Remembering the Chief
“Decades ago, there was a distributor meeting at a pipe mill in Mexico,” recalls Gyl, now president of Stone Mountain, Ga.-based industrial PVF master distributor Val-Fit.
To gain proper insight into the type of person industrial PVF icon Ismael Grinberg was, one need not go much farther than the story his son, Gyl, recently told me.
“Decades ago, there was a distributor meeting at a pipe mill in Mexico,” recalls Gyl, now president of Stone Mountain, Ga.-based industrial PVF master distributor Val-Fit. “We were their largest distributor in Mexico (more on that in a second). The pipe mill had quotas set that its distributors needed to reach in order to become or remain a type-A distributor. Type-A distributors always received the best prices and biggest discounts.
“During a bad year for the industry, we were the only company to reach the stipulated quota and the mill took an aggressive stance against all other distributors telling them they needed to perform or be relegated to a lower pricing tier or even be replaced. Even though we were the only ones that achieved the quota, my father believed the mill was being unreasonable given the current economic state. Instead of rejoicing in a negative situation for his fellow competitors, he decided to show solidarity as a unified front. Dad said, ‘I guess if we’re not doing a good job, you don’t need us.’ And he simply walked out of the meeting. He was a standup guy.”
Grinberg, who died earlier this summer at the age of 91, spent more than seven decades in the industry, building many companies into sustained successes. It started with Tuvansa, the family’s Mexico-based company that distributes seamless and welded pipe, fittings, flanges and fire-protection products. It remains the largest PVF distributor in Mexico with four locations. Grinberg also founded Val-Fit, a master distributor of fittings and flanges; Riga, a well-known weld fitting mill that was sold to Tenaris in 2001; and Proasa, a PVF export company based in Mexico.
Val-Fit traces its beginnings back to the late 1970s when Grinberg, known by family and close friends as “Chief,” needed open heart surgery. He flew to Los Angeles to have the procedure done. “It was successful, but he needed to stay in LA for six months given the altitude in Mexico City,” Gyl explains.
And that medical junket to Los Angeles is how Val-Fit got its official start. “My dad always needed to be at work. He was the definition of a workaholic,” Gyl says. “While he was recuperating in LA, he opened Val-Fit to pass the time and stay involved. He didn’t really know or understand the U.S. market, but his vision was to create Val-Fit, a company that sold valves and fittings. He went home six months later, hired a general manager and Val-Fit found its niche as a regional master distributor of fittings and flanges.”
Today, Val-Fit is a much larger PVF master distributor with 53 employees and three locations in Atlanta, Houston and the original Los Angeles spot. “We still have some warehouse employees who started in 1979,” Gyl notes.
Grinberg traces the family’s success in PVF distribution back to several important principles his father displayed. “My dad worked so hard and loved every minute of it,” he says. “He started with nothing. He believed in working hard and being honest and straightforward with everybody. He said if you do things right, you will win most of your battles. One of his favorite lines was, ‘Never lie because there aren’t any secrets in this industry. Eventually, everything comes out.’ He ran all his businesses with honor and respect, making sure to never deceive anybody. Also, he treated everybody with the same importance, whether it was the president of the biggest pipe mill in the world or the truck driver who picked up materials at 5 p.m.”
Gyl, whose brother, Roy, is Val-Fit’s managing director and also works at Tuvansa, points out his dad was at work the day before he fell ill. “He still was working every day, going to the office, checking invoices and going out to the warehouse,” he says. “More than anything, the last few years he was an industry guru. If anybody had a question about specs, they would go talk to him. He was in this industry for more than 70 years and was a wealth of information.”
As he’s made his way around the industry over the years, Gyl has seen firsthand how revered his father is. “Dad commanded such respect in this industry,” he says. “There have been so many times when I’ve met with somebody and saw how their demeanor changed once they knew I was Ismael Grinberg’s son. You could always feel how much people genuinely loved and respected him. It’s something very special, and it certainly made it a lot harder to earn your own respect because you were immediately put on a pedestal for being his son.”
And Grinberg has put plenty of his father’s lessons to good use over the years. “The biggest thing I learned is to be honest and straightforward in anything and everything you do,” he says. “Building trust and forging a reputation is a valuable asset nobody can take away from you. Also, treat everyone with dignity and respect. My dad did incredible things in life and touched so many people. He set a perfect example of what it’s like to be a great human being.”