By Mason Nichols
Hard work, dedication to education and the Master Precaster program create the perfect storm for success at Western Precast Concrete.
To run a precast concrete business, a few integral components are required.
At a basic level, you’ll need a piece of land, a production facility and the equipment and materials necessary to batch, mix and pour your products. You’ll also need employees and a management team to oversee daily operations. Add in sales, marketing and a website, and you’ll have the core elements in place.
Running a successful precast concrete business is an entirely different story.
For 70 years, Western Precast Concrete (originally Western Concrete Works) has been a fixture in El Paso, Texas. The company’s long-standing success is the result of the hard work and tenacity of the Feuerstein family, who overcame hardships – including the sudden loss of founder Robert (Bob) Feuerstein in 1971 – to sustain a thriving business. Bob’s sons, Leo and David, carry on their father’s legacy today by running the business with the same passion and fervor he possessed.
But the brothers don’t stop there. Their commitment to advancing employees through education and NPCA’s Master Precaster program has played a crucial role in helping ensure continued success. The company has four Master Precasters – Richard Alvarado, Jorge Rodriguez, and Leo and David – currently in the plant. A fifth recently retired and two more are currently in the program. And Leo believes all of them are essential to operations.
“The education received through the Master Precaster program is important,” he said. “I’m not sure how you could produce quality precast without an educated staff.”
More than a decade ago, Richard Alvarado was pursuing a career in law enforcement. But the 5-year veteran of the U.S. Army was also playing a waiting game before the police academy would begin. While seeking part-time work in the interim, he secured a position at Western Precast.
Today, Alvarado serves as Western Precast’s general manager. He also recently began a term on the NPCA Board of Directors. According to Alvarado, the Master Precaster program has been key to his career advancement.
“The real moment of clarity for me came during the management class (Production and Quality School III – Leadership),” he said. “I’ve grown exponentially in the field of personnel management after that course. The concept that not every employee interaction can be handled in the same manner finally sunk in after participating in that course.”
Even though he already earned his gold hardhat, symbolizing his designation as a Master Precaster, Alvarado remains dedicated to learning, a trait that can be found everywhere you look at Western Precast.
“My methods of challenging myself have not changed since I started in the industry,” he said. “I try to learn one new concept, idea, product type or technology a month.”
Production Manager Jorge Rodriguez has come a long way since starting at Western Precast as part of a work study program in 1984. His penchant for hard work and desire to know more have earned him ever-expanding responsibilities and the Master Precaster designation.
Rodriguez became interested in the Master Precaster program when NPCA offered it for the first time. Because of his role as production manager, he immediately recognized the value of keeping up with changes in the industry.
“Becoming a Master Precaster has improved my ways of verifying many QC-related items such as placement of steel and form inspections,” Rodriguez said. “I also have a better understanding of proper stripping and handling for shipping of product and even the importance of good housekeeping at the plant.”
Just as many other graduates have reminisced, Rodriguez was struck by the words of instructor Greg Chase, who says during one of his courses, “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.”
Keeping those words in mind, Rodriguez continues to improve his skills today by learning to use new forms and products and taking part in more training.
Leo and David Feuerstein
Brothers Leo and David both recognize how much Western Precast benefits if the company is committed to education. After seeing Mike Loy of Bethlehem Precast in Bethlehem, Penn., earn the first-ever gold hardhat in 2012, both knew their company should get involved in the Master Precaster program right away.
“When Mike was introduced as the very first Master Precaster, I thought, ‘That makes sense for every precaster,’” David said. “Anybody getting their hands dirty with concrete should learn all of the intricacies of pouring concrete and making a better product.”
Leading by example, Leo and David both enrolled in the program, inviting others in the plant to do so as well. Just two years later, at The Precast Show 2014 in Houston, they graduated along with Alvarado, Rodriguez and John Franklin, who is now retired.
Leo said earning the Master Precaster designation is beneficial whether you’re new to the industry or a seasoned veteran.
“Evolving in any profession is all about education,” he said. “Becoming a Master Precaster allowed me to hone my skills and refresh my technical knowledge.”
David agreed, noting that the skills gained can also be passed on to new employees, creating a culture where everyone benefits.
Both Leo and David referred to the exceptional instructors in the program as critical to their experience, citing Claude Goguen of NPCA as particularly helpful. Leo noted that Goguen worked hand-in-hand with each student to ensure everyone understood the course material of PQS II – Technical, which Leo recalls as the most difficult class he took.
David echoed Leo.
“Claude was able to take someone who doesn’t have basic math skills and teach them everything that they need to learn in a very pleasant, fun atmosphere,” he said. “You didn’t have to be a college graduate to get into this and understand what was going on.”
Thanks to both their own experiences and that of their employees, Leo and David continue to encourage others at Western Precast to enroll in the Master Precaster program. Two more workers, Bailey Feuerstein O’Leary and Daniel Quezada, are currently working toward earning their own gold hardhats.
A sense of pride
For Western Precast, being successful isn’t just about manufacturing top-notch precast, though that’s certainly an important part of the equation. It’s also about establishing a culture where employees can be truly proud of the work they perform.
“I see the staff members who have attained this designation carry a sense of pride in their daily activities,” Leo said.
With a commitment to their employees and plenty of their father’s work ethic to spare, the Feuerstein brothers have established a workplace that is as knowledgeable as it is successful. Leo and David wouldn’t have it any other way.
Mason Nichols is the managing editor of Precast Solutions magazine and is NPCA’s external communication and marketing manager.