Weldon | Kris Neal | www.weldonsteel.com
We were aware there was a communication issue, but we’ve been able to fully understand the deeper issues, we have a plan to improve, and assurance that those improvements would take hold.
WHAT IS WELDON STEEL?
We fabricate and manufacture the steel needed in commercial buildings, hospitals and universities. We also do heavy structure framing and erection, plus some work with other metals. Our distribution area covers the Mid-Atlantic, so from South Carolina to Maryland, roughly.
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR BIGGEST CHALLENGE?
Managing through a recession, but we were able to make it through when a lot of other steel companies didn’t. Now that things are starting to improve, we’re in a position to pick up their business and start expanding.
WHAT KEEPS YOU MOTIVATED?
It is exciting to build things and see what we can do. I drive past buildings knowing that our steel is in there, and that keeps me excited for the next opportunity. The employees here are another big motivator. We are a dynamic family where everyone is committed and proud of what we do, so I want to make sure we are doing well financially for them. We’re in a pretty rural town and even though we aren’t a huge company, providing jobs to 50 or so employees really makes a difference.
HOW DO YOU PLAN TO GROW?
We have new robotics and equipment for automated production, which we expect to increase our profit margins due to these improved efficiencies. Our reputation for completing projects on time, meet needed qualifications, and exceed expectations has led to increased business as general contractors call us to bid on new projects. We also continue to gain customers as rival businesses leave the market. Steel fabrication is on the rise, so we are expecting growth rates of 15-25% over the next few years.
WHAT PROMPTED YOU TO REACH OUT TO THE SBTDC?
In a way it was a good problem. We are growing and we had several employees that we promoted up into leadership roles. However, I realized that leadership is not necessarily something that people inherently know. It wasn’t their field, so we were looking for ways to strengthen our leadership team, and from there be able to handle growth effectively.
HOW HAVE YOU BEEN ABLE TO STRENGTHEN LEADERSHIP SKILLS?
With the help of the SBTDC’s Strategy and Growth Services, we put together a personalized program to develop communication within our management team. We’re still working through it, but we’ve definitely seen an improvement. We’re starting to utilize our different backgrounds as strengths instead of letting them get in the way.
WALK US THROUGH THE STRATEGY AND GROWTH SERVICES PROGRAM
The first retreat gauged what was working and not working as a leadership team. That was a little rough, like pulling off a Band-Aid. We knew we had some communication issues, but we were able to find out what exactly needed to be addressed. After that, each one of the management team completed an individual assessment, which was evaluated by the SBTDC. We went through that with our counselors and they put together six, hour-long follow up sessions, each targeting an area of leadership—like inspiring others, communication, encouragement, you get the idea. While that was going on, we met one-on-one with our counselors to come up with measurable goals for ourselves. Now our counselors are holding us accountable to them, meeting with us occasionally to see what progress we are making. I think the individual sessions with an outsider are really effective because people are able to be more honest about what their strengths and weaknesses are, and how they can improve on them.
YOU TOOK ADVANTAGE OF THE STUDENT ENGAGEMENT PROGRAM, WHAT WAS THAT LIKE?
It was 10 weeks, and a team of grad students from the Wake Forest Business School completed a business valuation. At the end, they presented their findings with recommendations on ways to improve. It was great to work with the students because it takes their book knowledge and translates it into the real world. It was great for us, too, as we were able to learn from their presentation.
DO YOU FEEL LIKE THE SBTDC HAS MADE A DIFFERENCE?
Definitely. We were aware there was a communication issue, but we’ve been able to fully understand the deeper issues, we have a plan to improve, and assurance that those improvements take hold. There isn’t a finish line for this sort of thing, but the improvements have been recognizable and have made an impact on the company. Since working with the SBTDC, we’ve had a 20% increase in employees and our revenues are increasing as our changes begin taking effect.
WHAT DO YOU DO OUTSIDE OF WELDON STEEL?
I’m involved in the economic development board Halifax Horizons, which creates opportunities and incentives for industries to move to the county. Halifax is rural with little need for steel, so although there isn’t necessarily a benefit to us being located here, there is a definite benefit for the county and that community involvement is really important.
This story was originally published in the SBTDC 2014-2015 Annual Report. Click Here to view the report.
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