Bob Boyle once went to a circus — not to watch the acts, but to spend time figuring out how the management moved all the people and equipment from place to place.
That’s the kind of mind that has brought Boyle and his wife, Doree, to own and run three Southwest Michigan manufacturing companies that they continue to work in even now that they are 87 and 79 years old.
The Boyles’ businesses are not highly visible — in fact, most folks around here may not have ever heard of Coxline Inc., in Parchment; Wellsaw Inc., on North Burdick Street, in Kalamazoo’s Northside; or W.F. Wells, in Three Rivers. But many people see one of those companies’ products on a daily basis: Those ubiquitous metal boxes that protect electrical, pneumatic and hydraulic controls for everything from substation transformers to industrial sprinkling systems (pictured above) are made by Coxline.
Bob and Doree Boyle are typical of many couples of their generation. Bob fought in the Korean War, came home, got a job and married Doree, and the two of them had children, formed a company to achieve the American Dream and later bought three other companies. What isn’t so typical is that Bob, 87, and Doree, 79, are still working that dream three days a week from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m.
Bob finds it fun to see how his companies are doing as the next generation manages them, while Doree continues to take care of payroll, a job she took on from the very beginning, in addition to caring for the couple’s seven children.
“I wanted to do something to contribute to the business as well as taking care of our home and children,” says Doree, who married Bob in 1958.
Both Bob and Doree are native Kalamazooans. Doree went to St. Augustine High School (now Hackett Catholic Prep) and Bob went to Kalamazoo Central. After his military service in Korea, Bob worked for 17 years at National Waterlift, where he worked his way up from running a blueprint machine to engineering and acquired several patents along the way.
Bob says he’s just naturally interested in machinery, mathematics and mechanical things. In the early 1970s, he had a side job developing robots for the metal conveyor manufacturer Prab. That job spurred him to launch his first company, Boyle Engineering, in October 1973 with the couple’s savings and a $5,000 loan, which they paid off in a month. Boyle Engineering transitioned into a company named Fluid Mechanics and then into Robot Research, as Boyle engineered and manufactured robots for Prab and other firms, including Stryker.
“The secret of Bob’s success has been his gift of curiosity and enthusiasm,” Doree says. “And he always had an entrepreneurial sense about him.”
Bob is quick to point out he didn’t go it alone. One of the first tasks the couple did together after they bought Coxline in 1982 was to paint the building. “He was enthused to let me help him,” Doree says.
“Some businessmen don’t want their wives to work with them,” Bob says, “but a wife can make a huge contribution to the company if she’s let loose.”
In 1986 the Boyles bought Wellsaw, and in 1990 they bought W.F. Wells. Both companies make metal-cutting band saws. In 2000 the Boyles moved Coxline from Grand Rapids to Parchment onto land that Doree’s father had farmed. The house she grew up in is across Riverview Drive from the manufacturing facility.
During all this time, the Boyles raised seven children and put all of them through college. Doree says their success at running several companies and raising a large family is partly due to the fact that “Bob is a great delegator.” This trait is especially important now that the next generation is managing the three companies.
The Boyles’ son, Patrick, runs Wellsaw, and Al Stefanski and son-in-law Dave Stover oversee W.F. Wells. Another son-in-law, Ed Smith, runs Coxline. Together, all three companies employ 100 people and sell their products worldwide.
“It wasn’t easy to let go,” Bob admits, “but they’ve done a good job.”
Throughout the years, Doree managed the homefront, maintaining closeness among their large brood. The family members often travel together to places like Europe, Asia and Alaska.
As for the relationship with her husband, Doree says, “We argue, but we don’t fight. The kids never saw us mad for more than an hour. Religion has held our family together, too.” The Boyles are members of St. Ann Parish in Augusta.
“We’ve been blessed,” agrees Bob. “Even so, it’s not easy to turn over something you’ve built. But my son and sons-in-law have a good business sense, and they take care of everything. Maybe someday their kids will take over the business.”