.J.Roy where he meets his wife Kathy where she worked for summer break from college. After almost 10 years in Cleveland Don was assigned as District Manager in New Orleans, where he traveled the Gulf Coast including LA , MS, and parts of FL.

Opportunity “knocked” again and after 11 years in New Orleans, he was offered a Regional Manager’s position for A-B in Milwaukee, WI. After a move with Kathy and three children (Don, Rick and Kristi) from high humidity warm, to cold winters, they settled in to Brookfield, WI. Don moved from Southern to Eastern to Midwest Management regions positions without any moves, a big plus of having Regional Managers at A-B Headquarters. Don was offered the opportunity to run the A-B Chicago office, where Dick Wessling was retiring after a very successful career in Chicago. That job looked like a step down, but was a step up, in the realm of compensation systems, in place at that time. A short move south to Chicago, but towards warmer weather!

Then the A-B company went through some big changes where the new president decided to sell all district offices and move all District Managers and Regional Managers. (Remember at that time, Ken & Don were together in Chicago at the bible study at A-B) Don’s new assignment was a smaller office in Minnesota where he relocated the A-B office and as part of the territory the Hoffman Company was a good customer for Allen-Bradley. So Don got to visit Hoffman management and tell them of his familiarity with Hoffman in Illinois through his relationship with Ken Anderson. At that time Hoffman was “pushing” Ken for a succession person, as this was their largest manufacturing rep firm.

Don’s friendship with Ken lead to suggest a few names but they were not acceptable to Hoffman. Then Don’s name came up and all parties were agreeable, and since the Chicago home had not been sold, it looked very doable; except for the purchase of the agency by Don from Ken. What developed was the concept of the “Moving Stream” where Don gave up his 30 years career and Ken agreed to accept a portion of the revenue stream for 10 years. A concept based on trust developed through a friendship started in a bible study! It worked perfectly for 9 years and the last was paid to Ken Anderson’s widow.

MANA Manufacturers' Agency National Association Handbook
What remained was my replacement as District Manager in MN, and Del Nickel from A-B, was recommended and accepted the position. He later left A-B and became the Hoffman’s VP of sales and eventually president of Hoffman Engineering, now Pentair. It was the beginning a new “life” as a manufacturing representative, and Ken was alongside for a year. Plus classes at MANA organization were very helpful understanding the new role between professional manufacturing representatives and their respective manufacturing principles.

In addition to growing the business, hiring, adding lines, Don joined the NEMRA organization and began involvement with local and national activities. That process brought many advantages and relationships with other reps nationally and with Hank Bergson at National level of NEMRA. That also developed into activities with the MRERF (Manufacturers Representative Educational Research Foundation) organization who developed a certification program for representatives conducted by business leaders and professors at various Universities. The CPMR (Certified Professional Manufacturer’s Representative) was awarded after 3 years of work and required continuous training as in any professional organization. Later MRERF also developed CSR (Certified Sales Representative), which is now carried on by the NEAD (National Electrical Distributors) organization.

KGA Engineering Principals
The KGA story continued with my son-in-law Thomas Pankratz joining the firm, and helping develop the KGA agency to one of the largest for Hoffman. Ultimately Hoffman decided to open their own office in Chicago, and Don recommended Tom, who became the new Hoffman Manager, and ultimately their Regional Manager, before he left their company for another position with Emerson.

Along the way, after losing Hoffman, Rick Watson joined the KGA agency, moving to Chicago from Orlando, FL. Rick’s work prospered with our remaining and new lines, as well as, keeping his own company, PTI Solutions Group, a creative marketing company, started in Orlando, FL.

During the remaining years in business, KGA has retained two critical lines: BEBCO and GRACE ENGINERING. The KGA website and Rick’s work with SEO (Search Engine Optimization) programming, has given KGA leads through the Midwest and elsewhere. KGA’s work with catalog houses has expanded the horizons almost without limit, as customers begin to utilize the internet, for information, selection and ordering. Additional back-up support is given, to the catalog houses, by KGA, for in depth discussions and onsite support as needed.

Who knows where the road turns next, but the travels have been blessed, interesting and profitable for all parties.

As KGA Engineering retired President, I would like to thank the people who have fostered excellent products and processes in expanding and new markets with GOD’s blessings along the way.

Donald L. Watson

Written November 12, 2014, published March 21, 2015, modified March 7th, 2021