Metal Fabrication Company President
Mentor Dave Hughes
Dave is both the President/Chief Operating Officer and part owner of a metal fabricating company he helped acquire as part of a diversification strategy for an equipment manufacturer where he is also the Vice President of Global Sales. This company is a family owned business that manufactures polyethylene fusion machines used to build low and medium pressure pipelines as well as machines used to make fintubes used in heat exchangers. After earning a bachelors degree in accounting at the University of Oklahoma, he first moved to the East Coast and worked in the Boston office of a national accounting firm and later in their Cleveland office before getting an MBA at Case Western Reserve University. He then took a executive position with a national healthcare company before moving to Tulsa to work for McElroy Manufacturing, Inc. The first three years he was the Director of Business Operations and did several acquisitions for them including the sheet metal business where he is now President. But he wanted to be more involved in the growth of the manufacturing business and became involved in sales management. As Vice President of Global Sales he has greatly expanded the international market for the company’s products.
Early in his career, Dave knew he wanted to have ownership in a business. He achieved his goal by putting himself in a position where he would be presented with business opportunities. In his article, Dave talks about things you can also do that will allow you to be exposed to more and better career opportunities as well as discussing the impact globalization of the world economy is having on anyone pursing a career in business and how you can prepare to compete in this changing business environment.
I was taught a good work ethic and early in my life tried to do things that would help me standout and give me am competitive edge. Besides getting good grades and being involved in a number of high school activities, I was also involved in scouting and became an eagle scout. This is the highest rank in scouting and only about 7% of all scouts are able to meet the requirements. It takes a lot of hard work and persistence to reach this rank, something people in business looking at your resume recognize as a significant achievement for a young man.
When I went to college, I attended the University of Oklahoma in Norman, the town where I grew up. I majored in accounting and also joined a fraternity. I had several mentors that helped me get involved early and to position myself for leadership roles. With a combination of good grades and leadership positions, I was awarded some prestigious campus awards and which helped differentiate myself from others. This played a key role in getting more and better job offers after I graduated. I began to get involved in activities and to demonstrate leadership to potential beginning in my freshman and sophomore year. Many people don’t think about this until their junior year and then it can be too late. I encourage people to find a organization or cause that stirs your passion and take a leadership role. Organizations want to hire people that have passion and have the skills to move the organization forward.
One of the roles that influenced my life the most was being President of my fraternity. During that time, we decided that in order to be continue to succeed as an organization, we needed better facilities so we started a capital campaign to raise money to renovate the fraternity house. The alumni heading the campaign was an independent oilman and he asked me to come with him as we went to alumni to ask for donations. We got on his private plane and visited several people asking for donations. Visit after visit, we met with alumni that wrote large checks. I was mesmerized by each of their success stories and wanted to figure out how I could create something similar. The one thing that all these people had in common was that they owned their own businesses. I decided then that at some point that I wanted to own my own business. But I knew that these kinds of opportunities were not going to come to me like jobs come to you when a college recruiter visits your campus. I knew I wanted to own my own business, but at that point, I had no idea how to achieve that dream.
After I graduated, I decided to go to Boston, where I interviewed for jobs with what were then the big eight accounting firms. Because I had laid a foundation of good grades and demonstrated leadership, I received job offers from all the firms I interviewed. I chose Ernst & Whinney (which later became Ernst & Young). After working in Boston for three years, I met my future wife, who worked at the firm’s Cleveland office. I moved to Cleveland and was deciding if I should try and go for partner. So rather than pursuing a partnership with the accounting firm, I got an MBA at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. If you haven’t heard of Case, it is the number one ranked university in Ohio and thirty seventh in the nation.
After I got my MBA, I wanted experience working for a company that was different from a personal service business like accounting. So I went to work as VP of Sales for a company that sold healthcare programs to large corporations. One day my brother called and told me about a company called McElroy, a manufacturing company in Tulsa that was looking for a successor to their CFO. My wife and I were happy in Cleveland and at first I was reluctant to go for an interview but in the back of my mind, I knew it was one step closer to figuring out how to be a business owner. While it wasn’t a small business (about 150 employees at the time) it was a lot closer to what I had in mind than my previous employers.
I started out as McElroy’s Director of Business Operations and I knew that one way to learn a lot about a company and get a lot of opportunities is to go “where the pain is”. In this case, the company needed a different direction within their sales department. Thus, I transitioned from a financial/operation role to a sales leadership role. At the time, I had very little international experience but one of the owners gave me the confidence, the mentorship and the leeway to learn it. As a team, we have been able to grow our business, on average, about 15% a year. Today, we have 350 employees with offices in Brazil, England, Chile, Australia and India.
In addition to helping McElroy grow their international sales, I am also the executive in charge of Southern Specialties (the metal fabrication business that we purchased). As we were doing to the acquisition, I asked to be able to participate in the ownership of the business and thus get one step closer to the dream I had in college. I am not sure if I will ever get to where I own a company outright but I have learned so much a long the way and more importantly, I love what I do.
I love the culture of our company. The employees are not just numbers but are treated as family and conversely it is expected that we treat our fellow employees, our business partners and those around us as if they were our family. In addition, we are passionate about making the world a better place through better infrastructure. As evidenced by our equipment:
- Conserving our environment by building water pipe lines that last 100 years and are leak free.
- Making people’s life better by having safe natural gas lines that keep people warm and provide a economical way to cook our food.
- Extracting natural resources such as oil and gas that fuel the growth of many developing nations.
It is great to know that the work you do each day is making the world a better place.
How to Prepare for a Career in Business
Art McElroy (our founder) had a saying that if you want to get on the train, you have to be at the train station before it leaves. This is a way of saying that you must prepare yourself to be in a position to be presented career opportunities when they open up and be able to act. Here is a list of suggestions of things you can do to increase your chances of finding more and better career opportunities:
- Distinguish yourself as early as possible. Good grades in high school are important. But you also need to demonstrate other personal achievements that separate you from your peers. There are high school activities and honor societies. Excel in something, tt can be in sports or music or debate or scouting. The options are limitless but pick something and be good at it. I was in scouts and earned the rank of Eagle. Being an eagle scout is one of the things you can do early in your life that shows you are persistent and able to complete a series of difficult tasks on your own. When I look through resumes, I like to interview people who became eagle scouts. We have five people in management positions in our company who achieved this rank.
- Learn to talk to adults when you are in high school. Most adults want to help young people succeed. But you need to take the initiative by approaching them and asking for advice about careers you are considering.
- Demonstrate a good work ethic and try and be the best at anything you do. This will distinguish you from other people. Employers want to hire and business people want to partner with other people who set high standards for themselves, show initiative and have a proven record of success. One interesting observation I have made is that many of the successful people in our business come from farming backgrounds. There they not only learn to work hard, they also learn to take initiative. Farmers are not afraid to try and fix things themselves. Accept a challenge and take risks. Learn a new skill like I did when I took the job in global sales.
- The world is smaller than we think. Everyone preparing for a career today needs to understand that they are competing against the world but they also have the world as their market. It used to be if you went to Dallas for business you would drive down and make a week worth of visits.. Today I can be in Russia in 24 hours, visit my customers in a day or two and return home in less time. Also many American companies are now owned by foreign companies. So it is important that you understand international business.
- Because of globalization, it will also be useful to you if you learn at least one foreign language. This is something that will help you compete against the many well-educated foreign nationals in the global marketplace who are multilingual.
- Build your own personal network of contacts and use them. I started this early in college with my fraternity brothers. But there are also professional organizations for almost any career that you can join and continue with as you grow in your career. For example, I was invited to join the Young President’s Organization, a group of businesspeople who reached a high level of success before they are 45. I have used this network many times and have helped others. In one case, we were dealing with a very sensitive issue in Australia and I reached out to some other YPOers in that area that I thought might be able to help. I got five responses within 24 hours willing to help.
- Get as much education as you can. It is never too late. I went back to school and got an MBA after I had worked as an accountant for several years. Because I had an accounting background and had worked with a number of different businesses while I was at E & W, was very marketable. I don’t think I benefited as much from the course work as from the fact that having the MBA opened a lot of doors. If your goal is to reach the upper levels of management of an established compy, having a graduate degree is helpful.