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How John Splude Built A Software Company Out Of A Public Accounting Career

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How Did You Do That? host Kathleen Gallagher speaks with entrepreneur John Splude about what he's learned in the fields of accounting and software.

John Splude began his career in public accounting, auditing some of the biggest companies in the area. But he stayed involved with his firm’s smaller clients along with the Fortune 50 companies. And he became more and more interested in the operations side of the businesses. 

"When you work with smaller companies you really become part of their management team, and they come to you with issues involving their operations, decisions they need to make. And I really got a lot of pleasure out of that, much more than I did just in the pure auditing work," says Splude. 

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Credit Photo courtesy of John Splude
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After selling his software company HK Systems, John Splude now runs JWS Classics, a classic car company in Greendale, Wis.

He moved in 1978 to Harnischfeger, the Milwaukee-based construction, industrial and mining equipment maker, and he was well-positioned to work his way up. Splude became a key player in the financial reorganization of the business, got involved in many important operational decisions and was eventually put in charge of Harnischfeger Engineers — a division that operated in the emerging area of automated handling systems. 

By 1993 John found an opportunity to spin his division out of Harnischfeger into a new business called HK Systems. It would become the only Harnischfeger unit to survive its bankruptcy. HK Systems flourished as an engineering material handling software company, serving big customers like Amazon, the Federal Reserve and Miller Brewing. It was acquired in 2010 by Dematic Group for more than $300 million. 

John’s tips for other entrepreneurs: 

  • Stay with what you know
  • Focus your business on superior customer service
  • Follow your instincts
  • Give luck a chance and don’t feel bad about it 
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Kathleen Gallagher is the host of How Did You Do That?