By Heather Bremer
John Mack founded Mack Industries in 1932.
His son, Dick Mack, took over the precast burial vault and septic business in 1958 with just two employees.
In 2000, Dick’s daughter, Betsy Mack Nespeca, became the third generation to lead the company.
But she didn’t always envision things working out that way.
After earning a business degree, Betsy worked outside the industry, looking to make a difference wherever she was. So, in 1993, when her dad came recruiting Betsy, her brother Howard and her husband, Chris, back to the family business, she saw it as an opportunity to accomplish her career goals from inside a company she grew up loving.
“I was fortunate to be given the freedom to make improvements,” Betsy said. “Then by asking questions and taking on improvement projects, I became a resource for my dad, who was running the company. As he pulled me closer, I got more responsibilities.”
Dick appointed Betsy as president of Mack Industries in December 2000. Six months later, he died unexpectedly. The pressure reached a whole new level as Betsy now led the company without her father while raising two small children.
“I felt a deep commitment to the team of people that count on Mack for their livelihood and a drive to not just grow the company but to make it better on my watch,” Betsy said. “I believe in servant leadership, more of a keeper of our mission than a directive boss leader. I always strive to make a positive difference, preserve our core and serve.”
During the past 20 years, Mack Industries has prospered under Betsy’s leadership, with eight facilities in five states and nearly 600 employees. Betsy said the company’s success is based in its mission of promoting teamwork, customer satisfaction, always improving and thinking long-term.
“We want to make something built to last – whether it’s the concrete products we create, the relationships we build or the company itself,” Betsy said.
LIKE FATHER, LIKE DAUGHTER
Jim Thompson is a Mack Industries lifer. He spent 47 years at the company before retiring in May 2020. He worked under Dick Mack in sales and sales management. After Betsy took over, Thompson served as general manager and vice president.
“Betsy took Dick’s philosophy of company growth, growing people and being the best you can be to the next level,” Thompson said. “She puts her nose to the grindstone and works at it. She doesn’t just expect it to happen.”
Another of Betsy’s skills is her ability to listen.
Chief Operating Officer Henry Lee, who has been with Mack Industries for five years, calls Betsy an “athletic listener.” He says she understands that the organization as a whole has a collective knowledge and perspectives to be shared. Betsy knows there is no single playbook on how to serve their varying markets, and she depends on the people in those places to know what their clients need.
“She takes a great approach for bringing people together, going out to get information, asking the right questions while coaching other people to ask the right questions,” Lee said. “Because you’re the general manager doesn’t mean that you are significantly more capable of creating and formulating a plan as your collective team might be.”
Betsy’s leadership now extends to NPCA. She was elected to the NPCA Board of Directors at the 2021 Annual Convention in Colorado Springs, Colo., and intends to help the industry strengthen its collective ability to attract and develop talent.
“I believe we have a lot of work to be done to support our members’ ability to attract talent and labor into our industry,” Betsy said. “We all have challenges managing material cost escalation, extended lead times and supply shortages. Attracting and developing talent to fuel our businesses will prove to be most challenging of all.”
FOCUS ON THE TEAM
Betsy also embraced her father’s philosophy of building a strong team.
She said her father always wanted to be a coach and envisioned Mack Industries as one team working toward a common goal.
“He was gifted at hiring and placing people into the right roles and challenging us all to be our best,” Betsy said.
While it would be easy to assume the company’s family atmosphere hinges on now having four generations of the Mack family involved, a deeper look shows there’s more to it.
Thompson saw genuine camaraderie between the employees and owners throughout his tenure.
“I felt my whole career that the Mack family was just part of my family,” Thompson said. “And the thing that I really liked was there was always a quest for wanting to grow, wanting to do more. It was done in the right way as far as being good to employees. You’re part of the team.”
The emphasis on a team approach applies on the production floor. Tim Haury, general manager at the Valley City facility, stresses the family atmosphere to his team.
“I believe it comes all the way from Betsy and from Dick before that,” Haury said. “This is a family-oriented place. A family that extends out to take care of customers and get the right things done for each other.”
Those aren’t just empty words. As the COVID-19 pandemic took hold across the country, Mack Industries reacted quickly, communicating with its teams and families about what to do, what to expect and how to keep working safely. The company’s traditional Labor Day picnic was celebrated “Corona style.” Coolers were packed with burgers, hotdogs and buns and distributed to the families prior to the holiday weekend.
Mack Industries is dedicated to keeping its employees healthy – even when there’s not a pandemic raging.
“We have health-and-wellness days where we actually bring in a medical staff that comes in and does blood tests,” Haury said. “They’re offering flu shots, too. Your family members are welcome to come in during that time, so spouses can also get a medical checkup plus get a flu shot.”
Along with taking care of the workforce, there is a constant effort to connect. Betsy believes this starts with hiring the right people who care and have potential to learn and grow, then teaching them to care about the products, the customers and the company. She wants employees aligned with a shared desire to reach the goals Mack Industries strives for.
“We try to put systems in place where people can see what success looks like,” Betsy said. “ We know what a good day feels like, and that knowledge builds over time. The more quickly that someone can feel a part and belong, then they realize what they do matters and understand how they fit. That makes a real connection.”
HERE TO STAY
That message resonates with staff members. A look at the employee roster reveals a legacy of longevity. It is common to see men and women who have been there 20 or more years.
Regional Sales Manager John Herl, who has been with the company 26 years, likes the message that legacy sends to potential employees.
“It obviously provides people with the mindset that they know there’s an opportunity for them to grow,” Herl said. “There are a lot of people here who are high-school educated guys who start as an hourly employee. They’re afforded, due to their achievements and their potential, the ability to move upward and onward and fill different capacities that they probably never would have felt that they would have been considered at maybe a bigger corporation.”
Haury is in his 43rd year with the company. He’s stayed on because every day is different. He likes being allowed to think on his own and do something about things he sees need to be done.
“You are your own hold-up here,” Haury said. “If you don’t want to move any farther, you can stay where you’re at. If you want to keep moving, you just keep grabbing that next golden ring.”
Workforce longevity is a great asset to Mack Industries. In addition to on-the-job experience, team members understand their customers, their products and the capabilities of precast concrete. That knowledge is worth a heavy investment, both financially and in time.
With the right systems in place, the current information and proper equipment at their fingertips, workers can execute business better than before.
“We work really hard to not only empower team members but to help them see the results of their contribution,” Lee said. “We help our teams work together and reward team success often.”
Mack Industries also utilizes NPCA’s education resources to train its workforce in the latest techniques, standards and safety measure. Betsy, who has attended NPCA events for many years, always finds it is time well spent to engage members on topics or challenges she wants to explore.
“Mack Industries benefits from the enduring friendships of fellow producers and suppliers in the industry and the quality of NPCA education available,” Betsy said. “There is real value in the technical training, economic outlooks, ops management, and leadership training. By focusing my conversations around these topics I gain fresh perspectives from other industry leaders.”
PRODUCTS THAT SERVE
Mack Industries’ mark can be seen on projects throughout its communities.
In northeast Ohio, Interstate 271 skirts the southern reaches of the Cleveland area. Haury remembers when that roadway didn’t exist – and just how many times he’s worked on it since its inception.
“I remember being a part of expanding it from two lanes to six lanes,” Haury said. “I’ve been here long enough that we’re actually redoing streets again. This will be the second time I’ve been part of redoing that infrastructure.”
Mack Industries has done many treatment plants for small municipalities and towns, varying in size and cost. Thompson recalls a job for the Cleveland regional sewer district that involved a staircase built for an elevator shaft 200 feet down.
“It was so impressive to see,” Thompson said. “When we finished the project, I took some of the people that helped make it happen to see it because it was just incredible to see. I brought back pictures to the people to show them what had happened and what all the pieces that they manufactured looked like.”
Another impressive project required a bridge for a railroad system in northeast Ohio.
“I think we paid $150,000 just for the mold to make the precast to make that bridge,” Thompson said. “We had a yard full of pieces, and they put that bridge together at the job site and everything fit like a glove.”
A product line that started as septic tanks has evolved to include box culverts, pipe, manholes, catch basins, storm boxes, big block retaining walls, median barriers and sound walls. The list doesn’t end there. Mack also has a division engaged in manufacturing and installing prestressed structural building products and hollow core floor planks run by Betsy’s husband, Chris Nespeca.
“We are very diverse in the products we make,” said Bill Wilson, Master Precaster and general manager for the Mount Vernon, Ohio, plant. “We will make just about anything. I think that’s what is good about Mack. The depth of talent across all areas from sales, engineering, maintenance, quality and production comes together. If it can be made out of precast, chances are we are going to figure a way to make it.”
BUILDING FOR THE FUTURE
Challenging itself to grow is a key part of Mack Industries’ philosophy. By looking at its customers’ challenges and trying to find solutions with precast concrete, Mack finds growth opportunities that actually take better care of Mack’s existing customers.
“The growth challenges us to learn and develop our people and solve problems and make improvements to products and services,” Betsy said. “By doing that, we keep the company moving forward. We stay humble because there is so much to learn that we don’t know. It feeds an entrepreneurial spirit where we learn each year. It adds up to 90 years in business.”
A company doesn’t reach nine decades in existence by standing still. Nothing remains relevant by only looking at the past without an eye on the future.
“You become a long-term company by reinventing yourself – not completely, but by staying true to your core and being willing to take the next step, trying things and moving in new directions with the markets that you serve,” Betsy said.
One way Mack Industries succeeds in this area is by thinking outside the box when it comes to employee engagement. Plant management teams walk the facility so the teams visit each department every day and listen to the issues employees are having. It gives employees a voice in operations and problem solving.
“These Gemba walks kind of put the issue right in front of us,” Wilson said. “The idea behind it is we have the heads of all the departments – quality, maintenance, production, delivery. It’s all right there, so whatever issue the employee has, chances are the person that can solve it is right there. And a lot of times we solve it right there on the spot.”
Betsy is proud of the progress her team has made in her two decades at the helm. With a fourth generation just getting started in the industry, she believes a continued emphasis on people development and a commitment to caring for others bodes well for the company’s future.
“If we’re true to our core values of teamwork, paying attention to customers and making improvements, it will be a continuation of the story I’m trying to tell here, with more advancements in technology than we can even imagine today,” Betsy said.
Heather Bremer is the NPCA communications manager.