Story and Photos by Mason Nichols
With a commitment to teamwork and its employees, Tindall Corporation is poised for continued expansion.
When a quarterback throws a touchdown pass, a variety of factors come into play. The offensive line must provide adequate protection, the ball must be thrown accurately and the receiver must be in good position to make the catch. At a high level, the throw seems to involve just two players; however, every single member of the offense must work together to ensure the play’s success. In the end, individual performances are important, but it is the collective effort of the team that matters most.
The same principle applies in the precast concrete industry. In order for a company to prosper, all of the contributors – from the newest employee on the production floor to the plant manager with decades of experience – must work in tandem.
For Tindall Corporation, a precast concrete producer headquartered in Spartanburg, S.C., collective effort has been crucial in advancing the company for more than half a century. Today, it remains the driving force behind Tindall’s continued growth.
From the ground up
William Lowndes III, chairman and CEO, built the business from the ground up. In 1963, Lowndes, who had served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War, purchased Tindall Concrete Pipe Company, a small concrete pipe plant with an acre of land and six employees. He quickly recognized the business needed major changes to expand. As a result, he modified the product line to meet the needs of the market, ceasing production on pipe and shifting focus to septic tanks and manholes, a decision that led to a partnership with Western Electric Co. and major work along the East Coast.
Just five years after acquiring the company, Lowndes again diversified. He purchased forms for the business to begin manufacturing prestressed concrete, a side of the industry that was in its infancy. This marked the early formation of the two major arms of the company – Prestress and Utilities – which have guided Tindall’s efforts ever since.
Today, Tindall has grown from six employees to more than 1,000, with five production facilities operating in locations spanning from Texas to Virginia.
Over the years, the many great teams Lowndes has assembled have supplemented the strong foundation laid. The team that currently leads Tindall’s Utilities Division has been particularly adept at discovering new business opportunities and enhancing operations. Roughly a decade ago, that team took an introspective look at their efforts, resulting in the addition of new product lines.
“About 10 years back, we completely changed our approach,” said Keath Roberts, plant manager. “We started identifying market needs and diversifying our product offerings.”
The Utilities Division started filling those needs by manufacturing trenches, 3-sided culverts and stair units. As a result, Tindall now has a dedicated stair unit operation running out of its Georgia facility. The Utilities Division supplies these stair units to Prestress Division projects throughout the Southeast.
But the team went even further, analyzing the core of the business to ensure high levels of performance at every step of the production process. According to Joel Sheets, vice president and general manager, the assessment was multifaceted.
“With the changes that occurred 10 years ago, it wasn’t just one thing,” he said. “It wasn’t like, ‘We have to get our quality right.’ It was hand in hand with quality, safety and people development.”
For Roberts, tightening the overall efforts of the Utilities Division was all about pride in production.
“If I’m not proud enough of something that we make to bring my family in here and show it to them, or I wouldn’t want to buy it myself, why would I do what I do?”
The resulting changes were crucial, as they readied Tindall for the impending economic downturn.
While many precast manufacturers saw the Great Recession as a hindrance, the Utilities team at Tindall viewed it as an opportunity. Although the suddenness of the recession took everyone by surprise, Jason Traxler, customer service manager, described it as “one of the better things that happened to us.”
Roberts explained that it forced the Utilities Division to continue the evolution that was already underway by reducing waste and creating even more efficiencies in the plant.
“We just had to get better at everything we did, from maintenance on equipment to organization of tools and supplies,” he said.
Prior to the recession, the Utilities Division spent around $100,000 per year on tools. Thanks in large part to the issues discovered during tough times, it now spends less than half of that, even with a considerably larger workload.
In addition to saving wherever possible, the sales team aggressively promoted new products, resulting in Tindall entering new markets. The Utilities Division also collaborated with the Corrections Division to supplement revenue with federal prison work during the recession.
While the Corrections Division handled the larger, six-sided cells, the Utilities Division manufactured plenums, smaller units positioned atop prison cells for mechanical, electrical and plumbing access.
“Plenums helped sustain us for a very long time,” Sheets said. “In those lean years, we were happy to have them.”
Barry Phillips, sales manager, explained that he still takes great pride in Tindall’s ability to navigate through the recession.
“I’m probably the proudest of our performance during those years than maybe any others,” he said. “And that’s saying something, because within the last five years, we haven’t just broken records, we’ve smashed them.”
The collaboration game
Smashing records isn’t an accident. For Tindall, it’s the result of always listening to suppliers and customers to determine their needs. In the earliest days of the business, listening enabled Lowndes to initially expand the company’s product line. In more recent years, it’s allowed Tindall’s Utilities Division to work collaboratively with partners as issues arise.
According to Roberts, when Tindall first entered into the large sewer market, the company experienced an issue with leaking boots in their structures. To resolve the issue, the team contacted the boot manufacturer, and the two parties went over proper installation techniques as well as the capabilities and limitations of the boot product. The end result was a change in the way the precaster tightens the boots.
“Once you get above a 48-inch boot, they’ve now changed how many toggles are used,” Roberts said. “One toggle does not allow the torque to go all the way around the boot, so now they put three in them. It’s been a huge change for us.”
While Tindall keeps an ear to the ground to fulfill market needs and ensure top-notch quality, the company also keeps an eye out for new opportunities via the Process and Product Development (PPD) team, which is based at the company’s Georgia Division. Sheets explained that a willingness to innovate is shared among all Tindall employees, originating at the top with Lowndes.
“It’s a big part of the Lowndes family influence,” he said. “They want to find the next thing. I think that’s something that’s ingrained in our culture.”
Research and development from PPD has resulted in a variety of potential new products, including solutions for the oil, gas and chemical industries. The PPD team has also designed the Atlas precast concrete wind tower base, a product that allows wind turbines to reach more than 400 feet into the sky.
What matters most
Solid partnerships with suppliers and customers help Tindall ensure financial success, but it’s the care that the company provides its employees that guarantees the business’s future.
“The most important part of our success has been the culture of professional development and understanding people,” Phillips said. “There are no rigid roles. We want to get to know you and understand your strengths.”
He added that the management team wants all employees to grow in their positions, something they feel will help them continue to recruit and retain exemplary workers.
Additionally, Roberts explained that Tindall places an emphasis on family, encouraging staff members to attend family functions.
“I have small children, and their sports and school functions are important to me,” he said. “I push that mindset with the employees in the plant. There’s only one time that your kid is 5 years old and is going to sing in the school program.”
To help drive that culture, and as recognition for completing three years with no recordable injuries, the Utilities Division hosted a Family Day event in 2014. For an entire Saturday, Tindall shut down production and staff members were invited to bring their families into the plant for demonstrations. Children flooded into the facility to watch their parents operate machinery and showcase their everyday work.
“To see our plant employees showing off their output to their children was a fantastic picture of what Tindall is all about,” Phillips said.
As Sheets explained, the company seeks to establish a culture where employees believe Tindall is where they want to be.
“We need to care about our folks and make sure that they really know,” he said. “Not just talking the talk, but following through.”
Confidence and compassion
Many factors affect advancement in the precast industry, but the one that helps push Tindall’s Utilities Division to the next level is confidence. The management team has developed plenty of it over the years, thanks in large part to the success they’ve experienced in working together. On many occasions, the team in Spartanburg has assisted staff in other locations.
“People throughout the company know that if they need to come up with an idea or need help with anything, to call us,” Traxler said. “The Utilities team takes pride in being a supportive resource for the other divisions in various capacities.”
Roberts agreed, noting that the team is willing to try anything when it comes to developing a solution.
“We’re a confident group of people, and you have to have that to be successful,” he said.
Beyond confidence, team members have developed a great appreciation for one another, which, working in tandem with a commitment to family, permeates throughout the business.
“We have a culture of caring for each other, which I think is very important,” Phillips said. “Having many long-term partners within the company together, you learn to care for them. That ends up being a win-win for everyone.”
It’s going to pop
Tindall has seen plenty of growth over the past few years, something the management team hopes to sustain for the long-term by hiring and developing young employees. Roberts sees plenty of potential for the company moving forward.
“We’re rapidly outgrowing this facility,” he said. “We intend on satellite Utilities production within Tindall’s four other Prestress Divisions. I definitely see us doing that in the next three to five years.”
Doing so will allow Tindall to further diversify their product lines and ship more products to an even wider customer base. All the while, just like Lowndes did so many years ago, the team will be looking to satisfy the needs of the market.
Jim Hodge, plant manager, has been with Tindall for nearly four decades. He believes the company’s success over the years has been the direct result of the many quality employees who have always worked together – as a team – to advance the business. Thanks to the passion and hard work of the management team in place, he has the utmost confidence in the company’s future.
“Good things are happening, and they will continue to happen,” he said. “My time’s up, but these guys have the reigns now, and it’s going to pop.”
Mason Nichols is the managing editor of Precast Solutions magazine and is NPCA’s external communication and marketing manager