March EO Chicago Member Spotlight: Mike Tobey

Meet Mike Tobey, CEO of The Hose Monster Company, a manufacturer that provides products to test fire pumps and hydrants. Hose Monster plays an essential role in ensuring the safety of people and property by verifying fire protection systems work the way they’re supposed to. Mike, who hails from Montana, acquired his company three years ago. Since then, he’s been helping it grow. Learn more about Mike’s entrepreneurial journey from the Marines to investment banking to business acquisition, plus the best career advice he has to give and the coolest project he’s working on right now.

EO Member: Mike Tobey

Company: The Hose Monster Company

How long have you been a member of EO Chicago and why did you join the organization?

I’ve been a member for about three years. I joined very shortly after acquiring The Hose Monster Company because I was looking to share information with peers and form comradery with like-minded people.

What was your first job?

The paper route in Whitefish, Montana when I was 12. I learned a fair bit—it was somewhat entrepreneurial in that I had to collect the money from all of the subscribers and then pay for the papers myself. It was more than just getting a paycheck.

That’s a great segue into the next questions—can you describe your entrepreneurial journey? Where did you start and where do you hope to go in the future?

I’ve always been inclined to entrepreneurship but didn’t make any big efforts to become one until five or so years ago when I left investment banking to acquire a company. It took me about two years to find the right one. I’d always had the itch and kind of assumed I would have a big idea or stroke of genius and start doing my own thing. But then I got sick of waiting for that to happen and being an investment banker, so I decided to acquire instead.

Why did you choose to acquire a business?

A lot of aging business owners are ready to retire and don’t have a good succession plan, so there’s a great opportunity for young, well-capitalized, and hopeful entrepreneurs to take advantage of this. You can kind of fast track in business ownership by choosing a well-established, highly profitable company that already has a great team in place, wonderful products, and customers. It’s not exactly easy to do, but it is probably easier than building a company from scratch.

And why did you want to leave investment banking?

I wanted to actually do something. Investment banking is very hard work, but at the end of the day it can be difficult to pinpoint what you’ve actually accomplished. At Hose Monster Company, I can see, touch, feel, use, and hand deliver our product to customers. It’s much more tangible, and because we’re in fire safety, there’s a sense of purpose.

Why did you choose to acquire The Hose Monster Company?

I had a very long list of requirements. Mainly, I wanted a company with wonderful margins and a pristine financial picture. The Hose Monster Company’s seller was selling for all the right reasons and I trusted him. Plus, the customers love us. We have an excellent market position in a protected industry—fire protection will always be needed no matter what’s going on with the economy.

What do you enjoy most about your work?

How dynamic it is and how diverse my days can be. It’s never boring because I’m dealing with all sorts of different issues from human resources to finance to operational manufacturing and more. As someone who probably has ADHD, it’s great to have that variety of tasks and job responsibilities.

What daily challenges do you face at work?

Just the cliche entrepreneurial challenges. Right now, that means inventory issues, working with suppliers, and longer lead times. Some days it’s fights in the warehouse. Of course, the last two years presented unique challenges in terms of adjusting what was a rather old-school manufacturing company to remote work for a good chunk of our staff.

What is the best career advice you ever received?

“Don’t worry about it too much. Just keep moving and you’ll get there, wherever there is.” I think people, including myself, get caught up in the idea of having a specific path, a five-year plan, but, most of the time, those don’t work out and you end up stressing yourself out. It’s better to just put one foot in front of the other and go with the flow.

What are your goals for the future of your business?

I am private-equity backed, so investors will want liquidity at some point. In the meantime, I’d love to continue growing. We also have a number of new products coming out and are looking to expand internationally, so the next three to five years should be pretty exciting.

What’s the coolest thing you’re working on right now?

We’re working on a new product that will wirelessly transmit flow data for fire pumps to a handheld device over pretty significant ranges and through basement walls. It’ll allow someone testing the fire pump to see in real time what the pump is doing outside where the water’s flowing from inside the pump. Probably doesn’t mean much to anyone outside of the industry, but it’s an exciting next step for us.

What is the greatest challenge you have overcome?

Maybe transitioning back into regular life after being a Marine. Or, growing up in a small town in Montana without much exposure to entrepreneurs like the ones at EO. During business school, all of my classmates had people in their life with Master’s degrees or who had other professional designations and were highly successful, but I did not. Sometimes I think it’s a miracle that I am where I am today.

What brought you to Chicago?

I went to business school here about a decade ago and then left for a number of years to New York. Then, I spent some time in Denver and came back here when I bought the company.

How do you find work-life balance?

It’s a lot easier now that I’m not an investment banker. Having a good team in place is key so that you can delegate and trust the office to keep running even when you’re not there.

When you were a kid, what did you say you wanted to be when you grew up?

Depends on the age, but I had all of the cliche aspirations from cowboy to astronaut to fighter pilot. The most consistent one was wanting to be a Marine—and I did that.

What are your favorite things to do outside of work?

Since moving back to Chicago, sailing. We bought a boat and have been racing it on Lake Michigan. I also have bird-hunting dogs that I chase birds with. And I often go back to Denver for skiing and other outdoor activities.

What’s one thing still left on your bucket list?

Sailing around the world.

What are you currently reading?

The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson.

What’s your favorite restaurant?

My go-to is Formento’s in the West Loop.

What is your favorite part about working in the Chicagoland area?

The people. Having lived all over the country, I’ve dealt with a lot of different labor forces and working styles. You get a lot of highly talented individuals in New York, but everyone is so manic and stressed out all the time. In Denver, everyone is too relaxed so things never get done. Chicago is like the best of both worlds—you get the work quality of New York but the laid-back attitude of Denver.

What is your top Chicago activity?

Sailing on the Lake, of course.

Where’s your favorite place in the world to visit?

Anywhere on the Mediterranean.

Thank you to Mike for sharing his story for our March member spotlight. The Entrepreneurs’ Organization is a global business network of more than 14,000 entrepreneurs in 198 chapters and 61 countries. EO is the catalyst that enables entrepreneurs to learn and grow from each other, leading to greater business success and an enriched personal life.

If you’re interested in becoming an EO Chicago member, check our membership requirements and submit an application to join today.