His name was Louis B. Neumiller, but everyone called him Louie. He will always be remembered as Caterpillar’s third Chairman and President, but what made him tick? In many ways he was really no different than all of us. He was an athlete who thrived on competition and teamwork. He loved to share with anyone who would listen about his family and their lives together. Louie was compassionate and always knew when to say the right thing. From stenographer to Chairman, he was a local boy who did good, overseeing Caterpillar’s rise from a national based tractor company to a global force with many different lines of product.
Louie was born in 1896 in Peoria, Illinois, to the son of a blacksmith. He experienced early hardship as his father passed away when he was only five-years old. He worked in the family business but still graduated from Peoria High School in 1914. While in high school, Louie competed in both football and basketball. He learned early that teamwork was important to success in all facets of life.
Louie never shied away from talking about his family as seen in his many correspondence and features in Caterpillar’s employee publication called News & Views. He married Selma Engstrom of McPherson, Kansas, in 1930 and was the father of three girls - Martha, Mary Louise and Ana Marie.
After working a few odd jobs, he applied for a position at The Holt Manufacturing Company in East Peoria, Illinois. His first job was as a stenographer and blueprint clerk. In 1925, Holt merged with C. L. Best Tractor Company to form the Caterpillar Tractor Co. and his career faced uncertainty. The new company’s management was run by the former Best concern. Louie was relieved when he found Caterpillar offered new opportunities. Like many of the employees who worked for Holt in the East Peoria, he said “I learned about the merger in the newspapers.”
Louie became the general parts manager and was credited for its growth. His first job was to consolidate the parts departments for the former Best and Holt companies. He also implemented a parts strategy that for each new machine model was put on the market, it would be immediately followed by a parts stock. He said, “I always looked upon a Caterpillar tractor as a business. To the man who owns one, it is his business. If a part breaks, he is out of business until his machine is running again. Our ability to obtain a repeat order from every customer depends upon our ability to deliver a part promptly.”
Louie caught the eye of the new Caterpillar leaders, such as C.L. Best, Harry Fair, R.C. Force and B.C. Heacock. They were called the “Best Men” because they were all from the former Best management team. They were won over not only by his work ethic and results, but also by as Harry Fair said was his “delicate Neumiller touch” of saying things. In 1932, he was promoted to service manager. He became the first director of industrial relations in 1937 and was selected as a vice president later that year. During this time, he also led the company’s first labor negotiations.
In October 1941, Louie was Caterpillar’s first Caterpillar leader who was not part of the Best management team, being elected President of Caterpillar. He later became Chairman of the company in 1954. As President, he coined the popular phrase I-T-A-B-W-O-D-I. Standing for “Is There a Better Way of Doing It,” Louie would ask employees on the factory floor as well as those in the offices to look for ways to improve how we did our business. “Improve the methods, organize the work, systematize the routine; then find the right man to assume responsibility,” said Louie on several occasions.
Under Louis’ leadership, Caterpillar became the global company it is today. From 1941 to 1962, Caterpillar supported military efforts during World War II, broadened its product line from three to 11 machine families, acquired Trackson Company, grew from 16,000 to more than 36,000 employees and opened 13 new factories, which six of which were overseas. At the dedication of the new plant in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1959, Louie said “There is but one Caterpillar and wherever it is, you will find it reaching for high levels of integrity, achievement and quality - standing first and foremost for the rights and dignity of the individual and wishing to make association with the company a life satisfying experience.” In 1950, Louie received a memorable compliment which he saved from one of Caterpillar’s founders and first Chairman, C.L. Best, “I am very pleased the way you have handled things—you are doing a fine job, more power to you.”
To recognize Louie’s ongoing efforts to promote safety throughout the company, Caterpillar established the Louis B. Neumiller Safety Award in 1959. This award was given to any Caterpillar facility or department for outstanding achievement in safety on the basis of active and continued interest in accident prevention, use of safety equipment, enforcement of safety rules and statistical records. The award is still being given out today now called the Chairman’s Safety Award.
Neumiller retired as Chairman in 1962, but remained on the Board of Directors into 1968. Although he is no longer with us be will always be remembered as Louie.