Talking with the cofounder and president of Cranes & Equipment Corp. in Peoria…
I recently spent a few hours with a wonderful lady talking about her life—from her small-town beginnings to her upcoming retirement as president of a very successful company here in Peoria, Illinois. She was no child prodigy, nor a celebrity wannabe just waiting to set the world on fire. She was just a young lady who wanted to grow up to teach business courses in grade school, or maybe high school.
Out of the Valley
Joan E. Tieman Ausbury was born June 8, 1951, in Spring Valley, Illinois. “I was just a little girl with one brother and two hard-working parents who taught me early on a work ethic that stuck with me all my life,” she tells me. “My dad was co-owner in a fruit business, and my mom worked as an assembler for Westclox [a clock and watch manufacturer founded in Peru, Illinois]. My dad suffered a couple of heart attacks and had to sell the fruit business. He and my mom then bought a tavern that was connected to a large house and opened up Tieman’s Tap.
“I went to a parochial school and then to Hall Township High School, where I was, again, just an average student. I always had a job. I worked as a cook in a hospital in both the summer and winter... and when I went to the football games, I worked in the concession stands. By the time I was 17, I was the head cook, with two other cooks working for me. I worked as the cook, served on the serving line, and did all the special diets as well. I was a very good cook and a loyal, reliable employee. I never forgot what my parents used to tell me about working: ‘Joan, you can’t get anywhere sitting back watching the world go by.’”
Into the Workforce
Although there was always a job to go to, Joan had one driving interest, and that was to teach business courses. She loved shorthand, typing and all things connected with running a business. After graduating from Midstate College in 1971 with her associate’s degree in business, Joan accepted a job with the Peoria Public Library in downtown Peoria.
She then moved on to the Peoria Tractor Company on War Memorial Drive, the local sales outlet for Caterpillar tractors and parts. She started as secretary in the sales department, where she finally found herself in a busy office setting. Joan was married in 1974 and had a child, Amy, while still employed at the tractor company.
When Amy was an infant, Joan could not find a suitable babysitter, so she quit her job to take care of her child full-time. Her husband was not a reliable wage earner, and by 1981, the two were divorced. He headed for Texas, leaving her with the task of caring for herself and her child. “I remember times when I wondered if I could buy a loaf of bread or milk,” she recalls. “It was a very challenging time for us.”
Cranes & Equipment
Joan had a bit of good fortune when she was able to go back to work for Peoria Tractor Company as the assistant sales manager. By 1982, she and her friend Don Wheeler started up a new company called The Supply House, which developed into her current business, Cranes & Equipment Corp. From its inception, she was named the company’s president. She laughingly tells me that “the corporation had one employee, and that was me. Don was still working his job. He and I would consult on weekends, and after that, I was on my own.”
Joan traveled to Italy trying to find a company she could represent here in the United States, and through that process, she began to learn all she could about cranes and how to sell them. “I finally connected with the Effingham Foundation Company and joined the Concrete Foundation Association.” In 1989, Don Wheeler retired from his old job and joined Joan as product support expert, and in 1997, they moved into the Ingersoll building, and later into a building that used to house Globe Glass.
“I was a mechanic, a packer of parts, a shipper, a salesperson and manager as well,” says Joan. “I did everything I could to get this company off the ground, and finally we were able to hire a few employees. The traveling cost me time that I wanted to spend with my daughter, and of course, I regretted that. But we now had mechanics and salespeople, and we could assemble the product we sold. Caterpillar bought that building, so we moved to a five-acre plot and built a much larger, efficient building that we are currently occupying.”
The economy tanked in 2007-2008, and several full-time employees had to be cut. Both Joan and Don were thinking of retirement, and of course, the question of what to do with the company was uppermost in their minds. It was at that time that a general manager was hired to take over the day-to-day running of Cranes & Equipment, and a decision was made to sell the company to its employees. That was accomplished under the rules of something called ‘ESOP’ [employee stock ownership plan].
After 32 years of toil, Joan summed it all up by saying, “I never thought I would end up having what I have today.” In February of 2015, President Ausbury will move into her new home in Huntley, Illinois, where she will be near her daughter and grandchildren. iBi
Norm Kelly is a Peoria historian and author of true crime and fiction available online and in Peoria’s libraries. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.