The late Leonard Ullrich started Hydraflow in a small garage 55 years ago with two employees. Today, the family-owned company employs nearly 250 people in their 174,000-square-foot facility in Fullerton designing and manufacturing low-pressure, lightweight, flexible products, like hose assemblies and couplings, for the aerospace industry.
“Hydraflow products are used in the galleys, lavatories, oxygen systems and fuel lines of both commercial and military aircraft,” says Ullrich’s daughter, Cindy Ayloush, the company’s CEO and CFO. “Aerospace is exciting because of the advances in technology – there are always new airplanes being developed.”
Named a supplier of the year by Boeing, Hydraflow’s components help make aircraft lighter, and they lower the cost of the airplane. It’s also easier for technicians to install the parts in very tight spaces, says Ayloush of the company’s innovations. “We have developed a small niche market that did not exist before.”
At Mihaylo College, Ayloush is a member of the Dean’s Advisory Board and serves on the Center for Family Business Advisory Board. Hydraflow has generously named a faculty office in Mihaylo Hall and contributed to the Muth Family Endowed Chair for Family Business.
She has been a part of her father’s business for more than four decades, and the family’s third generation, including her daughter and son, now works at Hydraflow. She discusses the strategies necessary for running a thriving family-owned business as well as the dynamics of working in the ever-changing aeronautics industry:
The third generation of your family is now working at Hydraflow. How do you make a family business work?
Traditionally, the third generation is the one that falls away from the business. Forming a family council with a facilitator is one of the most important ways to keep the family business together, and we formed ours about two years ago.
The council is a way to bring parents, siblings and cousins together to work on projects and learn to have working relationships. And they all have equal say. One of the biggest pitfalls is when family members can’t get along, and a company can’t move forward if there’s discontent among the owners. The council has allowed us to work through our differences and similarities. We have learned to let everyone speak, and we listen. We acknowledge our differences and move on.
How has your family planned for long-term ownership?
The third generation created a family charter, which outlines what the family members must do to qualify for employment at Hydraflow. It outlines the authority of the family owners versus the authority of Hydraflow executives.
The charter will be passed down to every generation, and the family council has the power to change the charter as time goes by.
You are very active with Mihaylo College’s Center for Family Business. Why is this important to you?
About two years after my dad passed away, I was in a confusing place as to the future of Hydraflow. I was invited to the center’s monthly workshop, and I was hooked. I discovered information about best practices, and there was a college course that my kids could take. I was so relieved to find a way to carry the company forward. That’s when I told my brother we needed to make this a family business and ensure that it will be passed from generation to generation, and it started a new way of thinking for us.
On the business front, how did you weather the economic ups and downs of the last 10 years?
We were able to get through the economic recession by not hiring anyone when people left and by not making any unnecessary purchases. Fortunately, Hydraflow has never had layoffs. Even though our sales were down, we still ended those years with a profit. Many companies didn’t make it because they had too much debt. Hydraflow never has debt and does not borrow money.
What might a layperson outside the industry find most surprising about manufacturing?
I believe that the general public believes that manufacturing is dead in the United States, and this is a misconception. We deal every day with suppliers and manufacturers right here in the U.S. I was surprised that as my children entered college, no one ever suggested a career in manufacturing. It is very hard to attract new graduates because they believe manufacturing is not a viable option.
With regard to client relations, what are your guiding principles?
If a customer calls, we answer the phone. We provide excellent quality and on-time delivery. One of our customers said, “Hydraflow gives us a quote, takes the order and ships the parts before their competitor gives us the price.” We also treat our suppliers with respect; we pay them in a timely manner and deliver on time just as we do with our customers.