Before I talk about one of the nicest guys I’ve met in the industry, a cool little history lesson.
Back in 2014, industrial PVF manufacturer The Phoenix Forge Group had its Catasauqua, Pa., location declared a state historic marker. Back in the late 1800s and early 1900s, Phoenix, then known as Bryden Horse Shoe Works, produced a wide variety of horseshoes that were supplied to the British War Department during and after the Boer War. Bryden’s name changed to Phoenix in 1928.
These days, The Phoenix Forge Group (which represents the corporate management arm of the organization) member companies, including Phoenix Forging Co., and Capitol Mfg. Co., still are going strong under the direction of group President Larry Dildine.
Dildine’s contributions to the industry recently were celebrated with his receiving the American Supply Association’s Industrial Piping Division Award of Excellence at the IPD Breakfast presented by Anderson Metals during NETWORK2017 in Nashville, Tenn.
“It was totally unexpected,” he says. “Never in my wildest dreams did I think I was going to be selected. It’s more than overwhelming. When I first got the call from Chris (ASA Executive Director Murin) I became pretty emotional and was in disbelief. There are so many exceptional volunteers in ASA and the IPD who work so hard to add value to the association, its members, the supply chain and the industry. It was an extremely special moment for me. It’s going to be treasured the rest of my life.”
Dildine, along with BARCO Industries, acquired Phoenix in 1985. He became president in 1991 when another partner sold his interest. Today, the East Stroudsburg, Pa., native, along with the company’s executive management team, presides over member companies of The Phoenix Forge Group. Together, the group has seven manufacturing locations throughout North America and employs roughly 500 people (80-plus have been hired this year with more additions expected).
“It’s our people and their willingness to strive for continuous improvements,” Dildine says when asked why the company has thrived over the years. “We’ve had continuous operations since 1882. We’ve never been out of business a day. That’s also my biggest concern that as a caretaker you leave it for the next generation in a way that it continues on.”
Dildine, who was given a classy introduction at the awards ceremony by Chicago Tube & Iron President and CEO Dr. Don McNeeley, is quick to point out Phoenix has been blessed with a quality workforce over the years throughout its union, hourly and salaried shops.
“If you go into the union environment, you wouldn’t recognize the difference between that plant and the hourly plant,” he says. “We treat everybody fairly. Whatever benefits the one gets, the other gets. We’ve been truly blessed here, but that doesn’t mean we haven’t gone through some hard times. We’ve always managed. I have to attribute success to the people. They make the difference. We have that trust.”
Just how good does Phoenix treat its employees? Dildine recalls back in the depths of the 2008-2009 recession ownership made the decision to give every employee, regardless of position, $2,000 a year more to help with rising fuel costs, etc. Another gesture of similar ilk occurred recently as well.
Dildine also has never been shy about embracing technology to best benefit the company. “Technology has helped us through the changes,” he says. “Being a private company we can make investments that you couldn’t do under a corporation because they want to see that return immediately or within a short period.”
And most importantly, Dildine adds, embracing technology allows Phoenix to stand tall as a U.S. manufacturer. Phoenix’s business is 95-plus% related to steel fittings.
“It’s always been our goal to be a total U.S. manufacturer,” he says. “There are those out there who don’t believe that because they think we need a lot more people to do what we do. We’re extremely proud to be a U.S. manufacturer. We even trademarked a logo with the U.S. flag and the saying ‘Forged with Pride in the USA’.”
At the awards ceremony in Nashville, Dildine thanked his wife of 52 years, Kathy, for her unwavering support. “She encouraged me to do what I love best and that’s being involved in this industry,” he says.
And the industry has done nothing but benefit because of Dildine’s unwavering commitment.
This article was originally titled “For the love of the industry” in the November 2017 print edition of Supply House Times.