2014-15 Chairman Michael Tidwell looks to past successes to guide NPCA forward
When an organization hits a milestone year, it is common practice to look back and marvel at what has been accomplished and how much has changed. As the chairman of the board during the National Precast Concrete Association’s 50th anniversary year, the importance of that history is not lost on Michael Tidwell, president of Bartow Precast. Although his Cartersville, Ga., company has been a member only since 2002, he is well aware of NPCA’s rich history. But he is also sharply focused on the future and relishes the opportunity to both celebrate the past and continue to push the association forward during his year as chairman.
Tidwell is nearly halfway through his one-year term, which began last October at NPCA’s 49th Annual Convention in Montreal. It will conclude at the 50th Annual Convention in Minneapolis, which will serve as the capstone celebration of the organization’s golden anniversary. “I am humbled by the opportunity to lead this incredible association into its 50th year,” says Tidwell. “One of the things you realize as you advance through committees and the board is the enormous wealth of expertise that NPCA members bring to the table. The collective knowledge and the willingness of NPCA members to share it with each other is what makes this a unique organization.”
Path to Precast
Tidwell’s aspirations were not always to be in the precast concrete industry. From the time he was six until his late teens, his goal was to become a veterinarian. Although animals remain an important part of his life and he still regularly shows American Quarter Horses, he is glad he changed his major and started working in the family business.
“During my sophomore year, having changed to a business management major, there was some opportunity in the precast company,” he notes. “I learned to batch and scheduled my classes around our pour times. Working in the office, when not in class or at the plant, provided hands on experience while learning the theoretical side during course work. It wasn’t long before I recognized the great opportunity the business offered and dedicated myself to finishing school and coming into the company full time.”
The family business was founded in 1959 as Tidwell Plumbing. As owner, Michael’s father, C.L. Tidwell, found himself waiting on deliveries of septic tanks far too often, so he took matters into his own hands by manufacturing them himself. Bartow Precast was formed as a sister company. The precast side of the company evolved but not without its share of growing pains. When Michael Tidwell took over as president in 1999, he brought a vision for what the company could become.
Over time he added key staff, some of whom remain with the business, purchased equipment, and developed new product lines. He also created a new brand and added a focus on marketing. Part of his inspiration came from attending NPCA trade shows, where he found a wealth of information about equipment, tooling and product lines; attended educational sessions; and, to his surprise, formed relationships with peers in the industry. After participating in the shows for a number of years, Tidwell finally joined the association in 2002.
“While attending the trade show, we quickly realized the benefits of membership,” he said. “We were interested in growing the company and saw a great opportunity to learn from so many others who were willing to share their experience and knowledge, and many times their production practices. From day one, it was an immediate feeling of belonging and a feeling of advantage—a book had been opened all of a sudden.”
Thirteen years, many committee positions and a few leadership positions later, Tidwell now chairs the organization whose membership opened their arms to him as a relatively new precaster looking to learn more about the industry.
Over there years, there has been a lot of change for the Tidwell family business. One pivotal moment for Michael Tidwell personally came a bit unexpectedly. He received a call one day from a man he had never met before saying he and a few others wanted to come by and see his plant. They were in the area for an NPCA meeting and had done a search for local precasters. Tidwell informed him that Bartow Precast was really just a small operation off the beaten path but the guy on the other end of the line was determined. So, Tidwell immediately told the guys in the plant to straighten things up and get ready for visitors.
Upon arrival, they piled out of a vehicle and immediately started inspecting everything around them. They looked at forms, checked out equipment, examined products and asked a lot of questions. They also gave him some valuable advice. Looking back, Tidwell says he didn’t know if he was “being inspected, shut down or taken over.”
After getting their fill and exchanging business cards and handshakes, the visitors thanked their host for his time and were gone as suddenly as they had arrived. As it turns out, those strangers were NPCA members who have become some of his closest friends in the industry. They have been a source of advice and guidance to him over the years. They also helped him to realize that the association was filled with welcoming people who were willing to help and served as encouragement to get involved. It’s just one example of how much NPCA membership has meant to Tidwell and how much it has contributed to his company’s success.
“One of the things that brought me to NPCA was a quest to make better concrete,” Tidwell recalls. “I make better concrete now than I did when Bartow Precast joined NPCA 12 years ago. What I didn’t know was that I’d be building so many lifelong relationships along the way.”
As he steps back and looks at the bigger picture of NPCA’s history, he sees more of the same. Every generation leaves their mark: Those that led the association in the early years; their sons, daughters and employees who are now taking their turns; and, a new generation that is now working at the plants and becoming involved.
NPCA’s founders took a common interest among strangers and turned it into a meaningful group of people all working together toward a better future and a stronger industry, Tidwell notes. They planned and executed the first formal meeting, hired the first staff members and figured out ways to make the industry better—all while developing lifelong friendships. Their children and employees, as well as others who joined the industry, made sure that work was furthered by growing the meetings, adding to the professional staff, and developing new offerings like education and a plant certification program.
“Apparently, back when NPCA was founded, there was an understanding that we, as an industry, are only as good as our weakest link,” says Tidwell. “Those founding members were willing to seek out other producers and share ideas and business practices in an effort to strengthen the entire industry.
“You have to check your ego at the door if you care to join in that practice. If you’re willing to share in this, however, it is the best opportunity money (or membership) can buy. If you’re willing to share your weaknesses and your strengths, there is another producer out there who is willing to listen and learn, or advise and teach.”
Looking back is instructive, but Tidwell is keenly aware of how much more both Bartow Precast and NPCA can achieve in the future. At the office and plant, he is focused on advancing specifier outreach through the use of marketing and social media, as well as lunch & learns and PDH courses. When it comes to NPCA, he also sees a lot of promise. Among the goals for his year as chair and beyond are establishing more relationships with states, cities and other entities that can benefit from the NPCA Plant Certification program; building on the recent success of the association’s marketing program; adding to the educational opportunities available to members; and, developing stronger relationships with concrete-related associations.
“We have many challenges ahead, but I have no doubt that the NPCA Board, committees and staff will meet them together as we continue building the industry foreseen by a small group of big thinkers some 50 years ago,” he affirms.
Unlike some other companies that cast their nets far and wide, Cartersville, Ga.-based Bartow Precast is focused on serving a niche market and providing value-added services to its core group of customers. The producer’s key markets are Georgia and eastern Alabama, part of a region that was affected by the Great Recession but didn’t feel it as deeply as Florida to the south and many of the other Sunbelt states.
At mid-decade, the region is on the upswing, according to Bartow President Michael Tidwell, noting “Atlanta is a pretty strong market overall. Last year we were impacted by the severe winter weather, but we’ve been going strong since last fall. We’re seeing a lot of construction in the Atlanta area so I’d say it’s a brighter outlook for 2015.”
Bartow’s niche market covers some of the core infrastructure precast products municipalities, businesses and home builders favor: utility structures, water and electrical vaults, grease interceptors and septic tanks. “Those are our basic lines, but two years ago we added some variety with storm shelters,” says Tidwell.
The producer is currently expanding its line of electrical vaults and has also created a value-added option for distributors of its water vaults, which can be delivered with meters and piping installed at the Cartersville plant.
The company relies on all 19 of its employees, including three longtime staff who are in key roles: Plant Manager Enrique Reyes, who has been with Bartow since 2002, plus Operations Manager Josh Gaines and Customer Service Manager Donna Dudley, who have each been on board since 2004. Gaines completed the NPCA Precast University curriculum last year and is the plant’s first Master Precaster. He is currently shadowing one of the Precast University instructors with a goal of eventually teaching a course in leadership.
In addition to providing learning opportunities for employees, Tidwell tries to keep the company in front of the regulatory community through involvement with organizations such as the local FOG (fats, oil, grease) groups. “We don’t have a state precast association,” he says, “so we try to stay involved with the FOG alliance and other regulatory groups that use our product lines.” — www.bartowprecast.com
National Precast Concrete Association
|CHAIRMAN (2015)||IMMEDIATE PAST CHAIRMAN (2014)||CHAIRMAN-ELECT (2016)|
|Michael Tidwell||Brent Dezember||Andrew Wieser|
|Bartow Precast||StructureCast||Wieser Concrete|
|Cartersville, Ga.||Bakersfield, Calif.||Maiden Rock, Wis.|
Celebrating its 50-year anniversary in 2015, the NPCA has grown to become an international trade group representing 900 companies and suppliers that manufacture hundreds of precast, prestressed and reinforced concrete pipe products for underground and above-ground applications. Member companies fabricate products that create and rebuild infrastructure, protect the environment and offer modularity, customization and infinite creative design possibilities across all sectors of the construction industry. NPCA provides members with the latest technical and industry information through a host of publications, educational seminars, product committees and conferences. The association promotes high quality standards and safety through its education component and ANSI-accredited Plant Certification Program.
NPCA President Ty Gable, C.A.E., has led the association staff for 20 years. During that time, NPCA has built a team of technical experts and has grown the Plant Certification Program to more than 365 sites. In addition to its member programs, NPCA owns The Precast Show, the largest annual trade gathering specifically targeting the precast concrete products industry. The American Concrete Pipe Association has joined NPCA as a sponsoring partner since the event’s 2009 inception. The 2015 Precast Show runs March 5-7 at the Orange County Convention Center, Orlando.
NPCA is located at 1320 City Center Drive, Suite 200, Carmel, IN 46032. Phone and fax numbers are: tel.: 317/571-9500 or 800/366-7731; fax: 317/571-0041; e-mail: [email protected]; website: precast.org.