An Industry Titan — The Story of EMI and Dennis Fikes
EMI began when John Drewry and Mike Priesmeyer had a vision to provide service to a level that wasn’t present in the industry at the time; all the big companies just moved a little bit slower. A smaller company business model was what eventually Energy Metals became, and needless to say they were very successful. “I think there were six people in the company when they first started” recalls Fikes. “That was in 2005. Three of those six are still with the company, including John and Mike.”
In 2011, they sold the company. They had done very well but eventually hit a point as a small company and thought, “What’s the next step?” EMI was sold to Texas Pipe and Supply, they were two entities that just worked together very well, recalls Fikes. At that time Texas Pipe was a 93-year-old family-owned, inventory-minded company, and when they bought Energy Metals they made an investment towards inventory and sales staff; they took it to the next level. At that point, Fikes became involved with the company as president. It was just a perfect scenario; a family-owned business operates differently than a company that's owned by an investment group. “It’s just been really fun, really neat. They’re a great bunch of guys to work for,” laughs Fikes.
Fikes’ role is to oversee sales, operations and overall functions as president of a company. Priesmeyer, with over 30 years in the business, assumed the role of Vice President of Purchasing. Drewry is the Vice President of Sales, and has 37 years under his belt. EMI has nine salespeople, their average years' in industrial sales is 25. “It’s a very experienced group, my role is just to oversee them. I have the responsibility of the 31 families that have a member that works for us, my job is to make sure they have a safe environment to work in,” explains Fikes.
There have been many highlights over the years before and after the purchase of EMI by Texas Pipe and Supply. But the main one Fikes discusses is the opening of the international group a year and a half ago in Singapore and the UK. Gary Downie was brought in from the UK to oversee the Singapore operations. “When I came onboard, Energy Metals was doing virtually nothing overseas,” remembers Fikes. That’s when he started making trips and business started coming along. When the three men became available Fikes brought the idea to the owners.
Dennis Fikes — A History
Fikes started in the industry right after college, “I had come to Houston and really had no clue what I wanted to do. Of all things, my mother had a friend that was with an employment agency, and she got me set up to interview for family-owned business, R.J. Gallagher Company.” Dennis started in the industry in 1974 and really thought it would be something he would do until another career opportunity came up. But now, 42 years later, Fikes is glad he stayed put.
“It’s not a big dream. I mean, you don't see kids running around the yard saying, ‘When I grow up, I’m going to be a pipe salesman’” he jokes. But when Fikes started at Gallagher, he met some mentors that helped him grow and make a profession out of a job. The first mentor was the Vice President of Sales Michael Boyle. Boyle taught Fikes many things but the one thing that really stuck with him was the investments that one spends developing relationships with vendors and with customers will pay dividends for many years. “That always stuck with me and something that influenced my, I guess, style of management” remembers Fikes.
Another mentor for Fikes was Jawn Marques, who played defensive end for Paul “Bear” Bryant at the University of Alabama. “He viewed every day as if he was playing a game, just like a football game.” As Fikes explains it, Marques was a very competitive individual but one that really had an impact and motivated those around him, especially Fikes.
The third mentor for Fikes was and is his wife, Melanie, who most people know from different industry events she attends. Fikes places his relationship as a full circle moment for him and his career. In other words, everything racked into focus for him; the blend of career and family that Fikes places important emphasis on became even more of an important element to excel in. After having three kids, Fikes recalls, “All of a sudden I’ve got all this responsibility and four additional people counting on me. I guess that’s where the mentors really came into play because that's where I really fit into the competitive part of it. It really got to be more than a job. At that point, it was a profession in every aspect of the word.”
Sign of the Times
“You need to not get busy fighting alligators whenever you’re trying to drain the swamp.”
Fikes’ main goal is to grow the business and to show a good return for the investors, the export additions have been a very positive move that way. He also believes when the time is right in the next year — not months — they’ll consider looking at actually increasing the number of grades of material and probably adding a new grade of material to some areas. Fikes also mentions they may increase size ranges too.
“We’re always keeping our ear to the ground and hearing what’s being committed to them, and there’s a lot of things over in Lake Charles.” Fikes says he knows that’s a hotbed with all of the projects going there. He has never been part of a plant that was built to convert LNG into diesel and is not sure what metals will be needed in that plant, but they’re being very sensitive to everything and will gather data they can use. The guys that own our company, they will allow us to expand when we can isolate an area that we need to grow, whether it’s by material grade or putting someone in a new country” explains Fikes.
All of the Texas Pipe and Supply companies have been very supportive of the PVF Roundtable and the work it does for the industry. Fikes has been involved in actually working as part of the committee, but all of the companies have been involved in each one of the events; from meetings, to fishing tournaments and golf tournaments, they’re very supportive and very involved.
One of the fantastic things the companies do is an inter-company newsletter called “The Pipeline” — which is sent to all the companies and encourages everyone to share ideas. Fikes recalls the June blood drive organized through MD Anderson. A donor truck set up at Texas Pipe and employees from all companies showed up to donate. Community service is at the forefront of these companies to give back to the community at large. EMI is not only championing those efforts, but has cemented itself as a leader in not only the PVF industry but also soon the global industry. 2
For more information on EMI, visit www.emetalsinc.com