by Sarah Einselen Pharos-Tribune
---- — DELPHI — Dick Bradshaw got rid of his company’s time clock.
“I look at it like this,” he said. “If somebody’s not here and you don’t know it, they must not be a very important employee.”
And since doing so some time ago, he’s not had a problem, he added.
“I think you just have to trust the people you work with,” said Bradshaw. “You just cannot spend the time looking over people’s shoulders.”
“If they’re not doing their job,” he added, “it shows up pretty quick.”
Bradshaw, who for the last 33 years has headed up the Bradshaw family’s longtime business, Delphi Body Works, was recently recognized by the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce, receiving the organization’s highest award, the Charles Carroll award.
The award, now in its third year, recognizes a recipient’s commitment to Carroll County — but recipients must also embody the spirit of Charles Carroll himself, who was not only enthusiastic about the hometown area that eventually carried his name, but also wasn’t afraid to stand up for what’s right, according to chamber director Julia Leahy.
Leahy, who calls Bradshaw a mentor, said she’d learned the value of “taking the high road” through working with Bradshaw.
“He’s very hardworking, but caring and passionate,” she said. And he’s been “a huge part” of Carroll County for years.
Bradshaw took over Delphi Body Works on his father’s retirement in 1980, after a 14-year stint teaching high school history and shop in Chicago.
A pair of entrepreneurs had started the shop in 1848 with a little financial help from Bradshaw’s great-grandfather, a jeweler from the East Coast who dropped his jeweler’s tools at the Delphi train stop and missed getting back on the train while he gathered them up. He ended up settling in Delphi.
The accidental Delphi resident then became part owner of the young wagon manufacturing business by accident, but passed the business on down through the family.
Through the years, the company — whose name has gone from Delphi Wagon Works in the early days, to Delphi Body Works now — went from making wagons for personal use to making school wagons and school buses, then transitioned to making vehicles for rural electric cooperatives, which needed specialized trucks to haul utility building and maintenance equipment.
“That was really a burgeoning business ... because everybody in the country wanted lights,” said Bradshaw. The company got into distributing equipment made by other manufacturers in the electric boom.
It pushed the company to start manufacturing trucks with ladders built onto the back, too. “We were in all of that because REMCs [rural electric membership cooperatives] wanted that,” Bradshaw said.
Distributing utility equipment worked well for the company — until many of its suppliers began moving toward a direct business model, bypassing the “middle man,” companies like Delphi Body Works that bought from a manufacturer and sold to customers.
That’s when the Delphi company refocused on manufacturing, bought one of its suppliers and became a direct seller itself. “You have to find a way to figure how to survive,” said Bradshaw. “It’s not an unusual story.”
Since the 1990s, the company’s primary product has been aerial towers — platforms mounted on hydraulic lifts, to bring workers up to the height of a street light, urban train wire or other elevated piece of equipment. Its workers don’t make the trucks themselves, but manufacture truck bodies, and the lifts they hold, each according to its own specifications.
“We’ve survived for 23 years building our own product, marketing, servicing ... what we’ll be doing 10 years from now, I’m not sure,” commented Bradshaw.
Since he returned to Delphi in the 1980s, he’s gotten involved in several volunteer opportunities in Carroll County, including the construction of three suspension bridges for foot traffic and the launch of the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce in 2005. He’s currently president of the chamber board.
But he doesn’t participate in such volunteer initiatives out of a disinterested philanthropic turn, he averred.
“I do it because it makes me feel good,” he explained. “We think about ourselves ... that’s just human nature. I just believe that we do things because it makes you feel good.”
He admitted that he’d felt “kind of shocked” when he learned he’d been selected for the Charles Carroll Award at its announcement Oct. 30 at the chamber’s annual membership dinner.
“There are lots of folks that deserve lots of things, and I’m probably not one of them,” Bradshaw said.
Sarah Einselen is news editor at the Pharos-Tribune. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 574-732-5151. Twitter: @PharosSME