When Lance Thrailkill joined the family business – All Metals Fabricating – in 2008, he didn't bring with him a resume loaded with manufacturing experience. He wielded an accounting degree, his certified public accountant license and a longstanding desire to contribute to the success of the Allen, Texas, company founded in 1953 and purchased by his grandfather in 1978.
Twelve years later he is the company CEO, the majority shareholder and the third generation of Thrailkills engaged in the family business. His father, William "Billy," is the company president.
"I learned the business from the outside in," says Lance, who has held positions of controller, chief investment officer and chief financial officer within All Metals Fabricating. Moreover, he asserts, it worked to his advantage that he wasn't initially well-versed in manufacturing and didn't pretend to be.
"I asked a lot of questions," he says, and learned from a workforce with an average tenure of 15 years and several whose years of experience exceed 30 and even 40. Moreover, "If you are helping [employees] implement their own ideas, you are going to get buy-in," he adds.
That Thrailkill has a background in accounting is, oddly, seemingly perfect because at its most basic, the story of All Metals Fabricating is an investment story. There's the continuing, robust investment in technology – several million dollars over the past three years alone – to upgrade laser cutting systems, add robotic welding and upgrade machining centers, for example.
There's the investment in building more opportunities to partner with customers by expanding the solutions offered. Because, while the word "fabricating" in the company name tells a tale of what All Metals Fabricating is about, it doesn't communicate the complete picture. It doesn't address the powder coating, electromechanical assembly and other capabilities that make up the family of services All Metals Fabricating provides.
Finally, there's the most important investment, the investment in the people who comprise All Metals Fabricating. That investment is articulated in myriad ways.
One small but significant example is the building All Metals Fabricating has occupied since 2000. The shop floor is clean, brightly lit and, yes, air-conditioned. The latter is no small thing when the Texas heat is making itself felt.
On a grander scale, let's talk transparency. Not only does All Metals Fabricating share sales figures with the entire workforce, but also profit margins. Thrailkill admits that while some people might think such openness with financials is extreme, he's got no second thoughts about doing so.
"It would be one thing if we were just putting money in our pockets," he explains. But that is not what is happening. Rather the company is reinvesting the dollars, into the business, into those technologies that make sense, into the workforce's 401K plans.
"They know that we are stewarding the money well," he says.
Indeed, a good piece of those dollars goes straight toward a robust benefits package for employees. All Metals Fabricating offers fully covered health care to each employee and a profit-sharing plan in which the company contributes the equivalent of 15% of every employee's gross wages to their 401K plan. And that's on top of a Christmas bonus, quarterly performance-based bonuses and more.
Such transparency is recent. Not long ago, the company simply presented bonuses but provided little context as to how they were generated. However, "I wanted to create goals that connect to the bottom line," Thrailkill explains.
Even more, the CEO said, he wanted to show the workforce how their work, and how working more efficiently, impacts the big picture, meaning the health of the company. Seeing the numbers, he explains, "they see how they can play a part in it."
Finally, Thrailkill embraces the philosophy of servant leadership – be humble, take responsibility, put others first – both for himself and among the workforce. It's the responsibility of each department lead, for example, to position others in their department for success. In 2019, the company introduced the Servant Leader award. Shipping manager Jerry Landrum, a 15-year employee, became its first recipient.
What was encouraging, says Thrailkill, "was how many (employees) got votes."
All Metals Fabricating's investment strategy is reaping dividends. The company's order acceptance rate – its No. 1 indicator of plant performance – is 99% and has averaged that level over the past three years. An order meets that standard only if it is accepted in full without any parts having a defect.
"If a single part is rejected from an order of 1,000 parts, then we count the whole order as not accepted," the company explained in its Best Plants entry form.
Moreover, productivity is up 36% over the past three years, while the customer retention rate in the same time frame comes in at 95%.
The numbers tell the tale.