40 under 40

Welding and Specialty Gases - 40 Under 40


In this time of struggle to find good, qualified specialty gases and welding leaders who have the stuff it takes to grow our companies, Welding & Gases Today set out on a mission. We didn’t care about “good” leaders. We wanted to find GREAT leaders who show executive abilities and promise for the future. We set out to find dynamic young individuals poised to set the world on fire, people under the age of 40 who are the next Movers and Shakers of the gases and welding industry, leaders who have the potential to take our companies to the next level.

The criteria for being a Mover and Shaker included:
  • is under the age of 40
  • working in the gases and welding industry for at least two years
  • has an impact on others within the industry
  • accomplished something significant
  • demonstrates commitment to the gases and welding industry.
Well, we found them. On the following pages are the stories of 40 men and women under the age of 40 who are generating great ideas in their companies. They show the vision of the entrepreneur, the heart of the lion, and the brainpower behind some very innovative projects. They all share one thing in common. Each is passionate about what they do. They use words like “fun,” “exciting” and “challenging” to describe their daily work.

Their ideas about the future are stimulating. While some of us try to figure out how to access e-mail, they are talking about wireless connections for service vans and real-time remote monitoring of systems from an office desk. They are changing a company’s approach to selling, moving it to a new-generation concept of teamwork. And they are having fun. They like what they do.

They come from a variety of backgrounds…machinists, accountants, truck drivers, soldiers, sailors and helicopter repairmen. Some grew up in a family business. All of them chose to work in our industry.

These men and women have a lot to teach us and, wonderfully, they admit that they have a lot to learn from us. If an organization is only as good as the people within it, these employees are the competitive advantages of their companies. They have bold ideas and plans for our industry.

Which leaves the rest of us with a very exciting future.

To jump directly to one of the profiled next-generation leaders, click on his or her name below:
Scott Abston Steven DeFillipps Jr. Herbie King Michael Ripple Jr.
Ethan Adler James Featherstone Dan Kipka Martin Ruiz
Brad Armstrong Heather Ferrand Doug Lampton Dan Shelby
Charlie Brons Beth Frey Todd Linnenbringer Richelle Smith-Brecht
David Austin Buell Jr. Karen Gilgenbach Brady Melo Rob Stoody
Greg Byer David Hanchette Pat Moore Doug Taylor
Aaron Campbell Kelly Hayward Ryan Norton Matt Thornton
Gerard Castello Troy Hill Robert Parsons Steve Wark
Brian Coleman Mark Jenkins Nate Powell Aaron Wolfe
Gary Craft Jr. Stacey Johnson Brian Renouf John Zak Jr.

Scott Abston

Scott Abston
Age: 35
Who is he? Specialty Gas Manager, DeLille Oxygen Company (Columbus, OH)
Background: Joined DeLille Oxygen in 1996: Shipping, Cylinder Tester, Fill Plant, Specialty Gases

“You can’t be afraid of not knowing something, and you must learn.”

“When I came to DeLille Oxygen, I knew nothing about gases or the processes to fill cylinders,” says Scott Abston, “and I realized that the stuff they did here in this industry was mind-boggling. That made me want to learn more.” It was Abston’s thirst for knowledge that helped him advance through the ranks. For the past three years, he has served as specialty gas manager. One of his greatest pleasures is being able to pass down the knowledge he’s gained over the last decade to the employees he supervises, and watching his department’s sales and production numbers grow as a result.

Abston’s knowledge doesn’t end with technical matters. As far back as his earliest days on the job at DeLille, he learned from his managers the importance of customer satisfaction. “Even as I was filling cylinders, I would think about what the customer would want,” he says. “If a cylinder looked messy, I’d take it back and clean it off, repaint it if needed, and scrape extra labels off, just to make the customer happy. That kind of service is important at every level.”

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Ethan Adler

Ethan Adler
Age: 25
Who is he? Account Manager, Weld World (Baltimore, MD)
Background: B.S. Economics, Towson University • Joined Weld World in 2002: Sales

“Work through it, keep at it, keep asking questions and stay with it until you get it right.”

“Start at the bottom and work your way up,” advises Ethan Adler, who did just that. While Adler officially joined the company three years ago, he really grew up in the business his father owns. All through college, he worked in the warehouse doing shipping and receiving. Not exactly sure what he wanted to do after graduation and in need of a job, he started doing sales but told himself, and everybody else, that it would only be for a few months. Then he started going out on sales calls with his father. He was hooked. “Watching him and learning from him was amazing. He taught me some really good sales techniques that helped me be successful.” Adler puts that learning to work with his accounts, one of which is the U.S. government. “You work through it, keep at it, keep asking questions and stay with it until you get it right.” That persistence and devotion to detail recently resulted in a $300,000 sale of customized material. “It was a matter of courting them and making them happy, making them feel comfortable and satisfied,” a lesson he learned from a master.

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Brad Armstrong

Brad Armstrong
Age: 29
Who is he? Key Accounts Sales Manager, General Air Service and Supply Company (Denver, CO)
Background: B.S. Business, Colorado State • Joined General Air in 1998: Outside Sales, Area Manager

Brad Armstrong learned the gases and welding supply business literally from the ground up; when he was 12, he spent Saturdays at General Air with his father, who put him to work sweeping the floor. He eventually moved on to other tasks in the fill plant, store and offices. But when it came time to choose a career path after college, he was torn between joining General Air, which his grandfather founded in 1969, or going into Christian ministry. “My dad and I had a long talk,” Armstrong recalls. “He told me to do whatever my heart was telling me to do, and do it passionately. It was then I chose to enter the family business and get really entrenched in the industry.”

“The people we serve work really hard. Get invested with your customers and be as proud about what they do as they are.”

After spending a year in training as a welding sales engineer at Lincoln Electric, Armstrong returned to Denver to do outside sales. A few months later, he helped scratch start the Colorado Springs location, which has since become the third largest of General Air’s six stores. He says, “I’m driven by figuring out ways to pick up new accounts very profitably, creating more efficiency, saving labor and developing better ways to do things.” Most recently, he’s been acutely focused on something he helped develop called the Key Accounts Acquisition Team, which consists of Armstrong and two sales engineers, one with a welding focus and one with a gases focus. “Our goal is a 100 percent prospecting effort and a million dollars in new business this year.”

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Charlie Brons

Charlie Brons
Age: 34
Who is he? Harlingen Store Manager, AOC (Harlingen, TX)
Background: Southwest Texas College • Joined AOC in 1993: Inside Sales, Outside Sales

“I’ve learned a lot from listening to people who’ve been in this business a long time.”

“I’ve learned a lot from listening to people who’ve been in this business a long time,” says Charlie Brons, who joined AOC after moving back to his hometown of Harlingen. Having worked in both inside and outside sales, Brons learned how to manage—well. In the three years since he started managing the Harlingen store, sales have increased 65 percent. The store handles all the company’s CO2 routes in the Rio Grande valley, north to Laredo. “Each of the four AOC stores in the valley used to handle its own area,” says Brons. “We put in one route truck that did nothing but CO2 deliveries, and grew that to two route trucks that take care of the entire valley. That’s now grown into its own division, based out of this store.” Brons is quick to point out that he isn’t the only one behind the store’s remarkable growth. “People ask: ‘What do you do differently?’ The truth is, I have a great crew of people that I’ve hand-picked through the years, and that’s what makes it work. We do it as a team.”

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David Austin Buell Jr.

David Austin Buell Jr.
Age: 31
Who is he? Outside Sales Representative, Strate Welding Supply Company (Buffalo, NY)
Background: U.S. Army; ITT Technical Institute; Buffalo State • Joined Strate in 1995: Stockroom

While in college, David Buell took a summer job with Strate Welding Supply on the advice of a friend’s father, who worked for Bohler Thyssen. After a couple of years working the stockroom, the sales manager asked him to give sales a try. “I was reluctant,” says Buell, “but he told me to try it out for a year, and he guaranteed it’d be a good match. He was right.”

Buell is at Strate Welding Supply to help customers find solutions…and he is good at it. Evidence is a recent sale to a well-versed customer who had clear and strong ideas of what he wanted. The customer pitted Buell against a competitor. “He also wanted to negotiate price,” adds Buell, who hung in and proved to the customer that his solution would best serve the customer. He beat the competitor and won the sale.

“Don’t be afraid to go out there and be productive.”

No stranger to combat, Buell is a member of the Army National Guard. Last November, he returned from a 13-month deployment, the last six in Iraq serving as a Staff Sergeant with the 42nd Infantry Division. While his primary responsibilities were with critical infrastructure projects and protection plans, Buell found himself as the go-to-guy when soldiers had questions regarding compressed gases. “I was surprised at some of their questions regarding explosives and the impact of specific gases on people,” he says.

No stranger to tough sales, Buell knows success comes from putting your head down, digging in your heels, and working hard to deliver the best solution.

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Greg Byer

Greg Byer
Age: 35
Who is he? Senior Sales Representative, Indiana Oxygen Company (Indianapolis, IN)
Background: B.S. Industry & Technology, Ball State • Joined Indiana Oxygen in 1996: Outside Sales


“Technology is really what’s going to make this industry and our customers grow.”

“Technology is really what’s going to make this industry and our customers grow,” says Greg Byer. As the conduit between his customers and the vast array of new technological equipment and techniques, Byer is always searching for something that will help make his customers’ jobs easier and better. Specializing in lasers and robots, he takes great pride in his customers’ growth, and when customers meet a challenge they can’t figure out, be it welding or a manufacturing process, or even basic business, Byer is often the first person they call to bounce ideas off. With good reason. “If I don’t know the answer, one of my other customers may know. I make it a point to find out.” Byer calls this a “network of knowledge,” and this network keeps getting bigger as his relationships with customers and suppliers expand.

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  What I Learned in School
In addition to two MBAs and one Master’s in Accounting, GAWDA’s Movers and Shakers’ MOST POPULAR UNDERGRADUATE DEGREE is Business Management (36%), followed by English (14%), and a third-place tie for Marketing, Mathematics, Economics, Science, Engineering Mechanics, Industry & Technology, and Liberal Arts.

Aaron Campbell

Aaron Campbell
Age: 36
Who is he? General Manager, Arkansas Welding & Industrial Supply (Hot Springs, AR)
Background: B.S. Business Administration, Henderson State • Joined Arkansas Welding & Industrial Supply in 1995: Purchasing Manager, Branch Manager

While in college, Aaron Campbell began working for a big-box retailer, eventually rising to the role of operations manager. He knew the owners of Arkansas Welding Supply through a mutual relationship, and they hired him to fill their vacant purchasing manager position. “It wasn’t gases and welding that drew me,” he says, “The jump to welding was a way to move into small, independent business and away from big, corporate retail.”


“Servicing the customer is the only thing that will set you apart from the competition. Don’t let them down.”

Now, however, Campbell has grown to love the industry. He describes one of his most memorable moments as when he helped convince a customer to switch from dewars to a bulk nitrogen tank. It took 3 1/2 years. “As our relationship grew, they realized they would save money by going to the bulk tank and that we had their best interests in mind. In the big picture, it helped that customer save money and internally helped us because it cemented our relationship.”

That kind of relationship, Campbell says, can only be developed by listening to the customer. “The customer has many needs, much more than what they even know to ask for. You can go a long way in this business if you put the customer first.”

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Gerard Castello

Gerard Castello
Age: 33
Who is he? General Manager, Tri-Weld Industries (Bay Shore, NY)
Background: Joined Tri-Weld in 1992: Propane Filler, Dock Worker, Truck Driver, Counter Sales, Outside Sales

Gerard Castello began working for Tri-Weld Industries when he was 19 years old. He drove from Queens to Bay Shore, New York, to work nights and Saturdays, and never missed a day. During the week, he did carpentry, roofing and construction in Queens to help support his mother after the death of his father. When a full-time position became available filling propane cylinders, he took it. Tri-Weld President Joe Luca saw something in the young man who would later become his son-in-law.


“The objective is to get the products to the end-user. That’s how we make money.”

As Castello worked his way up the ranks to his current position as general manager, he’s shown a remarkable work ethic and an unceasing desire for knowledge about the industry. He knows firsthand how much there is to know in a crisis situation. When he was first learning how to repair Tri-Weld’s cryogenic equipment, there was a breakdown in the plant. “After 14 hours, a lot of phone calls, and a lot of reading, we were pumping oxygen again,” says Castello. “Without pumping oxygen, we make no money.”

With new challenges every day, Castello notes this is a job that never gets old. “The objective is to get the products to the end-user. It’s a great accomplishment at the end of the day when the trucks are back safe and we can say we did it, and we did it well.”

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Brian Coleman
Age: 37
Who is he? Cumming Branch Manager, Smith Welding Products (Holly Springs, GA)
Background: Kennesaw State • Joined Smith Welding Products in 1996: Route Sales, Outside Sales


“Do what you say you can do.”

“You’re going to get squashed like a bug!” Brian Coleman laughs now when he remembers those words nine years ago from fellow workers when he, his father and several uncles left their jobs at a large national company to join Greg Smith as he started a small, independent, competing company. “Right in the national’s backyard!” exclaims Coleman. He attributes part of their success to the fact that they were “on the other side of the fence for so long, feasting on companies like ours. To become the prey was different and a bit scary, but we knew what we were facing.” Another reason for their success is their small size which, Coleman points out, allows them to adapt quickly to the needs of the market, helps them stay close to their customers, and reduces red tape. “People do business with people, and trust is very important,” he says. “It is so critical to be honest and do what you say you are going to do.” In his six years as branch manager of the Cumming, Georgia, store, Coleman has learned to call his customers his friends. Being a young manager, however, does have its moments, especially when supervising employees older than him. One of them is his father, Jimmy, who works in sales and reports to his son. “We’ve done a good job of separating the relationship, and he really knows what he’s doing,” says Coleman of his father. “Sometimes it’s awkward, but he handles it very well.” Coleman points to his father as his role model, who taught him that “there’s nothing more important than following through and doing what you say you can do.”

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Gary Craft Jr.

Gary Craft Jr.
Age: 30
Who is he? Plattsburgh Branch Manager, Haun Welding Supply (Syracuse, NY)
Background: A.A. Liberal Arts, Mohawk Valley CC • Joined Haun in 1991: Counter Sales, Warehouse, Inside Sales

For Gary Craft Jr., Haun Welding Supply is a family affair. Both his mother and his father work for the company. “I started working summers at the Rome, New York, store, where my father was branch manager, when I was 16. When I saw the work my parents were doing and got to know the people who worked for the company, I wanted to make it my career.” Today, Craft serves as branch manager in Plattsburgh, New York.


“A lot of young people come and go, thinking there’s bigger and better out there, or they shy away when things get difficult. Give the industry a chance. Stick it out and learn. Find someone who can teach you the ins and outs and help you become better.”

Craft points to a challenge that many young people who have grown up in the industry encounter. “We have a lot of experience in the business and the knowledge to back it up, but people see a young face and think we don’t know what we’re talking about.” One of Craft’s proudest moments arose out of just such an encounter. He and another employee were running a new store in Burlington, Vermont. A customer stopped in just after visiting a competitor’s store and ended up buying product from Craft. “It was just a small sale,” Craft recalls, “but the customer e-mailed Mark Haun to let him know how much he enjoyed meeting me because of how I treated him. He was surprised that such a young person would be able to take care of him, and said he was happy to see there are young people in this country who are customer-service oriented.”

Such experiences reinforce what Craft describes as the most important thing his father ever taught him: Never judge a book by its cover. “When customers walk in the door, I treat them all the same,” he says. “Somebody might walk into the store and look like he just walked off a job working the fields on a farm, but he might run a multi-million-dollar organization. It’s important to treat everyone equally well.”

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Steven DeFillipps Jr.

Steven DeFillipps Jr.
Age: 30
Who is he? Inside Salesperson, SOS Gases (Kearny, NJ)
Background: A.S. Business, County College of Morris • Joined SOS in 1996: Collections, Sales

There is no better pleasure for a salesperson than bringing home a new account. Steven DeFillipps explains, “I like meeting new people. The easiest way to learn our business is to learn our customers’ businesses. And if we listen, they will teach us.”


“Never quit.”

DeFillipps was just ten years old when his grandfather, who founded the company with two partners, died. His grandfather’s legacy has stayed with him. “No matter how tough it got, my grandfather never quit.” Perseverance is a family trait. DeFillipps describes a time when he was working on the collection of a substantial past-due invoice. “A large customer’s building had burned to the ground and was then acquired by a still larger company. It was common knowledge that the acquiring company was not paying many of the older invoices.” After a year of pursuing the account, DeFillipps received payment on the $10,000 invoice.

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James Featherstone

James Featherstone
Age: 39
Who is he? General Manager, Allstate Industrial Equipment (Ecorse, MI)
Background: Detroit Business Institute • Joined Allstate in 1995: Service Clerk, Assistant Service Manager, Purchasing Manager


“I don’t tolerate the ‘It’s not my job’ attitude. Serving the customer is everyone’s job.”

For James Featherstone, it all comes down to team, and the most important thing he’s learned is how to be a team leader. He leads by example, and works every day to embody the company’s customer service culture, whether that means carrying a 50-pound can of welding rod to a customer’s car, or taking the time to demonstrate welding machines to a potential customer who admits he has no intention of buying anything that day. “I explained to him, as I have to other customers, that it is an honor that he decided to come into my store and look at the products we have to offer. That customer was so surprised he ended up becoming a regular customer,” says Featherstone.

Little things…maybe. But in the long run, Featherstone knows that it is all these little things that make Allstate Industrial Equipment stand out from the rest.

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  EDUCATION:
Highest Level of Book Learning

High school . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Technical school . . . . . . . . . . . . .
College Courses(no degree) . . .
Associate’s Degree . . . . . . . . . . .
Bachelor’s Degree . . . . . . . . . . .
Master’s Degree . . . . . . . . . . . . .
15%
2%
25%
15%
35%
8%
 

Heather Ferrand

Heather Ferrand
Age: 37
Who is she? Vice President of Specialty Gas, Butler Gas Products Company (McKees Rocks, PA)
Background: B.S. Accounting & Business Administration, Geneva College • Joined Butler in 1991: Receivables, Outside Sales


“I love that the customer challenges us every day.” Heather Ferrand, who has worked at Butler Gas Products for more than 15 years, enjoys being challenged by the customer. Her first job was in the back office collecting receivables. One of Butler’s largest customers stopped paying its bills due to some difficulty with cylinders. Ferrand decided to take matters into her own hands. She went to visit the customer, and by the time she returned to the office, the cylinder balance was correct and the bill was paid. “And they’ve been with us ever since,” she notes. After a few more of those visits, Jack Butler moved Ferrand into sales.


“I love that the customer challenges us every single day.”

Seven years ago, Ferrand started selling specialty gases. At the time, all salespeople sold both specialty and industrial gases. “It was very territorial,” says Ferrand, who was assigned only specialty gases. “They decided to make me the expert and that’s it.” She became completely focused on that market, learned it through and through, and determined where the company needed to be to add value.”

Ferrand’s passion for selling specialty gases and for meeting customer challenges has proven to be her hallmarks of success. The specialty gas side of the company has grown exponentially and exceeded all expectations.

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Beth Frey

Beth Frey
Age: 38
Who is she? Office Manager, Metro Welding Supply Corp. (Detroit, MI)
Background: Oakland CC • Joined Metro Welding Supply in 1992: Billing Clerk

One of Beth Frey’s proudest moments on the job was when she was named Office Manager four years ago. She joined Metro Welding Supply as a billing clerk, and quickly learned that the daily responsibilities of operating a successful company don’t necessarily end at the limits of one’s job description. In her first month on the job, President Neil Stoneback asked Frey to type up a customer contract—something she wasn’t prepared to do. “I got a little frazzled and said, ‘I can’t do this!’” she recalls. “He said, ‘Yes, you can, because if I didn’t think you could, I wouldn’t have hired you.’ That’s the motto here; there’s no ‘I can’t.’ If I don’t know how to do something, I find out how, and I do it.”


“Absorb as much as you can. Sometimes the best training is on-the-job training.”

Frey’s position as office manager requires her to be everything from IT person to travel agent to event coordinator, and that early advice has stood her in good stead. She’s not afraid to ask questions to find the right answer. “There have been times when the key players in the company have been out of town, and it’s left up to me to get the job done if there’s a problem,” says Frey. “I work closely with the people here, listen to them and watch how they handle different scenarios, and I’ve been able to take those lessons and apply them in a crunch-time situation so that I can take care of the customer. If something needs to be done, I get it done.”

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Karen Gilgenbach

Karen Gilgenbach
Age: 24
Who is she? Outside Sales Representative, Linde Gas (Milwaukee, WI)
Background: B.S. Engineering Mechanics, Michigan State • Joined Linde Gas in 2003: Sales

After graduating in May 2003 with a B.S. in engineering mechanics, Karen Gilgenbach had many job offers. Linde Gas, however, offered more than a job. “They were supportive to someone new to the industry and had extensive training programs so I’d be able to learn a lot. Plus, they were very supportive of women engineers.” She found this to be often overlooked by companies.


“If you really understand and are really listening, you can anticipate a lot of needs.”

Gilgenbach is in the office at 5 a.m., answering e-mail, doing paperwork and preparing quotes. “I try to be as thorough as possible and don’t want to sell something that’s incomplete.” By 7:30, she’s on the road visiting customers, advising on technical issues, and taking orders. A favorite part of her job is going to customer sites to help them make their processes better. “Something doesn’t work, or the weld looks bad, and they don’t know why it is.” As an outside sales rep, she visits hundreds of companies and sees just as many different processes. “If I had taken an engineering job, I would have worked for one company and seen one set of processes.”

The AVERAGE AGE of a GAWDA Mover and Shaker is 32.

Gilgenbach likes figuring things out and currently is working at getting her certified welding engineer credentials. She’d like to be a weld specialist who supports the sales staff in the technical field, and she’s learned that the most important thing is to really listen to her customers and understand what they’re asking. “Sometimes they are looking to go from A to B, and I can look at it and understand what Step C will be like.”

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David Hanchette

David Hanchette
Age: 28
Who is he? Sales Manager, Kirk Welding Supply (Kansas City, MO)
Background: B.S. Marketing; MBA, Southwest Missouri State • Joined Kirk Welding Supply in 2000: Marketing, Bulk Gas, Inside Sales, Outside Sales

After earning his MBA, David Hanchette joined Kirk Welding Supply and is the first to tell you that anyone who keeps their eyes and ears open will learn a lot the first few years on the job. Hanchette took advantage of those learning opportunities growing up in the business, and again when he joined the company full time. He worked in the marketing department and a year later moved into bulk gas. “We incorporated our microbulk and someone was needed to kick it off.” Hanchette got the assignment, but describes himself back then as “pretty green in the whole area, trying to learn the lingo and all that was involved.” For three months, he was unable to sign any new business.


“Don’t get discouraged when the selling process goes slow. Be persistent. Don’t give up until you have to.”

One afternoon, he and Kirk Welding Supply’s VP of sales, Brent Evans, went on sales calls together to prospects Hanchette had been calling on. “I just kept following up and following up, and not getting discouraged when things were going slowly.” That afternoon, Hanchette signed contracts with three new accounts. “The persistence paid off when it all fell into place on that one afternoon.”

That persistence is even more reflected in Kirk Welding Supply’s numbers for 2005: Bulk business grew by 32 percent. “We’re always looking for new applications coming into the region and we make sure we’re the first ones in the hat,” Hanchette explains.

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Kelly Hayward

Kelly Hayward
Age: 28
Who is she? Internet Manager, J.W. Goodliffe & Son (Linden, NJ)
Background: B.A. Communications & English, Rutgers • Joined J.W. Goodliffe in 2002: Sales

“Being online is such a step into the future for an industry that generally has been brick-and-mortar,” says Kelly Hayward, who joined J.W. Goodliffe & Son when its Cyberweld.com division was just getting off the ground four years ago. Since then, Hayward has helped the Internet-based business grow from the high six figures to the high seven figures.

The secret of the online store’s success lies not so much in technical wizardry, but in unflagging customer service. That service includes free shipping, within 24 hours of order. Hayward negotiates shipping rates and makes sure the savings are passed on to the customer. She also works the search engines, making sure Cyberweld.com is at or very near the top.


“Going from sales to customer service gave me a good feel of how successful a company can become if they really do keep their main focus on making the customer happy, on going the extra mile.”

While Cyberweld.com sales doubled over the previous year during the 2005 holiday season, and all orders were shipped on time, Hayward came up against an obstacle that nearly prevented that. A popular TIG torch package was on backorder due to changes from the manufacturer, and a number of customers who’d ordered them as Christmas gifts had been waiting since November. In mid-December, Hayward was informed that the packages would not be available until late January. Instead of calling all those customers and telling them they wouldn’t receive their Christmas presents on time, Hayward worked out a plan. “I spoke to all the customers and got their approval, and we ordered the parts separately and made the kits ourselves. We kept our customers’ price the same, and I’m proud to say that we got those kits out just in time for Christmas gifts. It’s something I probably wouldn’t think about twice any other time of year, but during the holidays, we were already stretched as thin as we possibly could be. I was ecstatic to be able to service our customers that way.”

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GAWDA Movers and Shakers BEGAN WORKING full time in the industry between the ages of 17 and 32. The average age for STARTING A CAREER in the gases and welding industry is 21.

Troy Hill

Troy Hill
Age: 38
Who is he? Vice President of Sales-Western Division, WELSCO Inc. (North Little Rock, AR)
Background: U.S. Navy; Arkansas Tech • Joined WELSCO in 1988: Delivery, Route Sales, Outside Sales, Store Manager

“It was a fluke,” laughs Troy Hill. He figured the only option he had was college when he left the Navy with no idea as to what to do next. “I needed a job that would last nine months until I started the semester. That was 18 years ago. I’ve been here ever since.”


“Service your customers to keep them coming back.”

Hill’s first job was delivering to customers, despite the fact that he had never driven anything diesel. After proving his acumen behind the wheel, he did route sales, “despite the fact that I’d never sold anything.” He was a fast study, whatever he did. He points out that at every location he’s been, sales have doubled or tripled. “It seems I’ve been in the right spot all the time.” Not exactly. Hill has worked hard to learn the essence of sales. “Be ready to work and take care of your customers. Service your customer to keep them coming back.”

Early on, when driving the route truck, Hill went 20 miles out of his way to a customer in desperate need of a repair on a welder. “They were down and needed to be working. I walked up to it, looked at it, said here’s the problem, and fixed it.” It was a simple fix, but the customer thought it was amazing and kept thanking Hill for getting the company back on line. Says Hill, “Simple things like that just make the day.”

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Welding and Specialty Gases - 40 Under 40 - Gender Graph   Welding and Specialty Gases - 40 Under 40 - Background Graph

Mark Jenkins

Mark Jenkins
Age: 37
Who is he? Vice President, Arc Weld (Corydon, IN)
Background: Indiana University Southeast • Joined Arc Weld in 1988

The welding industry has been a part of the Jenkins family life for a long time. Together with his father, Dennis, Mark Jenkins started at Arc Weld 18 years ago. Prior to that, the elder Jenkins owned another company. He points to his dad as his role model and says, “My father began his career as a driver and now owns a successful company. He taught me the importance of persistence.”


“Service after the initial sale and persistence are necessary for success.”

Being persistent has been the key to everything Jenkins does. It’s a challenge for a small business to break down the barriers and gain large company customers. That challenge is often one of the barriers to a small company’s success. By working harder and by being persistent, Arc Weld supplies some of Indiana’s larger end-users, including suppliers to the automotive industry. “The key to what we do,” explains Jenkins, “is the service we provide after we make the initial sale. As a small company, we have more of a hands-on approach to meeting the needs of our customers.”

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Stacey Johnson

Stacey Johnson
Age: 37
Who is he? Territory Manager, Jones Welding & Industrial Supply (Albany, GA)
Background: A.S. Diesel Mechanics, A.S. Welding, South Georgia Tech • Joined Allied Gas and Welding Supplies in 1996: Sales, Management (store acquired by Jones in 2003)

Stacey Johnson was living in Atlanta doing some ironwork, welding and hanging steel for a living when he had an opportunity to move back home. He and his father purchased the inventory of a welding supply company that had been closed for a year due to lack of business. Johnson started to sell the supplies locally and realized his welding background gave him an edge. “I could put on a welding hood and weld with the customer to figure out a good solution.” In addition to his knowledge, Johnson learned that service would be the differentiator. “My customers taught me the greatest lesson early on. They could easily get a price, but they couldn’t get service. And what they needed, what they wanted, was service.”


“Be committed to your employer and your customers. Set your standards high. It’s not going above and beyond; it’s doing your job.”

Five years into this venture, another welding store opened in the area, and had no success picking up Johnson’s business. They asked if they could buy out Johnson and his father, who agreed. Johnson then started working for Allied Gas and Welding Supplies, which was later acquired by Jones Welding.

Johnson’s devotion to service is paying off. “When a customer needs something, and they need it today, if I have to, I’ll get in my vehicle and drive it to them, even if it takes four or five hours.” In the last 18 months, Johnson’s territory has seen a 50 percent growth. He is quick to point out the efforts of the people who work with him, who contribute much to the growth of the business. “They’re a hardworking bunch of guys. I go out and make the deals, and they follow through with them. They make them happen.”

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Herbie King

Herbie King
Age: 35
Who is he? Sales Representative, Compressed Gas Solutions (Orlando, FL)
Background: U.S. Navy; A.S., Business Management, Churchill CC • Action Welding Supply: Inventory, Route Delivery, Inside Sales, Outside Sales • Airgas: Account Manager • Joined Compressed Gas Solutions in 2005: Sales


Herbie King grew up in the atmosphere of a small, independent welding business. His father owned ABC Mobile Welding in Orlando, and King spent hours alongside his father learning how to weld, fabricate, do layouts, read print. King laughs when he says that his father’s punishment for his childhood misdeeds was to send him to the shop to work. “He’d give me a cut list and I would start cutting.” Needless to say, King was in trouble a lot because he really liked the punishments.


“That first account you did without someone riding alongside and doing the legwork always stays with you. That’s a good moment in a career.”

After serving in the military, King’s father suggested his son work for another company. When this company was acquired, King stayed for two years, but missed the excitement and challenges of the independent environment. So he left his job as an account manager and joined Compressed Gas Solutions, a new company started by his former boss.

One of the things King learned working for a small company was the importance of teamwork. “In a small company, you have to do a lot of everything, and you become very well-rounded. You fill cylinders, you assist drivers pulling hardgoods, you help the counter person. In the meantime, you still go out and sell and have to understand the day-to-day operations of collecting money, making sure pricing is correct in the computer, and assisting with the ordering.” King thrives on his ability to multi-task.

He is humbled when he looks at people who have been in the industry a long time and who continue striving to be better at what they do. “If you’re going to do it,” he says, “give it 110 percent.”

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Dan Kipka

Dan Kipka
Age: 32
Who is he? Purchasing Manager, Oxygen Service Company (St. Paul, MN)
Background: St. Cloud State • Joined Earl’s Welding Supply in 1996: Warehouse, Inside Sales, Purchasing (Earl’s acquired by Oxygen Service in 2000)


“I like seeing the sales staff take the product to the end-user, seeing the product work well, and then watching the orders come in.”

“So many of us have the same products, and we have to earn business a different way than pricing and being a me-too distributor. We have to bring something extra to the table.”

Bringing something extra to the table is what Dan Kipka is building his career on. His father was the general manager at Earl’s Welding Supply in St. Cloud, Minnesota, and in high school Kipka took a part time job with the company, prior to its purchase by Oxygen Service Company. After a few years of studying business at St. Cloud State, he joined the company full time.

Read how Oxygen Service Company implements “Technology” in the Member Profile from Fall 2004.

Much of Kipka’s time as Purchasing Manager is spent with vendors. “I like working with them to get the best product and price, and gaining their confidence so that when they want to sell their product, they bring it to us knowing we’re going to promote it well and support them.” He also likes seeing what is new and exciting in the industry, and derives great satisfaction from introducing the sales staff to new ideas and new products and helping them be well-informed as they go to their customers.

“I strive to implement ways of doing business that set us apart from our competition in a positive way. It’s very important to show the end-user how to be more profitable so that they can maintain and gain new customers.” Kipka notes the importance of being in a relationship with both customers and vendors. “People know they can count on us.”

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Welding and Specialty Gases Role Models ROLE MODELS
Father/President of
Company . . . . . . . . . .. . . . 32%
Owner of Company
(not parent) . . . . . . .. . . . . 28%
Direct Supervisor . . . . . . 10%
Parents (don’t work at
company) . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8%
Other Relative . . . . .7%
None . . . . . . . . . . . .. . 7%
Experienced
co-worker . . . . . . . . . 5%
Vendor . . . . . . . . . . . . 3%

Doug Lampton

Doug Lampton
Age: 35
Who is he? Vice President, Lampton Welding Supply Company (Wichita, KS)
Background: B.A. Business Administration, University of Kansas • Joined Lampton in 1994: Customer Service, Sales, Bulk & Specialty Gases Manager, Gases Manager


“This is a great industry. People who leave this industry eventually find their way back, so don’t burn your bridges.”

“Don’t get too set in your ways because this industry is changing fast,” advises Doug Lampton, who thrives on the fast pace. As an example, he points to a long-time customer who bought his first cutting torch many years ago from Lampton’s father, Marvin. “We kept bringing them new technology when it made sense, upsizing their gas systems and showing them better ways to do things.” That small shop is now very large, using laser cutting tables and other technical equipment. “With the use of technology, they grew their business.”

Read about Lampton Welding Supply Company’s “Serial Entrepreneurship” in the Member Profile from Spring 2003.

Lampton acknowledges that he enjoys being a part of the manufacturing process. “There are so many versatile uses for gases and we get to dive into different areas of plants to see things behind the scenes that most people don’t get to see.” And he likes figuring out ways to bring more efficiencies and better ideas to his customers.

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Todd Linnenbringer

Todd Linnenbringer
Age: 30
Who is he? Vice President, Delta Gases (Maryland Heights, MO)
Background: B.S. Finance, University of Missouri • Joined Delta Gases in 1998: Inside sales, Purchasing, Outside Sales

“Are you ready to do this now?” When Ken Linnenbringer asked his son this question, Todd Linnenbringer jumped at the opportunity. “Yes, let’s do it!” The elder Linnenbringer established Delta Gases when Todd was a sophomore in college, and he advised his son upon graduation to go and work someplace else. After a year at Enterprise Leasing, he was ready to do it. And do it he has. Last year, Linnenbringer hit the $1 million dollar mark in sales, accounting for almost one third of the company’s annual sales.


“You have to be persistent. You never know when you’re going to get that phone call.”

He attributes his success to versatility. As part of a small company with 14 employees, he has done every job. “I don’t think I’d be near the salesman I am today if I hadn’t done that. I know each position inside and out, and I know the products. I’ve delivered tanks and I’ve carried supplies.

Linnenbringer is fascinated by customers. “It’s tough to get a customer to stop buying from a competitor. You can call on a prospect for three years, and then one day you get that phone call. Next thing you know, they’re your biggest customer. But once you earn that loyalty, and keep servicing the customer, it’s hard to lose.”

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Brady Melo

Brady Melo
Age: 32
Who is he? Operations Manager, Melo’s Gas & Gear (Bakersfield, CA)
Background: Joined Melo’s in 1999: Driver, Dispatcher, Delivery Manager, Store Manager, Operations Manager

Prior to joining the family business, Brady Melo worked as a machinist. “I worked with metal, and it didn’t talk back to me. The way to carry yourself in front of the public while doing whatever you’re doing was a real eye opener.”


“People who’ve been around for a long time know how things really work. Listen to them.”

Melo learned quickly. He describes his job as assembling all the pieces of a puzzle and making those pieces work together. “I juggle all the different aspects of what we do, and make sure to keep our customers happy.” Melo points to the daily challenges and his ability to handle those challenges as what he is most proud of.

Melo knows he is fortunate to have had the opportunity to learn from his father. He says, “I’ve learned from him how to listen to others and to learn from their experiences. We rely on being organized. If we know what has to be done and when it has to be accomplished, it is easier to please our customers.”

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Pat Moore

Pat Moore
Age: 30
Who is he? Terre Haute Branch Manager, Inweld Corporation (Indianapolis, IN)
Background: U.S. Navy; A.S. Welding, Yachats CC • Joined Inweld in 2004: Inside Sales, Outside Sales

Pat Moore learned welding while serving in the U.S. Navy. He has progressed in the industry, taking on more responsibility because of his willingness to work hard. He explains, “Sometimes you have to take on the job that no one else wants and be successful doing those jobs. Over the years, Moore has learned the importance of follow-through. “If you make a promise, honor it. If you can’t deliver a product on a promised date, you must communicate that message to the customer.”


“You have to separate yourself from everyone else. Find out what the customer’s needs and wants are, and offer things that others don’t. Make it a true partnership.”

Moore’s commitment to follow-through is exemplified by a high-volume sale made to a large manufacturer. He was in the midst of a bid process when increases in gas and steel prices impacted the winning of the bid. “We actually came in higher than everyone else. But they chose Inweld because of the detailed layouts, proposals and Power Point demonstrations we provided. No other competitor could detail how the switchover would go or provide backup scenarios should a problem arise.”

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Ryan Norton

Ryan Norton
Age: 27
Who is he? Manager, Specialty Gases Southeast (Suwanee, GA)
Background: B.S. Business Management, Valdosta State • Joined Specialty Gases Southeast in 2000: Truck Driver, Pumper, Counter Sales, Welding Sales, Specialty Gas and Cryogenic Sales


Although Ryan Norton is now responsible for bigger ticket specialty gas and cryogenic sales, he has worked hard to learn the basics of each job function associated with his company. “I may not do it as well as someone else, but I have a general idea of how each task is done.”


“You can’t be everywhere and everything to every customer, but at least be honest and say either yes you can do it, or no you can’t.”

Norton grew up in the business. He says, “I’ve seen my dad work hard to accomplish so much. I want to continue that and grow the company to the next level.” Norton is helping the company utilize technology to grow sales. He calls it a competitive advantage. He’s been instrumental in putting in a bar code cylinder tracking system, automatic re-orders on trucks, and Web sites for customer product purchase. “This past year, we were able to do $500,000 in online sales which were drop-shipped to the customer.”

During the past year, Norton, his younger brother Patrick, and his father have steered the company’s growth to over $1,000,000 in sales. He points to his father as his role model. “He taught me to slow down and to write everything down. When we are young and want to make things happen quickly, we tend to say ‘yes’ to everyone. I’ve learned that I can’t be everywhere at once. By writing things down, I won’t forget the promises I have made.”

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Robert Parsons

Robert Parsons
Age: 36
Who is he? Plant Manager, Holston Gases (Knoxville, TN)
Background: Joined Holston in 1998: Rush Man, Driver

You could say that Robert Parsons is now on the other side of the CO2 cylinder. He spent 11 years as a route salesman for Pepsi-Cola, then Coca-Cola, restocking convenience stores and supermarkets. Wanting a change, he took a position as Holston’s rush man. “If a customer called and needed something, but wasn’t on the delivery schedule for that day, I’d rush over with whatever they needed.” Taking care of the customer is a critical component of Parson’s success.


“Absorb all you can from those working in the industry a while.”

The Knoxville plant supplies Holston’s branches, and when it became clear that restocking at night would provide a competitive advantage, Parsons was the first to take the second shift. For 2 1/2 years, he made night deliveries, all the while learning about different aspects of the business. Now as plant manager, he understands well servicing both external and internal customers. Three years ago, Parsons went through his first FDA audit, calling it a career milestone. “We scored 100,” he proudly says, and is quick to give credit to the Holston team. “When you take care of the customer, everything else falls into place.”

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Nate Powell
Photo courtesy of the Northwest Area Foundation

Nate Powell
Age: 30
Who is he? Fill Dock Technician, Quimby Corporation (Portland, OR)
Background: Joined Quimby in 2005: Shipping/Receiving, Cylinder Fill

Nate Powell took a temporary job at Quimby Corporation, filling in for a worker on temporary leave. Proving to be a quick study, he was asked to stay on when the regular employee returned. With his ability to quickly acquire product knowledge, he was soon promoted to working with mixed gases and is eager to move up the ranks. “I’m pushing myself to learn more.”

As one of the integral back-room guys that keep our industry moving, Powell is extremely focused. He’s responsible for getting cylinders filled and ready to go before the trucks come in. He knows every truck’s schedule and what the drivers need. He also maintains the machines and makes sure the work environment is kept safe.


“Pay attention to your mistakes. Use them as a learning experience.”

Powell is driven to learn all he can about his work and his industry. “Sometimes,” he says, “it’s just a matter of showing up. If you’re not here, you can’t learn. But when you are here, you have to pay attention to everything that is said and done around you. You need to take advantage of those learning experiences and not be satisfied or too comfortable with what you’ve already achieved.”

Powell’s goal for the future is to earn a Commercial Driver’s License and become one of Quimby Corporation’s drivers. It’s a sure bet those cylinders will be in good hands.

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Brian Renouf

Brian Renouf
Age: 35
Who is he? Operations Manager, Five Star Gas and Gear (Los Nietos, CA)
Background: Joined Renox in 1987: Inside Sales; Airco: Outside Sales • Airgas: Outside Sales; Joined Five Star in 1995: Inside Sales, Outside Sales

Bryan Renouf has been passionate about gases and welding since he was a teenager. “I’ve been in the welding business since the age of 13, and ever since I was a young man, I’ve wanted to be in this industry. It’s my passion.” After high school, Renouf worked full time in his family’s business, Renox. In 1988, the company was sold to Airco, then to Airgas in 1993. Missing the small, independent culture, he left Airgas in 1995, when he was 25 years old, to join Five Star, which was just starting out.


“Reliability. Integrity. Trustworthiness. You’re only as good as your word.”

Renouf is especially pleased with the fact that he has had the opportunity to try all “the different roles in the company and has been successful with each of them.” His ability to work retail at the store level, in the field calling on accounts, or in operations has given him a clear sense of the many and varied responsibilities throughout the company, which he brings to his role as operations manager. His proudest moment with the company was celebrating Five Star’s 10th Anniversary last October. “It was a huge achievement for all of us, and it came with much pride.”

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Michael Ripple Jr.

Michael Ripple Jr.
Age: 29
Who is he? Operations Manager, Advanced Gas & Welding Solutions (Eastlake, OH)
Background: Lakeland CC • Joined Advanced in 2000: Warehouse Manager

As the second generation in a family business, Michael Ripple Jr. grew up in the industry. “It feels good knowing that we’re succeeding as a small business. My father has done a great job, and I hope I can achieve over the years what he has.”


“The more knowledge you have of the industry, the better.”

Ripple is excited to be learning more about management and general business principles. “I started out doing hard labor, and didn’t have much knowledge of the products.” He went to welding school to get the basics down, and takes advantages of every learning program available. “The information,” he says, “makes it easier to talk with customers and help them.” One of Ripple’s favorite parts of working for a small company is the face time he gets with customers. “Each day is different, and sometimes it feels like a three-day work week.” Ripple acknowledges that being in the industry is rewarding and fun, and having his father close by teaching him only makes it better.

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Martin Ruiz

Martin Ruiz
Age: 33
Who is he? Sales Representative, AWISCO (Maspeth, NY)
Background: B.S. Liberal Arts, St. John’s • Joined AWISCO in 1994-1997; returned in 2001: Welding Machine Repair, Counter Sales, Outside Sales

A funny thing happened on the way to school one day. Then a college student, Martin Ruiz was on his way to class when Bernie Robinson, father of AWISCO President Lloyd Robinson, stopped his car and asked, “Do you know anyone who is looking for a job as an apprentice in a repair shop?” Ruiz applied for the job on the spot, was invited to come in for an interview, and then was hired.

Convinced that the grass was greener on the other side, Ruiz left AWISCO in 1997, only to return in 2001. He says, “AWISCO is a growing force in the industry. I wanted to work for the company committed to being the best in the industry.”


“Make sure that the customer is aware of all you have to offer.”

“My proudest moment was last year, when I hit the $2 million mark in sales.” Ruiz points to persistence as the key to that achievement. “It’s important to make sure that the customer is aware of all you have to offer. When a project does come together, I want to be the one they think of first.”

While breaking sales records is something to celebrate, Ruiz is most proud of the role he and his company were privileged to play during the clean-up of 9/11. “I walked into what is today called the hole, where the tower stood at one time. I worked with the iron workers and saw some ugly stuff, but also was able to share some pretty memorable moments with them. That is something that will be with me for the rest of my life.”

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Dan Shelby

Dan Shelby
Age: 37
Who is he? Omaha Branch Sales Manager, Linweld (Lincoln, NE)
Background: Southeast CC • Joined Linweld in 1985: Warehouse, Counter Sales, Receiving, Route Sales, Outside Sales

Dan Shelby’s secret for success is a simple one. First: locate a good company. Second: remain loyal. As a sales manager, Shelby is responsible for servicing his roster of customers and meeting with vendors, looking for products that are going to ensure his company’s future growth. Shelby prides himself on the success he has enjoyed in the sale of big-ticket robotic equipment, but says, “I take as much care of my smaller customers as I do the larger ones. Sometimes, the smaller customers will eventually be bigger customers.”


“Find a good company to work for, and be loyal.”

When Shelby thinks of the various career firsts he has enjoyed, he remembers the day he sold his first cutting table or the day when, with no one looking over his shoulder, he signed a gas contract for the first time, and the day he made his first robotic sale. While each of those days are milestones in his career, the greatest milestone of all was perhaps the day he applied for his first job and it was with a great company that could command his loyalty.

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Richelle Smith-Brecht

Richelle Smith-Brecht
Age: 35
Who is she? Executive Vice President, S.J. Smith Welding Supply (Davenport, IA)
Background: B.A. English, University of Iowa; PHR, Society for Human Resources Management • Joined S.J. Smith in 1993: Warehouse, Front Counter, Inside Sales, Outside Sales, Branch Manager, Human Resources

“This company has been in my family for 55 years, and I’m the third generation. How cool is that?” Richelle Smith-Brecht, granddaughter of the founder of S.J. Smith Company, and daughter of CEO Richard J. Smith, knows from whence she came. Growing up in the business, like most children of owners, she did it all. After graduation, she moved to Madison, Wisconsin, for a job at John Deere Credit. Her decision to return to the Quad Cities to work for her father was a well thought-out decision with no regrets. “While it wasn’t my idea, starting from the ground floor was very smart on my father’s part,” she now says. Responsible for HR, Smith-Brecht looks at her early experiences as very valuable. “I know how the warehouse works, how the truck deliveries work, how the stores work. I know the type of individual who needs to be there, because I’ve worked there.”


“Surround yourself with people who know what you don’t.”

Smith-Brecht is learning how to deal, she says, “with all sorts of people: customers, vendors, branch employees, corporate employees. Each one brings a different scenario. We sell to the person who walks in and is welding in his garage, and we sell to the John Deeres. As a representative of the company, I have to diversify myself to be able to provide those vastly different customers with what they need to properly do their work.”

Smith-Brecht was named Executive Vice President last December. This move into executive management is especially meaningful to her. “My father said, ‘She’s the one, we want her to run the company one day.’ That’s huge. Coming from Dad, that’s huge.” She is eager to carry on the family legacy.

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Rob Stoody

Rob Stoody
Age: 22
Who is he? Vice President, Stoody Industrial & Welding Supply (San Diego, CA).
Background: A.A. Communications, Mesa College • Joined Stoody in 2001: Fill Line Technician

“Part of my job is to manage the tasks that I ask others to do. Another part of it is to develop leadership from within the company,” says Rob Stoody. Depending on what day it is or what time it is, Stoody can be found in any one of several departments. He has his hands on a variety of projects, including e-business, human resources, marketing, the dispatch program and the company’s profit-sharing plan.

Stoody loves the business and the people he works with. He explains, “A leader’s first responsibility is to develop leadership characteristics among the people he is leading. I like watching the company grow in employee numbers, in employee satisfaction, and in customer satisfaction. I enjoy helping others to become leaders.” Stoody points to his father as role model who taught him to hire others who show a great deal of integrity and understand the vision of growth. He adds, “The more we as a company grow, the more their paychecks will grow.”


“A leader’s first responsibility is to develop leadership characteristics among the people he is leading.”

Stoody cites the importance of atta-boys and even has a few of his own atta-boys he takes pride in. Examples of two milestone achievements were the development of a catalog to detail preventative maintenance requirements on cylinders according to U.S. Navy requirements for on-ship use, and the acquisition of a new product line, Kidde Fire Extinguisher.

“There is a push vs. pull theory. I can meet a customer, explain who I am and what I want to sell that customer, and why they need to buy from me. Or I can meet a customer and hear their problem and help them to solve it. I was ‘pulled’ into the problem by my customer, the U.S. Navy, and invited to provide a solution.” That solution not only positions the Navy for better safety procedures, it positions Stoody as a provider of solutions.

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Doug Taylor

Doug Taylor
Age: 38
Who is he? Inside Sales Representative, Middlesex Gases & Technologies (Everett, MA)
Background: U.S. Navy; A.S. Business, Middlesex CC; East Coast Aero Tech • Joined Middlesex in 2000: Store Assistant

Doug Taylor spent four years in the U.S. Navy as a helicopter crewman. He also did some repair work on those birds. While not a welder, the repairs required metalwork and he learned a few things. Six years ago, he took a job as a store assistant at one of Middlesex Gases & Technologies four locations. In that position, he learned that there are two kinds of customers: those who really know welding and are pretty sharp and in tune with it; and those who don’t know anything at all. “There aren’t too many in-between,” he says. To work with both kinds of customers, Taylor set out to learn all he could about the products and systems his store was offering.


“If you don’t have an answer, take their name, find out, and call them back!”

Middlesex has a welding shop out back, and Taylor took advantage of it during downtime. He got as much experience as he could out there, and whenever a vendor came through, he asked them questions. Lots of questions. “They taught me different tips of the trade that I wouldn’t learn just by going out back and welding by myself.” One of his early goals was to learn how to weld well, “how to lay down an awesome bead.” When he did that, he learned how to do it vertically, horizontally, out of position, then he moved on to different machines. “I felt more capable at performing my job, helping my customers, because once I used the product well, I could tell them about my experience and how that would help them in their purchase.”

Taylor enjoys educating customers who know little about welding, and he also likes spending time with experienced customers. “They challenge me with their questions.” Taylor is confident he will find a solution. This confidence has served him well. On a typical day, he gets 40 to 50 orders.

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“Our company pays whatever it takes to prevent losing our high performers to other companies.”
>> 6% of respondents strongly agree.
From McKinsey & Company’s War for Talent 2000, a survey of 6,900 executives and managers in 56 companies.

Matt Thornton

Matt Thornton
Age: 27
Who is he? Purchasing Manager, South Jersey Welding Supply (Vineland, NJ)
Background: A.S. Business Management • Joined South Jersey Welding Supply in 1996: Shipping/Receiving, Delivery, Inside Sales, Assistant Manager

Growing up in a company founded by his grandfather over 40 years ago, Matt Thornton knew the requirements: dedication, customer service, passion. Watching his father, Bob Thornton, and uncle, David Thornton, continue their father’s dream, Matt wasn’t sure the business was right for him. It wasn’t until he was in college that he realized where he belonged. Since that awareness, he has set about doing everything he can to continue his family’s legacy. “My grandfather, father and uncle have always taught us the value of hard work. And I see it in what we do each day.”


“I’m learning the importance of networking, and the true value of groups like GAWDA. The contacts and friends I’ve made at various conventions, SMCs and trade shows are extremely valuable to me.”

Thornton is responsible for developing the first Vendor Managed Inventory system for one of his company’s largest customers. “We took all the work out of their hands,” he says. The customer realized the benefits of the innovative solution and rewarded Thornton with increased business. “What’s more,” Thornton adds, “it lowered our overall costs by reducing the number of orders, deliveries and emergency calls.” In sum, Thornton’s idea procured South Jersey Welding Supply more business, while saving it more money.

Read more about South Jersey Welding Supply’s “Work Hard Philosophy” in the Member Profile from Winter 2003.

Thornton looks to his grandfather as a role model. “He built this business from nothing and now its going into its third generation with me, my cousin Dave, and my brother Andy. We learned a lot from him growing up and we are still learning from him through my father and my uncle.” Dedication, customer service and passion handed down through three generations are visible and strong.

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MANAGEMENT DUTIES

Branch Manager . . . . . . . . .
Plant Manager . . . . . . . . . . .
General Manager . . . . . . . .
Administrative . . . . . . . . . . .
Operations Manager . . . . . .
Purchasing Manager . . . . . .
Sales Manager . . . . . . . . . .
Specialty Gas Manager . . . .
22%
17%
13%
13%
13%
9%
9%
4%
 
Welding and Specialty Gases - 40 Under 40 - Job Title Graph

Steve Wark

Steve Wark
Age: 35
Who is he? Director of Plant Operations, GTS Inc. (Allentown, PA)
Background: B.S. General Science, Rutgers; MBA, Pennsylvania State • Joined GTS in 1994: Analytical Chemist, Lab Manager, Assistant Plant Manager, Associate Director of Quality Assurance, Director of Quality Assurance & Safety

Steven Wark was always interested in chemicals and gases. After graduating with a B.S. in general science, he answered a classified ad in the newspaper and jumped at the chance to work in the specialty gas lab of GTS. “This is an industry with a lot of opportunity,” he says, “and I appreciate the opportunity to grow in different roles within the company.”


“If you’re willing to put the time in, you can really grow with your company and ultimately achieve a lot of success.”

Wark was promoted from Analytical Chemist to Lab Manager in 1999, and then became Assistant Plant Manager at GTS’s Fairless Hills plant. A year later, he joined the Corporate Compliance Department as Director of Quality Assurance & Regulatory Affairs to focus on FDA, OSHA, Safety and Environmental issues throughout GTS’s 35 locations. He was directly responsible for creating the company’s Quality Manual, which involved migrating the company’s many programs and procedures into a universal manual. Integrating these manuals and training on implementation took a year, and resulted in GTS achieving ISO 9001:2000 certification.

In 2004, Wark became Director of Operations with direct responsibility for the Fairless Hills facility that produces over 70,000 cylinders per month. Throughout all of this, he earned his MBA. Wark consistently looks for opportunities to improve GTS and encourages the same development from all members of his team.

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SURVEY SAYS…
McKinsey & Company surveyed 6,900 officers, executives and mid-level managers at 56 companies to examine the difference that talent makes for company performance. McKinsey has six recommendations for building and retaining top talent:

  1. Create a widespread mindset that having great people in key jobs is critical, and ensure that all managers are held accountable for developing people and making the right job match.
  2. Foster a compelling reason for high caliber people to choose your company over others.
  3. Combine a performance ethic with an open and trusting culture.
  4. Seek out talented individuals continuously.
  5. Move out under-performers to make room for superior performers.
  6. Grow great leaders by giving people stretch jobs, informal feedback, coaching and mentoring.


Source: The War for Talent 2000: Building a Superior Talent Pool to Drive Company Performance (New York: McKinsey & Company 2000)

Aaron Wolfe

Aaron Wolfe
Age: 24
Who is he? Marshfield Store Manager, Mississippi Welders Supply (Winona, MN)
Background: A.S. Micro-Computers, Western Wisconsin Technical College • Joined MWS in 1997: Computer Maintenance, Inside Sales

When Mississippi Welders Supply was ready to add a scratch start store in Marshfield, Wisconsin, it was clear that taking a risk on then 22-year-old Aaron Wolfe to head up the store was the right decision. While pursuing a degree as a micro-computer specialist, Wolfe worked part time in the company’s LaCrosse store, maintaining computers and handling freight. From these two vantage points, Wolfe started to pick up lots of product knowledge. “Often the store got filled with customers, and I’d just jump in and start to help.”


“Taking care of customers goes further than price.”

Wolfe loved his experience working with customers and found the solutions provided by MWS interesting. He decided to make MWS a full-time job and learn everything he could about products, services and solutions for customers.

He is proud of the success his store shows, and is quick to point to the teamwork behind it, especially the strong work of the sales staff. He chuckles, though, when he adds, “A salesman is only as good as the store behind him. They’ll be the first to tell you that.”

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“Our company has enough talented managers to pursue all or most of its promising opportunities.”
>> 7% of respondents strongly agree.
From McKinsey & Company’s War for Talent 2000, a survey of 6,900 executives and managers in 56 companies.

John Zak Jr.

John Zak Jr.
Age: 29
Who is he? Treasurer, Airweld Inc. (Farmingdale, NY)
Background: B.S. Applied Mathematics, Stony Brook; M.S., Accounting, Drexel; CPA • Joined Airweld in 2002

John Zak enjoyed his work as a Public Accountant in Philadelphia, but the pull to return to his family’s business in New York was strong. “It just made sense to come back and use what I learned in school to help grow the company.” The first thing he did on his return was help change Airweld from a paper to a computer-based company. “Three years ago, we had carbon copies,” he says. Zak worked with a team of employees to move the systems to computers. “Today, record keeping and accounting processes are more efficient. Bills go out faster, and receivables come in sooner.”


“Often we think we know everything and soon you find out you really don’t know much.”

It was clear Zak’s attention to those computer processes paid off when Airweld acquired a competitor’s business. “We had very short notice, and we had to get the company’s customer records, even their assets, integrated into our system. We did it very well in a very short amount of time.”

Zak admits that his studies in mathematics and accounting did not teach him everything. He points to his father as a mentor who taught him how to negotiate better prices from suppliers, and how to understand and work with people. Airweld Inc. has three companies and 12 locations. Zak knows his decision to move back home to help the gas company grow and expand is paying off.

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Welding and Specialty Gases - 40 Under 40 - Family Graph

Gases and Welding Distributors Association