Jason Hornady Just Threw an Epic 75th Anniversary Party

Jason Hornady, Hornady Manufacturing

QA Outdoors: So you had an intimate little party for 2500 or so friends this past weekend….

Jason Hornady: There were 3,000 redeemed tickets that were coming. And then, as you know, things just happen. We had planned for 3,000 and  2,500 or so were able to be there.

QA: As one of the “No Shows,” I hope that doesn’t earn me a spot on the the enemies list, because you guys do know how to throw a party. You’ve thrown the “Zombies in the Heartland” shooting competition and all other events. Hornadys are not known for half-way fun.

Hornady Manufacturing 75th anniversary

JH: Well, this wasn’t a command performance for anybody. But it was our opportunity to show appreciation to everybody that’s participated. 

This isn’t about being part of the Hornady family as blood relatives. It’s part of being the “Hornady family” as the overarching group of people we have relationships with. We wanted to make sure that everybody remembers this one. It’s funny because as I told my dad, my best friend in Grand Island called me up the other day and said, “What can I do to help you?” 

And I said, “Starting Sunday morning and for the rest of our lives, if I bring up hosting a party, you slap the s**t out of me.”

QA: Well, come on, 100 is the next big one. And if invited, I  plan to attend. But I’m like a musician at a concert series…”scheduled to appear” because of my age. But you’re the young one of the Hornady family. You plan on being there, right?

JH: I might attend. But who knows, it might be my kids’ problem, or who knows whose problem.

QA: You are generation three of the family. And as a company, Hornady’s come a long way since your granddad started in a garage in the 1940s. What have you learned? You grew up knowing there was a successful family business. What’s that like?

JH: It’s interesting, because it’s not something you think about growing up. I mean, it’s just what your family did. And you know, there are a lot of restrictions on what kids can – and can’t – do in manufacturing operations. So I was outside mowing the lawn and doing other miscellaneous chores around here. 

I wasn’t allowed to work in the factory until I was 18. It’s what dad did and we reaped the benefit. I mean, my dad had a cool job and I would come out and see my dad, my grandmother and my aunt and all the employees that, of course, I grew up around.

And that’s one thing that’s interesting…you know this factory smells the same. It’s been ingrained in my brain since I walked around here holding the two fingers of my grandfather and my other grandfather worked here. They used to walk around in the factory and I would toddle around after them. And it was just the way life was. 

We have a family policy that you have to go get 10 years worth of relevant experience before working here. It wasn’t until I was A) looking for jobs out of college and B) taking entry level jobs out of college that I started appreciating what a family business can be. 

I did 15 years before I came back to the family business and by then, I had a real appreciation for how things should and shouldn’t go. Obviously, my dad and my aunt and everybody here were already doing great. I just came in and helped.

QA: Once you stepped outside the family business and went into those entry level jobs, what did you immediately start to notice that was different? What did you pick up from being on the outside looking in?

JH: I was a manufacturer’s rep, Jim. So I’ve worked with over 60 different vendors calling on a hodgepodge of different customer bases, from archery and fishing and marine, to camping, to what we do here. You certainly learn a lot about public ownership, private equity ownership, And then family ownership, or an independent. 

The one thing you pick up in this kind of stuff is that it’s always somebody who really cares that transcends through the whole organization. And the other thing is, if you treat people the way you want to be treated, they will take care of you to the end of time.

QA: A pretty valuable lesson for all of us. A lot of times, we feel like we don’t really have anything to do with the world. You know what I mean…but every individual changes the one way or another because “the world” is wrapped around them.

JH: Yep. I had a guy give me a golf reference the other day. He’s like, ‘Well, you can pay attention and hit the little ball, or if you don’t pay attention, you’ll hit the big ball.’ He was talking about Earth. 

We’re trying to  make sure we hit the golf ball and do the right thing. That’s the other thing, Jim. What’s been instilled in everybody around here — by my father and his father before him — is just do the right thing and we’ll get this whole thing sorted.

QA: The smartest businessman I’ve ever known told me everything boils down to one thing: It’s always right to do right. It’s never right to do wrong. He said, “If you can separate and discriminate what’s right and what’s not right, it will always be all right.”

JH: Another one I caught the other day is also really good: being nice costs you nothing. There are times I wish I had been nicer, but that’s something you learn as you get older.

QA: If I’d done that, I wouldn’t have to start so many of my conversations with old friends with, you know, “I’m sorry about that time….” I came from the the ’80s era of network television. That’s when you led by volume and intimidation. It wins you no loyalty along the line, but some will cheer when you’re headed down.

Hornady, on the other hand, has never had any reputation other than being a family business run by a family that cares about what they’re doing. How do you engender that to the people that work with you and under you?  I hesitate to use “under you” because I believe you think of people working with you.

JH: This is a big team. The best way I like to say that is there’s not an operation here that’s more important than their families. They’re working to live, not living to work. 

The other part of this is that we sell fun. So you let your employees have fun with the products we make. We try to encourage people to shoot. We try to give them opportunities to do this stuff, you know, for those who are interested. Then you give them opportunities to have a voice. Then you do your best to reap all the rewards and then share them across the board.  

We have a pretty assertive bonus and profit sharing program. Every employee gets the exact same percentage of their W2 and that’s usually on June 15. So I’ll tell you that between June 15 and June 23, it was a pretty big, pretty fun time for all our employees.

QA: Well, I saw a picture from the factory floor of everybody gathered around for Bonus Day. Then you followed that up with an intimate little party for 2500 people, right?

JH: We made sure we told everybody that we’re just doing this one. Next year’s Bonus Day might not be as exciting.

QA: What struggles have the Hornadys seen along the way that you’ve had to deal with over your portion of the 75 years?

JH: My dad certainly has dealt with far more of the struggles than I have. 

His work started even before my grandfather was killed…he had to navigate all of that. Then, you know, some of the downturns of the ’80s, then we started seeing our first “surge” which was when Bill Clinton got elected. So he’s had it far harder than me.

For me the most difficult things are anything outside things that we can’t control…commodities pricing going haywire, some of the political issues we’ve been back and forth on.

He likes to remind me often that all of our challenges we can deal with…our self-inflicted challenges. It’s the external challenges that we don’t control that we have to be mindful of and do our best to try and think about those. The rest of stuff you can fix. 

We, like everybody in a hobby industry, have had some unprecedented growth at various times from unforeseen circumstances. Nobody saw what was going to happen during COVID and all that stuff. We actually got a couple death threats that we weren’t shipping enough ammo during the whole COVID thing. Those were certainly interesting. 

But for the most part, customers have always kind of understood. As paranoid as some are thinking “We’re all hoarding ammo to raise the prices,” or “The government’s buying everything,” those rumors that were spread at various times weren’t true. Most of the time customers kind of shrugged and said, “OK, well, do your best.” 

And that’s what we did. We told them what we were doing and we told them we’ll make more every day, so everybody should just keep shooting, because we promise we’ll keep making more.

But you know the truth is, despite the challenges, it’s been so much fun that that I should pinch myself every day.

QA: Do you see anything coming on the horizon? You guys are pretty good at forecasting and seeing what’s down the road. What what do you see as big issues for the industry in general going forward?

JH: Certainly the industry popularity has swung pretty good. It’s like a pendulum. The thing I never saw coming was the popularity of shooting and hunting swinging to the positive during COVID. All of a sudden, people wanted to hunt again. Some were afraid they might have to do it to live, you know we went through those weird times. There were more firearms sold to the shooting public in those three years than any of us ever fathomed.

Now you hear lots of other different things like the Surgeon General making political commentary and that political angle.   Whoever seems to be in control in our government, that’s the biggest challenge. It’s a challenge when it’s positive. It’s a challenge when it’s negative. But the thing is, it doesn’t take much to make some very difficult regulations. So we have to figure out how to make sure we keep our people busy. That’s the same problem everybody in the industry has. 

We worry about more restrictions on the materials we can use. We worry about more restrictions on the firearms people can purchase. It’s just navigating with a lot of people who don’t necessarily understand what it is we do and what we don’t do.

QA: Several years ago, my first conversation I had with your dad was heated, partially because I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I went to an NSSF seminar talking about ammunition and suggested, “Why don’t we just take the moral high ground and say in five years, we won’t be using lead in any ammunition?”

Sounds like a noble idea, but that’s not really doable, is it?

JH: No, that’s not doable. I can see why that conversation would get heated. Lead is absolutely the best bullet making material on the planet, and that’s that. Certainly that one is a concern, because it is the best bullet making material there is. There is no substitute for it that makes stuff better at a price that’s reasonable. Nothing. Trust me, we’ve tried and tried and we try all the time.

QA: So the science of the matter settles the issue. I mean, it just works?

JH: Physics is physics. Math is math. But honestly, gold and silver make pretty good bullets and a couple of other metals, but I don’t think anyone would appreciate those prices.

QA: The “cantafordium” bullet finally is a reality. But it has to be frustrating. You talk about science and physics, but you have to try to counter the heat of emotion. Because that can trump logic. 

In fact, when you get into a discussion with some people, they just won’t accept any answer other than what they think the answer is. How do you deal with that?

JH: Well…a lot of deep breaths and remembering that being nice is free. But also just being emphatic in the position. 

I listened to somebody the other day say, “You just don’t understand, I’m shunned in my neighborhood because I’m a gun owner.”  

Okay, well, you know what, I might be shunned too, but I don’t care. It’s what I like. It’s what I do. It’s what I am. It’s hard to articulate some of that because some people watch too many movies, too many news reports and too many TV shows. And they think that’s all the way it works, but it’s not.

QA: The problem with common sense is it’s not all that common anymore. So what’s on the horizon? What’s the new technology? Is there a new “super bullet?” A new caliber? You know, tell me what you’re working on.

JH: You know I can’t tell you that kind of stuff.

QA: And you know…I have to ask (laughing).

JH: That’s one of the most fun things. We consider ourselves a new products company. We have a team of people — actually its teams of people  — it’s all of our employees. Some of the best ideas come from random places. You know, we all sit around and talk about, “That’s cool…let’s try it.” 

And you know what? You just have to have a decent batting average. There are a couple of things on the horizon and I’ll say you probably will want to interview us again.

QA: We’re always ready to do that. Because you’re always fun to talk with. So we’ll just say happy birthday and agree to pick this up at another time.

JH: Well, on behalf of Hornady Manufacturing and everybody here, we sure appreciate the interest and appreciate you.

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