A Diversified Portfolio Brings 50 Years of Success

Diversified Tooling Group
Written by Alan Tughan

Many companies have a proud and rich past. In other cases, the company’s history is shorter but its prospects are exciting. To speak with the owners of Diversified Tooling Group is to get a peek into a company with both: a proud family history spanning three generations and a passion for their business that points to a bright future.

The business was founded as a small tool shop 50 years ago by John Basso, Sr. “It was a 5,000 square foot shop, and he and two people worked in that facility for two years,” says John J. Basso, Jr. “I graduated from the University of Detroit with an architecture degree in 1975, and I came on board.”

From those humble beginnings, a thriving business grew, with much of that growth coming from strategic acquisitions made over the next several decades. “My father received a large Ford Motor Company program in 1975, and we added another 13,000 square feet. At that point, we were up to 45 people. In 1978, we moved to our current location—into a 26,000 square foot building—and went up to 110 people,” John J. Basso explains.

In the late 1980s, the business purchased Bespro Pattern and in 1992, acquired American Tooling Center, a tool and die shop with 52,000 square feet and 50 employees. In 2000, the company purchased Midland Design Service and, in 2007, acquired a larger facility—125,000 square feet—in Jackson. Finally, in 2018, the company acquired an operation in Lansing from Demmer, Inc., incorporating it into the American Tooling Center operations.

The owners of Demmer, Inc. knew how the Basso family ran their business and had confidence that their employees would be well taken care of. For Diversified Tooling Group, which had become an International Traffic in Arms Regulations-registered (ITAR) supplier in 2005, the move represented the opportunity to increase the amount of work it did for the defense sector.

Today, a third-generation owner of the Basso family is involved, with John M. Basso serving as Vice President of Operations for the company, and that company has come a long way from its initial 5,000 square feet and three employees.

“The total footprint of the company today is 775,000 square feet of heavily craned industrial buildings that we own and operate,” says John J. Basso. “Across that space, we have 350 highly skilled employees.”

Having led and grown the business to that degree in the 50 years since 1973, one might think that he would be ready to retire. One would be mistaken.

“My father passed away when he was 86. He worked until three weeks before he passed. I’ve been working here for 48 years. I’m 70 years old; I’m still working every day, and I have no intention of retiring.”

Whenever the day for retirement comes, the company is in good hands. John M. Basso outlines how his grandfather’s and father’s acquisition decisions have led to a uniquely broad range of solutions for their automotive and defense customers.

“This company has evolved from my dad buying different companies, and the goal was to provide a fully integrated solution to our automotive customers. We can help them with engineering, prototype, or full service tool and die, where we’re responsible for everything. You give us the CAD product data; we’ll provide a tool that makes a perfect sheet metal part, whether you’re talking about prototype or production dies.”

It is the end-to-end solution—vertical integration—that differentiates Diversified Tooling Group from other companies in the space.

“First, it’s engineering, which is [performed by] Midland Design,” John J. Basso says. “Then it’s patterns, which is Bespro Patterns. Then prototyping at Superior Cam and then tool and die, which is at American Tooling Center. We have a full-service tool and die operation. We’ll take product design from our customer base; provide the upfront engineering; build the patterns; supply a prototype for the entire vehicle—hoods, doors, roofs, whatever it may be—then we’ll design and manufacture the production dies.”

That diversification—notably part of the business name itself—is not only a differentiator, it is one of the reasons Diversified Tooling Group has thrived for over a half-century.

“If we were just a stamper, we would have gone out of business,” says John J. Basso. “Because sometimes stampers don’t have any work. We put more legs under the table with eleven different product lines.”

And while this makes the business more complex, it also makes it more resilient to market shifts.

“It’s a lot more difficult to control, to quote, to estimate, to engineer, to build, to deliver. But we have a variety of product lines for automotive and a variety of product lines for defense. It’s why we’re still here. 30 years ago, there were 50 major die shops in the state of Michigan. Today there are only about 15 left in the whole state to produce stamping dies.”

As Diversified Tooling Group has acquired companies, growing the range of services it offers its customers, it has also invested in the capital equipment to deliver those services.

“We’re a growing company,” John J. Basso says. “Every year, we add additional buildings; every year, we add additional equipment. Seven years ago, we bought a state-of-the-art hot stamping press from AP&T in Sweden. We were the first ones in North America to install that type of technology. We have 39 CNC mills—some of the largest CNC mills in the state of Michigan—and we are in the process of buying three brand new CNC mills right now. We just purchased two new CMM machines and three new scanners in the last six months,” he shares.

Over the decades, the technology used to operate that equipment has of course changed dramatically, requiring further investment. “We have over 500 computer devices that operate in our company. We spend over $400,000 a year in software maintenance for our CAD software.”

These investments have allowed the company to adapt nimbly to changes in the market and to opportunities such as those in the defense sector.

“Welding is the most important part of defense work in our industry,” John M. Basso notes.
“There are a lot of quality requirements, and we have certifications in welding—NAVSEA in particular—that separate us from the competition. We also have certified weld inspectors that allow us to inspect our own welds. We’ve invested in the qualifications and certifications and the training of both our weld inspectors and our welder’s equipment.”

Basso’s comments underscore the most important investment of all for Diversified Tooling Group: its people. That investment is embedded in the history of the company.

“When my dad bought American Tooling Center in 1992,” recalls John Michael Basso, “he instituted a federally approved journeyman apprenticeship program, and we still have that in place. Right now, we have 14 journeyman apprenticeships in that program. We pay 100 percent for an engineering associate’s degree, and we push our people to do it. I’m paying for two people right now to receive a bachelor’s degree in engineering. We’re trying to educate our workforce.”

This focus on training and developing employees is not just a ‘feel good’ commitment. It is borne, at least in part, out of necessity. “There hasn’t been a lot of push for secondary education outside of going to college. That’s the lifeblood of what we need. We need skilled trades. We train our own people; we invest in our people. We are training people for America.”

The owners of Diversified Tooling Group started spreading the word very early on. They welcome classes of students for shop tours throughout the school year, give presentations at local high schools, and sponsor a high school robotics team. The company is connected to all three community colleges in its area, and staff members participate in job fairs and Manufacturing Day.

This commitment to developing tomorrow’s manufacturing workforce is rooted in a fierce pride for this sector in America, and the family pride lives on in the younger generation.

“We have a passion for keeping manufacturing in the United States and a passion for our people,” says John M. Basso. “A big part of the reason we do this is to support our 350 employees and their families. Somebody has to take the torch and keep pushing for manufacturing in the United States. That’s what we’re doing.”

John J. Basso, along with his son, continues to build on the proud legacy begun 50 years ago, always with an eye to the future. “You have to keep adjusting and adapting to the world. The world is not static; you’ve got to be dynamic. You’ve got to read the future and keep moving in that direction.”

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