Today on the Think Tank we're sharing an interview with Paul Windham, Fisher Tank Company Vice President and General Manager at the Leesville, SC, campus.
We celebrated Paul’s 35th anniversary with the company at the end of April. That kind of longevity is rare in today’s world, but Paul is one of many Fisher Tank people who’ve been part of the company for decades. There’s something special here, and I sat down with Paul to learn more about his history with Fisher Tank Company, and his heart for its people and its success.
The Great Welded Steel Tank Job That Almost Wasn't
LR: It’s been 35 years since you were a newbie at Fisher Tank Company. How’d you get here in the first place?
PW: I learned about Fisher from a head hunter. In 1979, I was a 22-year old, newly-minted Civil Engineer out of Francis Marion University. The recruiter called and told me about this small field erected tank company that was looking for a Sales Engineer to work in the Southeast. It sounded like a good opportunity so we set up an interview at Fisher with Jim Ward, Sales Manager, for the following Wednesday.
The following Tuesday, the recruiter called, all upset and wanting to know why I hadn’t shown up for my interview at Fisher Tank. He’d told me the interview was Wednesday, but it was supposed to be Tuesday. I got his permission to call Jim Ward directly, and I called him immediately. Jim told me years later that I was hired based on that one phone call – he said that phone call convinced him I could sell!
The Tiny Tank Company in Lexington - Then And Now
LR: What was Fisher Tank Company like when you joined the company?
PW: The office in Lexington (on Two Notch Road) was small – there were four people working in the office, three people working in the shop, and three field crews based out of the Lexington location. At that time, all our Engineering was done at the company’s headquarters in Chester, PA. The recruiter who connected me with Fisher warned me that if I got the job, I might be loading trucks.
Now, we are in our new facility in Leesville, SC. We have an 85,000 sf fabrication and fitting shop with an environmentally controlled paint booth and a Wheelabrator blasting system. The 25 acre campus also includes a maintenance shop, a large lay-down area and a 12,500 sf office space, which houses Engineering, Safety, Construction Management, Quality Control, Sales/Estimating and other administrative functions. (photo right - Fisher Tank's Leesville, SC campus)
Hit The Road, Paul
LR: What was your role when you first came on board?
PW: I was hired to “spread the word” about Fisher Tank Company in the Southeast. We were well-established in the refinery and water storage industries up in the Northeast, but nobody in this part of the world knew about us. There were no refineries in the Southeast, but there were plenty of other industries with large welded steel storage tanks – chemicals, water and wastewater, food and beverage production, terminals, fire protection, etc. I spent three to four days a week on the road, armed with a box of brochures, knocking on door and trying to get into facilities that had field erected tanks. I put 50,000 miles on my 1974 Toyota Corolla in 6 months. Fisher bought a company car for me after that – a 1980 Ford Fairmont.
Traveling Salesman, Project Manager, Engineer & More
LR: What came after your traveling salesman days?
PW: Well even when I was on the road I did more than just sales. I also did preliminary design, estimating, proposals and follow up, as well as negotiating contracts and project management. I think that one of the best things about Fisher is that everyone has opportunities to wear a lot of different hats. When the company decided to establish an Engineering and Drafting department in the Lexington office (in addition to Engineering in Chester, PA, I had the chance to be involved in that department for a while. And when Jim Ward moved back to Chester to head up the company at President, I became the Sales Manager (photo right - Paul in 1993 in Lexington, SC)
The Welded Steel Tank Company That Could
LR: What are some of the most significant changes you’ve seen in Fisher Tank since you joined the company in 1979?
PW: Our growth in the South and moving westward has been tremendous, and we’ve continued to grow our customer base in Fisher’s original footprint, too. As we’ve expanded our capabilities, and reached further afield in terms of the markets we serve, we’ve made internal changes. In the 90s we separated project management from sales, so that we could provide our customers with dedicated personnel to oversee projects from start to finish. In the mid-90s, Leo Pasini came on board to serve as President of Fisher Tank Company. Leo had 35 years’ experience with CB&I, also a tank company, but on a much larger scale. CB&I was (and is) a giant corporation. Leo’s extensive corporate experience coupled with our history of entrepreneurial management helped our team develop by taking the best from both worlds.
Big Capabilities, Traditional Values
LR: What about the Fisher family – what’s special about them?
PW: First of all, that it is a family. I am in a unique position in that, with the exception of Mike Szelak (President) and Jim Miller (Vice President), I have seen everyone who is part of Fisher Tank today come on board, and I’ve been able to watch them grow. It’s amazing to see so many people who’ve been here, 10, 15, 20, 25 or more years, and they’re still taking on new challenges. I think that Fisher’s beginnings as a very entrepreneurial endeavor planted those seeds of personal dedication and longevity that are such a part of who we are today. Just as exciting are the young people who are part of operations – I can’t wait to see what they’ll bring to Fisher and how they’ll develop over the next decade or more.
Opportunity Every Day
LR: Not many people these days stay in a job for 35 years – and still look forward to coming to work every day. If you could sum up why it’s worked for you in one word, what would it be?
PW: OPPORTUNITY. From day one, I’ve had opportunities to do and learn so much, and I think Fisher Tank Company offers that to everyone. Every person plays a significant role in what we do, and every role really matters. Everyone contributes to the company’s success. If you leave your job at Fisher Tank Company at the end of the day and you don’t feel like you’ve made a difference, you’re doing something wrong. (photo right - Paul Windham and Fisher Tank Company President, Mike Szelak, presenting Paul's 35 yr service award)
Update: Paul Windham was named President of Fisher Tank Company in 2018. Learn more about his story here. Paul celebrated his 40th anniversary with Fisher Tank in April 2019! Check out this video recorded in 2018, featuring Paul and highlighting the history and development of Fisher Tank Company,
Image Credit: Alpha Stock Images - http://alphastockimages.com/