Braun, Ackerman named 2023 Business Hall of Fame laureates

Junior Achievement of Southwestern Indiana and Dentons Bingham Greenebaum announced Mike Braun and the late Raphael Ackerman as the 2023 JA Dubois County Business Hall of Fame Laureates at a press conference Thursday. Laureates will be inducted into the JA Dubois County Business Hall of Fame at 7:30 a.m. EST on Thursday, April 13, 2023, at The Huntingburg Event Center.

The announcement was made by Assistant Vice President and Campus Dean of VUJC Christian Blome. “Mike Braun and Raphael Ackerman are the kinds of role models we need for our young people and for the area’s future business leaders,” he said. “These laureates live out the promise of a servant leadership that creates opportunity, fosters creativity, and not only creates success but, more importantly, builds a community that flourishes.”

The JA Dubois County Business Hall of Fame honors members of the Dubois Business Community who exhibit strong vision, innovation, and inspiring leadership and who are visionaries within their respective industries. A crystal eagle symbolizing the spirit of free enterprise is presented to each laureate. A monument with a citation and image of each laureate will also be displayed at the
Dubois County Museum.

The annual breakfast event raises funds for the Dubois County Junior Achievement program and increases awareness of the program.

Laureate committee member Al Mihajlovitz commented that they are only scratching the surface on the depth of potential Dubois County laureates with their eighth annual selection announcement. He pointed to the many successful entrepreneurs that turn that success into support for their communities and other up-and-coming entrepreneurs.

“Dubois County is a unique county,” he said.

Mike Braun (Active Laureate)

Mike Braun is an entrepreneur with great vision. He started working at Meyer Body Company in 1981, bought half interest in 1986, and became sole owner in 1994 with only 15 employees, in Haysville, Indiana, with about 21,000 square feet of warehouse space and an office in a mobile home. Now there are over 1400 employees, in 48 states, and in Canada, with over 4 million square feet of warehouse and office space in 89 locations across the country. Over 25% of the space is in Jasper, employing about 450 locally.

He is also owner of Meyer Logistics, a sister company that services all Meyer customers plus third-party warehouse and transportation needs, owning their own fleet. Their sales increase averaged 20% a year since 1981. Challenging times were in the 80s with high-interest rates and the 90s with a very competitive market, and Mike made sound financial decisions with a diversified business plan. In 2008-2010 when many competitors closed their doors, Mike’s vision for Meyer Distributing enabled them to diversify, acquire, and expand, positioning them as one of the top distributors in the nation. They received the coveted SEMA “Distributor of the Year Award” in 2010, 2015, and 2017 as well as many nominations and industry awards from various manufacturers. 

Mike was courageous to self-insure his employees in order to reduce their health care costs. Meyer has not had a premium increase for their employees in the last 15 years. He has shared this success with anyone who will listen. He built the family business, treating employees as family. Mike would say a major accomplishment is that three of his four children will continue the family business, and its future is in good hands. 

Mike graduated from Wabash College in 1976 summa cum laude in Economics and is a member of Phi Beta Kappa. He was the first class of entrepreneurship offered at Harvard Business School, where he graduated in 1978 with an MBA. This class and business degree gave him the courage to think and act differently from his peers, moving back to his hometown to start his own business, a very unusual move. 

Mike’s hobby of forest management has also turned into a business. He buys timber ground for investment. This includes tree planting, and timber stand improvement, along with hunting and fishing on these properties. He and a friend were awarded the Charles Deam and Pioneer Forestry awards for woodland management. Mike is a member of the Nature Conservancy, Indiana Woodland Owners Association and Quail & Upland Game Alliance. In 1979, Mike co-founded Crystal Farms, Inc. which expanded over the years to become one of the largest turkey operations in the tri-state. 

Mike is a mentor to many who want to start their own business, are in a financial bind, need succession planning, or want to know about Meyer’s health plan. He takes the time to meet and discuss as a confidante. He has inspired leaders in the community with his common sense and fiscal approach. He has inspired youth, having coached youth baseball, basketball and soccer. 

Mike’s community service includes Jasper, Dubois County, the State of Indiana and our country. He served on the Greater Jasper Consolidated School Board for 10 years. He was elected State Representative for District 63 from 2014-2018. Mike is now serving as a US Senator. He overcame huge odds in beating two US Congressmen to win the primary and then win the election over an incumbent, where incumbents win 85% of the time. He serves on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions, Agriculture, Budget, and Appropriations & Aging Committees. Mike has the honor of being elected the first US Senator from Dubois County and in 2021, had the most bills passed of any US Senator. 

Mike was recognized as an outstanding JHS alumnus in 2008 for his leadership and involvement. He received the Dubois Strong Entrepreneur Award. He was an Eagle Scout, president of his high school class, and president of the Student Body at Wabash College. He is on the Conexus Indiana Logistics Council Southwest, and the Mid-State Corridor Development Corp. Mike is a member of the Knights of Columbus and St. Joseph Parish. Mike is married to Maureen and they have four adult children and six grandchildren. 

Raphael Ackerman (Historical Laureate)

Raphael was the only son of the family farm in Ireland. Raphael pushed up his draft number to serve his country, then came home and bought the family farm. Through his wife’s father, Edwin B. Knies, Ackerman Oil began. Knies was the mayor of Jasper and he also ran Knies Distributing. When Edwin died unexpectedly, the representatives from D-X in Oklahoma came to the visitation for Edwin and suggested that Raphael buy the company.

Raphael was given until the next day after they buried his father-in-law to give him his decision. Raphael knew nothing about the oil business and had a few bad years on the farm. He sold the only business he knew, farming, and moved his wife, Phyllis, and two young children to a rental property. After the first year, the account suggested to Raphael that he might want to see if he can get the farm back. He wasn’t going to make it as a business owner. That leap of faith, lots of hard work and willingness to learn led to the start of Ackerman Oil Company. The business continued to grow through future generations, with Raphael always providing leadership and support. 

Raphael took a consignment distribution business that was a single delivery truck and a few pickups and created Ackerman Oil Company. His son, Mike Ackerman, started in the business after high school and continued to grow the company to include Southern Indiana Propane. His daughter, Laura, and her husband started and ran Circle A Food Mart. The 4th Generation has started in the business.

Rafael took great pride in teaching his children and grandchildren how to work. He often said that if you know how to work, you will never go hungry, and you can learn to succeed in life. Ackerman Oil has grown from a consignment business to a multi-faceted energy company. 

Raphael was a behind-the-scenes kind of volunteer. He coached his daughter’s softball team. And always drafted girls that did not have much of a home life. He chaired the church Turkey Shoot for years and volunteered in any capacity for Precious Blood Church or School. But was adamant about never being an usher at church. Many Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays were interrupted when Raphael would deliver home heating fuel to families that he knew would never be able to pay the bill. Through Ackerman Oil company, he supported many youth sporting teams and youth organizations. He led by example in teaching his children and grandchildren are also volunteers in their communities.