To gain proper insight into the type of personindustrial PVF icon Ismael Grinberg was, one need not go much farther than the story his son, Gyl, recently told me.
The scene was a pipe mill in Mexico where numerous distributors were summoned, including Grinberg (more on the Mexico connection in a second). The mill had quotas set that distributors needed to reach in order to become or remain a type-A distributor (best pricing, biggest discounts).
“Even though we were the only distributor that achieved the quota, my father believed the mill was being unreasonable given the current economic state,” recalls Gyl, now president of Stone Mountain, Ga.-based Val-Fit. “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.’ 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.
In addition to starting U.S.-based Val-Fit, a master distributor of fittings and flanges, Grinberg also founded Riga, a well-known weld-fitting mill sold to Tenaris in 2001, and Proasa, a PVF export company based in Mexico.
Val-Fit traces its roots 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. “My dad always needed to be at work. He was the definition of a workaholic. 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. 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,” notes Gyl, whose brother, Roy, is Val-Fit’s managing director and also works at Tuvansa.
Gyl 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. 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.”
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 always could 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 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 he touched so many people. He set a perfect example of what it’s like to be a great human being.”
This article was originally titled “Remembering the Chief” in the August 2016 print edition of Supply House Times.