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Industry Legend John Hackenberg Remembered

Members of the machine tool community share memories of John Hackenberg, a beloved mentor and influential industry leader who passed away in February.
May 06, 2024

The manufacturing industry lost a legend with the passing of John Hackenberg, who died on Feb. 24, 2024, just two days after his 82nd birthday. Hackenberg was well known as an influential figure in machine tool distribution for more than three decades, as well as a generous mentor who fostered the careers of many professionals in the machine tool industry.

Hackenberg began his career in the early 1970s at Deaderick & Royster. In 1979, Hackenberg started J&H Machine Tool with business partner Bob Johnson, who passed away last year. Together, they nurtured the business, grew it to 82 employees, and represented machine tool manufacturers in nine Southeastern states. They sold J&H Machine Tool to Ellison Technologies in 2008.

From 1994 to 1995, Hackenberg was the national chairman of the American Machine Tool Distributors' Association, which merged with AMT – The Association For Manufacturing Technology in 2012. His contributions in many different industry organizations were instrumental in establishing and maintaining the professional standards of the machine tool industry.

Lee Morris, chairman of Morris Group Inc., remembers Hackenberg as a strong leader in the business.

“John was a professional salesman and a consummate businessman who had a great sense of humor and an infectious laugh,” Morris says. “I admired his ability to maintain the right work-life balance, finding the time for boating, flying his prized Piper Cub, or just spending time with family and friends.”

One benefactor of Hackenberg’s mentoring was Jack Hasty, who recently retired as president of Ellison Technologies. Hasty began his career at J&H Machine Tool at age 26 and spent 21 years working with Hackenberg.

“John was like a father figure in that he wanted the best for his employees,” Hasty says. “He gave me the opportunity to succeed with only one request: ‘Follow and trust me, and you’ll do great things.’ I carried his advice in my heart every day at work, and I managed my own teams based on John’s principals.”

Brooke Sykes, president of Cardinal Machinery, has many fond memories of Hackenberg as a father figure as well. Sykes started as an inside sales engineer at J&H Machine Tool in 1981 while still a college student. He eventually became the company’s first regional sales manager and helped open the Tennessee office expansion.

“John was bigger than life, and I’m blessed to have had him as a mentor in my life,” Sykes says. “He nurtured the team and gave them hope. John wanted to see his people do well, not just for his company J&H but for them individually. When I purchased Cardinal Machinery in 2019, he was so happy and proud. He said, ‘Another J&H hatchling out of the nest and flying on their own.’”

Another Hackenberg mentee was Kevin Wigington, general manager of Select Production Technologies (which is wholly owned by the Morris Group), who was a sales engineer at J&H Machine Tool for 10 years.

“John was the one who saw the potential in me and moved me into a sales role, which was a key move in my career that led to so many other opportunities,” says Wigington, who is also chairman of the AMT Show Committee. “John was a great inspiration and teacher for me at all levels. He was always encouraging and helped me learn, and he did that for many people.”

Bill Herman
Vice President, Membership & Sales
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