NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – Paul Mullet, CEO and president of Excel Industries in Hesston and Bethel’s 2017 Distinguished Achievement Award winner, has helped make his company into more than an economic cornerstone.
It has become part of the fiber of the Hesston and wider Harvey County community – perhaps at no time more evident than after a mass shooting at Excel in February 2016 left four employees dead and 14 injured.
Mullet was born and raised on a farm near Bloomfield, Montana. In 1958, Mullet’s parents, Roy and Bess Mullet, moved their family of five boys to Hesston so their sons could attend high school without having to commute 25 miles one way in the bitterly cold eastern Montana winters.
Paul Mullet graduated from Hesston College and later completed his bachelor’s degree at Bethel in 1972 with a major in industrial arts.
In 1961, Roy Mullet bought into a fledgling company called Excel that made cabs for farm machinery.
Excel started making lawnmowers as a side business in 1964. John Regier of Moundridge, who liked to tinker with and improve machinery, developed a zero-turn radius mower and offered it to Mullet.
The company continued to develop lawnmowers from then on, but until the late 1990s, they never amounted to more than a third of the business.
Paul Mullet went to work for Excel a few months after graduating from Bethel, in November 1972. He started out as a welder, and steadily worked his way up – from production supervisor to service manager to materials manager to director of sales and marketing.
Mullet was elected to the Excel Board of Directors in 1983 and became company president in 1991.
He has served on the board of directors of Krause Corporation, Hutchinson, and on the board of the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute, including as chair for one year, 2014-15.
Excel’s biggest economic challenge came when the cab-production business evaporated in 1997, after the John Deere company, a major customer, cut back on outsourcing.
This nearly killed Excel. The Mullets were forced to lay off more than half their employees. At that point, they decided to focus on lawn mowers.
Today, Excel employs more than four times the number of workers it did at its former zenith in the late 1990s, making Hustler and Big Dog commercial and residential riding mowers. It produced its 500,000th mower in October 2015.
The company began emphasizing foreign export in 2004, and currently has accounts in 30 different countries. It received the 2013 Governor’s Exporter of the Year award from the Kansas Department of Commerce.
The Mullets are now in the third generation of senior leadership at Excel. Paul Mullet’s brother, Bob Mullet, is chief financial officer. Two of Paul Mullet’s sons, Chad Lane and Adam Mullet, are in senior management positions (as is one of Bob Mullet’s sons).
In addition to being one of the largest employers in Harvey County, Excel has a charitable foundation through which the company gives about 10 percent of its profits annually to charities and philanthropic efforts, most of them local.
Mickey Fornaro-Dean, former Harvey County economic development director, knows the Mullets and the company well, told the Wichita Eagle in 2016, “[Excel is] seen with great respect, as successful and wonderfully managed, a great corporate citizen. But our companies aren’t important just because they provide jobs and tax base, but because they become part of the fiber of our community, [which is] incredibly difficult [for many].”
In 2016, Mullet and his wife, Teresa, moved from Hesston to Sarasota, Florida. They have a third son, Jeremy, and a daughter, Melinda.
Mullet continues to serve as Excel president and CEO while also taking more time to enjoying traveling with Teresa in their motor home, biking and golf.
The Bethel College Alumni Association presents the Distinguished Achievement Award to acknowledge character and citizenship, achievement in a chosen profession or vocation, and work of benefit to humanity.
Mullet will receive the award and be honored along with other alumni award winners at the annual Alumni Banquet, June 3 at noon in Memorial Hall.
Price for the banquet is $25 per person, with a reservation deadline of May 17. For reservations, contact Thresher Shop in Schultz Student Center, 316-284-5205. Payment or credit card information is required when the reservation is made. No refunds can be given after May 17, since after that the Alumni Office will have been charged for reserved meals.