By Joe Frollo
Joel Sheets knows what it means to stay calm under pressure while rising to meet the toughest challenges.
His calm demeanor. His steady smile. His easy gate. Never too high. Never too low.
His current career path has led him to a perfect setting where these mannerisms combined with his sharp mind and strong work ethic and dedication to self-improvement to elevate him to be a leader recognized and appreciated throughout the Tindall organization.
As senior vice president of operations for Tindall Infrastructure, Sheets has built a team and a process where 150 individuals move forward every day with a single vision.
He has earned the trust of both those he reports to and those who report to him.
He also has the confidence of the entire precast concrete industry. In November, Sheets was elected and installed as NPCA Chair of the Board.
FAMILY OWNED, FAMILY VALUES
Founded in 1932, Tindall operated for more than 30 years before the Lowndes family purchased the company in 1963. From an operation of a half dozen employees with a foothold in the concrete utility pipe market, the company steadily grew and expanded, eventually reaching six precast manufacturing facilities in five states with projects throughout United States and Canada and internationally.
Throughout it all, Tindall leadership prides itself on remaining true to its core values of integrity, humility, family, can-do attitude and positive growth. These five ideals keep everyone focused – from CEO to frontline worker – and informs both everyday decisions and long-term strategy.
“Our core values are a big key to how we go about what we do,” Sheets said. “As a company of 1,500 people, we strive to do it right every time, and we will stand behind what we do. And our customers really appreciate that.”
For most of those years, Tindall’s major operations sat on a 26-acre lot in Spartanburg, S.C. The Utility Division, the South Carolina Division, the corporate offices and trucking – as they were known at the time – all operated from there.
“There wasn’t a postage stamp of space that wasn’t accounted for,” Sheets said. “We had two distinct operations working with the batch plant, steel shop, maintenance and anything that was a shared operation.”
In 2020, Sheets took on the challenge of leading the design of a new home for the Utility Division, now known as Tindall Infrastructure. In June 2021, Tindall opened a brand new, $30 million facility with Sheets overseeing operations. The infrastructure side had never even had its own batch plant before, instead ordering concrete from the prestress division.
All of that changed with the biggest investment in company history, and Tindall executives knew they had the right person in charge. Sheets and the entire group moved into the facility, allowing them the space to be successful, continue to grow and flex their business muscles.
“I’ve had the very good pleasure of knowing Joel for 20 years and consider him to be one of the most capable business people with whom I’ve worked,” Tindall President and CEO Greg Force said. “They are reaping significant fruit from the recently completed state-of-the-art facility that Joel and his team effectively designed.”
GROWING WITH THE COMPANY
While studying civil engineering at Clemson University, Sheets could not have imagined being where he is now.
“Design really wasn’t what lit me up,” Sheets said. “I did not envision doing concrete design or steel design for the rest of my life.
“What I eventually learned about civil engineering is that it is very broad. You can go into a lot of different areas. Project controls. Estimating. Project management. Scheduling. I like things like that.”
Sheets also liked competing, and he was heavily involved in Clemson’s concrete canoe team, helping the Tigers win national titles in his sophomore and junior years. While preparing for the international competition his senior year, Clemson’s team lost one of its major sponsors.
In stepped Tindall.
“Through concrete canoe, I got to meet the vice president of human resources at Tindall and some of their project managers,” Sheets said. “I had not finalized a decision for after graduation. I figured I’d end up at one of the big general contractors, and I’d even interviewed with a few. I really wasn’t enthused about the travel and being just a face in a crowd of thousands.
“Then I got talking to the people at Tindall, and they asked if I was interested in being a subcontractor. The more I thought about it, the more it lined up with my interests.”
Sheets started as a project manager in Tindall’s prestress division. He handled parking decks, wall panels and similar jobs. Before long, Sheets was promoted to senior project manager.
He then became a customer service manager and operations manager. In 2008, he was appointed general manager for the Utility Division.
“Joel has the ability to see both problems and challenges clearly and identify appropriate plans of action,” Force said. “This makes him well-suited to thrive within an industry that rewards creative solutions derived from applied engineering coupled with a keen understanding of all facets of precast operations.”
Then, in early 2022, Tindall restructured with Sheets named senior vice president of operations of the Infrastructure Group, managing Tindall’s entire precast infrastructure sector.
This new facility has meant much more than just increasing our capacity,” Sheets said. “It has given us the flexibility we need to create better, more innovative products for years to come. Every square inch of this facility is purpose-built for innovation, efficiency and teamwork. It’s a major step forward for our team, and I’ve been excited to see where it is taking us.”
A TEAM EFFORT
Sheets strives to bring Tindall’s five virtues to his leadership style, and the people who report to him appreciate it.
“We work really well together, and Joel is a big part of that,” said Keath Roberts, the operations manager for Tindall Infrastructure who has been with the company for 26 years.
“We communicate well whether we are face-to-face or not, and we are a group driven by success. We will try anything job-wise that a customer wants. Joel has reinforced the importance of looking for solutions instead of focusing on problems.”
The determination and dedication that Sheets shows on a daily basis is a driving force behind Tindall Infrastructure’s success, Sales Manager Barry Phillips said.
“There is a culture of teamwork,” Phillips said. “We rise and fall together. And we don’t fall very often. We work through any struggles because we trust and care for each other. That’s important to us. We call out each other’s success, and we work hard to help each other through anything difficult.”
Phillips said that Sheets insists on a work-life balance for the entire team. Whether it is making time for someone to attend a child’s band concert, stay with a loved one who is ill or simply not extend work demands into what are supposed to be off hours, managers plan to accommodate needs when they arise.
“That’s how Joel operates, and that’s the culture he has fostered,” Phillips said. “At work, we work hard. We try new things. We bring our best every day. When we leave work, though, we are free to coach our kids’ teams and spend time with family and friends.”
Roberts and Phillips are part of a leadership team that also includes Customer Service Manager Jason Traxler, Estimating Manager Brad Cox, Production Planning
Manager Brent Isreal and Employee Relations Manager Gloria Alfau.
Traxler – or Trax as he is known throughout the building – gets right to the point.
“He gives a damn about every one of us,” Traxler said. “Don’t get me wrong. He’s smart. He thinks big and plans long term. He’s really good at pushing the envelope. But the fact that you know deep down that he cares first and foremost about you as a person brings you along and makes you want to do your best every day.”
There is a tradition at the Spartanburg facility where people chip in for people around Christmastime. Roberts said there was no formal announcement to do so at the beginning. It is something Sheets just started doing and others have now followed suit.
“Joel is the type of person where if he sees someone struggling, he’s going to help,” Roberts said.
PROJECTS TO BE PROUD OF
When it comes down to the work Tindall Infrastructure does on a daily basis, Sheets likes to start by going old school.
“It’s storm and sewer,” he said. “Tindall started in underground construction, and we still do a lot of that today. Underground represents a healthy amount of revenue for the infrastructure group.”
But like its physical footprint, Tindall has expanded beyond a focus on manholes, box culverts, catch basis and other traditional precast concrete products. There is a growing history of specialized trench work projects along with a rising number of jobs in the industrial, petrochemical, power and energy segments.
“Those are interesting because you stack them like Legos but they need spaces for ductwork, plumbing and all that,” Sheets said. “So we construct things called ‘plenums’ that are 30-or-so feet long, 5 feet tall and essentially a giant upside-down trench but with an architectural finish on the outside and an insulated wall.”
Other recent projects include:
- Nearly every underground item for the Tryon International Equestrian Center in Mill Spring, N.C., including a 36-foot-by-7-foot archculvert at the entrance. Tindall provided the storm drain, sanitary sewer and water infrastructure, designing and manufacturing more than 400 storm drain structures, 75 sewer manholes and 12 grease traps/hair interceptors.
- Tindall provided a large, critical precast box culvert with multiple sizes on the Hitt Hall project at Virginia Tech University. Most of the box culverts were 20 feet by 13 feet but also included 16 by 12, 16 by 9 and 10 by 4.
Tindall designed, manufactured and delivered 130 precast concrete wall panels with many openings throughout the precast panels for a confidential international industrial client.
- Tindall’s T-Series products reduced the size of the structure needed for such a large line, allowing the team to install each piece quicker and with more precision while ensuring a reliable watertight seal.\
“We will try anything job-wise,” Phillips said. “There’s not much out there right now that we don’t feel like we can do – and do well. Joel is a big part of that confidence because he is great at putting things together and bring out the best of everyone to meet the challenge.”
ROLE OF NPCA CHAIR
Sheets has plenty to keep him busy these days. Beyond his work responsibilities, he is devoted to his wife, Emily, and sons, Bennett and Aiden.
Sheets has been part of the NPCA Board since 2017, and he was installed as Chair of the Board during the 57th Annual Convention in Amelia Island, Fla. He credits previous Chairs Ron Sparks and Mark Weiser for setting a high bar for a position he has grown to know as he advanced along as a board officer.
“Within the association, it’s not just a matter of what I want to see or what’s my vision, it’s a matter of being in alignment and making sure everyone else is in alignment with where we want to go,” Sheets said. “We’ve started a number of good projects the last few years: expanding education, workforce development and the industry marketing initiative to name a few.
“I say with all confidence that there are so many people working so hard for many years to make NPCA the best association there is. The staff, the Board, the committees, the members. It is a very special pocket of people who work well together and achieve results.”
The same can be said for the team Sheets has built at Tindall. PI
Joe Frollo is the director of communications and public affairs at NPCA.