From Zero to Tool Industry Dominance: Milwaukee Tool’s Innovative Path to Industry Leadership

Uncover how Milwaukee Tool's relentless pursuit of innovation, including breakthroughs like lithium-ion battery solutions, has catapulted it to the forefront of the power tool industry, shaping its trajectory on a global scale.

How do you transform a 100-year-old brand like Milwaukee Tool, taking it from the back of the pack in market share to the leading maker of professional power tools and equipment?

“You don’t do it by setting goals you know you can achieve,” says Craig Baxter, group president of TTI Canada.

“Very little that’s great has ever been achieved by setting easily achievable goals, I’m a strong believer in audacious goals,” says Baxter. “I love that word. An audacious goal changes everything. It changes the way you think, the way you plan, the way you behave. It changes your entire approach.”

Sixth in a five-horse race

If anyone would know from experience about the power of audacious goal-setting, it’s Baxter.

In 2007, when he first joined Milwaukee Tool, the company’s products were barely on the radar as a job site solution.

“We were sixth in a five-horse race in terms of the market share of professional cordless tools,” Baxter recalls. “My first audacious goal was committing back in 2007 to make Milwaukee the number one brand of professional power tools in Canada by 2017. To achieve that meant we had to grow at least 20 per cent a year for 10 straight years.”

Under Baxter’s leadership, Milwaukee Tool didn’t just achieve that goal—they smashed it. “We’ve compounded at 24 per cent for the last 16 years,” he says.

Craig Baxter, group president of TTI Canada

Leading by inspiration

But while Milwaukee Tool’s continuous innovation is critical, Baxter credits his workforce–and the incredible spirit of teamwork and collaboration he set out to foster–for these incredible results.

Having taken the company from less than 100 employees in 2007 to almost 800—“we have single-digit turnover” Baxter notes—he’s determined to build the best possible team and the best possible work culture.

“My job is to create an environment where talented, ambitious people can flourish,” he says.

For Baxter, that all hinges upon leadership. “The predominant leadership style today is command and control,” he says. “But that style is never going to lead to extraordinary results over the long term. And that’s because great people simply don’t want to be controlled.”

To Baxter, one of the great ironies in workplaces today is that business acumen and niche skills become less important as people climb through the ranks and take on positions requiring leadership. “Supply chain, inventory, and metrics are all things that need to be managed. The problem is a lot of managers treat people like they’re things. Leaders need to focus on the inspiration piece, not the management piece when it comes to people,” he says.

To that effect, Baxter himself teaches leadership courses, handing down to TTI’s emerging and experienced managers his tenets for inspiring audacious performance–things like strong communication, building trust by sharing the credit and accepting the blame when things don’t go as planned.

“If you don’t understand how to get the best work out of individuals, then extraordinary results will be incredibly difficult to achieve,” he says.

“Great leaders are able to inspire people to become the absolute best version of themselves, and in so doing, they’re able to stretch for audacious goals.”

Powering the job sites of the future

This focus on leadership is a formula Baxter believes can power Milwaukee Tool for the next 100 years.

“Cordless is an arms race,” Baxter acknowledges. “Our vision is a cordless job site—and by that I mean everything from a small renovation to building a tower downtown. Our vision is to have every single application on that job site powered with a lithium-ion solution brought to you by Milwaukee. We want to replace other batteries, replace hydraulics, replace pneumatic air, replace gas and cords. Any source of power on the job, we want to replace it with one of our solutions. In five years, I see us providing solutions that are beyond anybody’s imagination on a job site,” Baxter says.

With such a great team and strong leaders on his side, it’s yet another audacious goal Baxter believes is within reach. “Just look at what we’ve brought to market so far. You can only imagine how many solutions and the type of capabilities we will provide in the future. We are just getting started.”

Milwaukee Tool
Milwaukee Tool