150 Years of Leadership: Joe Hoffmann

September 30, 2022

150 years of leadership graphic with Joe Hoffmann portrait

Call it fate, happenstance, coincidence or destiny, Joe Hoffmann, BS ME ’13, knows he’s exactly where he’s supposed to be.

As General Manager at Hoffmann Brothers in St. Louis, he oversees operations of five divisions: residential and commercial heating and cooling, plumbing, electrical and appliance. Since he started in 2016, he’s helped grow company revenue from $10 million to $80 million. That’s a 30% increase year-over-year.

“Every year as we’re budgeting, we say ‘There’s no way we can do it again,’” said Hoffmann, the youngest son of founder Robert Hoffmann. “But we build a budget from the ground up, and every year we come up with realistic numbers and get buy-in from the team to go out and execute the plan. So, I see no reason to slow down. We have a really good team, and my brother, Chris, is fantastic. I’d pick him over any other partner in the world.”

That’s why it’s surprising to hear Hoffmann say he had no intention of joining the family business when he graduated from Mizzou Engineering.

A series of fortunate events

Growing up, both of Hoffmann’s parents were engineers. By high school, Hoffmann’s decision to pursue engineering, too, was solidified.

“But I never had the intention of coming back and working for Hoffmann Brothers,” he said, noting that at the time, extended family members were also involved in the business.

A series of fortunate events led him to his current position.

At Mizzou Engineering, Hoffmann took an elective his senior year in HVAC refrigeration. And faculty advisors strongly recommended he take a fundamentals of engineering course in case he ever wanted to pursue a Professional Engineers’ license, even though he didn’t think he’d ever need it.

Both would prove essential to his career.

After graduation, Hoffmann accepted a job in sales engineering for Trane in Louisville, Kentucky. There, he designed and sold commercial heating and cooling systems using his engineering background and the intensive training he received in the HVAC course he elected to take.

“When I was looking for jobs after graduation, it just so happened, the best opportunity was in the same industry as my father,” he said. “I had no intention of selling commercial HVAC equipment and no intention of working for my father. It just happened to work out nicely.”

In 2016, his father gave his son the opportunity to join the team. Hoffmann Brothers needed a manager, Robert Hoffmann told him, whether it was going to be Joe or someone else.

“It was kind of a now-or-never situation,” Hoffmann said. “And while I loved where I was working, I couldn’t miss the opportunity.”

Before taking the role, however, Hoffmann was required to get his Professional Engineer license. The Fundamentals of Engineering course helped him pass the exam.

“Boy, was I happy that I had taken that course,” he said. “It would have been a lot more challenging to accomplish that without it.”

A family business

Hoffmann knows not everyone’s family owns a business. That’s why he makes it a priority as general manager to make Hoffmann Brothers a business that treats employees like family.

“I’m fortunate in that I wouldn’t be in my current position without my father giving me such a great opportunity to take the reins and grow the business,” he said. “But part of the reason I want to grow it 30% each year is to create opportunities for advancement and promotion of others. It’s exciting when employees want to come to work every day and do the best job they can because they know opportunities are going to present themselves. That motivates me to continue to grow, because it creates more opportunities for everyone who works here.”

That’s also why Hoffmann encourages Mizzou Engineering graduates to be selective about where they begin their careers. Salary and location are important, he said, but also take into consideration a company’s values and opportunities for growth and advancement.

And it will improve your chances of upward movement later in your career. As an employer, Hoffmann said he prefers candidates who have been with one company for several years over resumes showing multiple workplaces in a short time span.

“Cut your teeth with a company before you find another opportunity at a different company,” he said. “Don’t be afraid to step into an engineering role even if you want to end up in the C-suite. Those entry positions are going to be in the weeds, but do the absolute best you can, and that’s going to be your steppingstone to the next role.”

Along the way, Hoffmann said, take initiative to continue learning and figure out what you need to do to succeed on the job and for future advancement.

Mizzou Engineering students, he stressed, are already on the right path to success. He noted that most of his former classmates have also transitioned from traditional engineering roles to leadership positions.

“Engineering opens doors,” Hoffmann said. “You can pick up a lot of books and be self-taught in business or other subjects. You can’t be self-taught in engineering — you need to learn engineering in school.”

And because Mizzou offers opportunities to hone leadership skills alongside hands-on engineering training, career opportunities are vast.

“Engineering teaches you problem solving,” Hoffmann said. “I think that’s why employers tend to hire engineers for non-engineering positions. If you have that engineering brain and can figure out solutions to complex engineering problems, you can figure out solutions to complex problems related to any other field. That made a huge impact on my career.”

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