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A Towering National Presence Established in 1955 as a handrail manufacturer, SteelFab, Inc. of Charlotte, NC today is among the leading fabricators of structural steel in the United States.
Written by Kevin Doyle Produced by Stephen Marino
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stablished in 1955 as a handrail manufacturer by J. Glenn Sherrill, SteelFab, Inc. of Charlotte, NC today is among the leading fabricators of structural steel in the United States certified by the American Institute of Steel Construction (AISC). Now under its third generation of family ownership, the company works across a wide range of sectors and provides clients with fabrication, miscellaneous metals, connection design, subcontract steel erection, project management and detailing services as a turnkey operation. “My grandfather grew up very poor during the depression but he started SteelFab, rented a barn and made a pretty good living making rails for patio stairs. That eventually grew into light structural and then my dad and his brothers started doing larger, heavier jobs in the mid-‘70s,” says company Chairman and CEO Glenn Sherrill. His father Ron and uncle Don serve as company Vice Chairmen and his brother Stuart is President of SteelFab Alabama. The company did $867 million in revenue in 2018 and with its recent acquisitions of SteelFab Texas (formerly Alpha Industries) and L & M Fabricating of Tangent Oregon could eclipse $1 billion in the coming year. The company currently employs 1,300 people at its eight divisions
SteelFab, Inc. | 4 from coast to coast. Its goal is to provide clients with superior customer service and delivery of the highest-quality product that is on time as well as on or under budget regardless of the size of the job. “The majority of our growth is because we have a principal that we just try to never tell the clients no. Part of that is out of fear. If you tell a client you’re too busy to get to it they may find somebody else that does a good job and all of a sudden we’re not doing the majority of that client’s work,” Sherrill admits. “We absolutely want to work with the right customers. We have grown with a number of our clients that are doing bigger and bigger work and they really want us to be their steel contractor.”
A Lasting Impact The drive to succeed is imbued in the company’s DNA and it continues to draw upon the lessons learned and examples set by its founder. After working in a textile mill and in the service department of a gas station, J. Glenn Sherrill took a job in the maintenance department of steel fabricator Southern Engineering, eventually working his way up to head of the miscellaneous metals department. He returned from serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II to find that job had been filled.
SteelFab, Inc. | 5 He eventually joined up with two brothers who owned a general contracting business and wanted to start a steel fabrication plant. They had a falling out over not bonusing the shop employees and he sold his shares and started SteelFab in 1955. “My grandfather established a few things that we’re really proud of and
that we still have. No. 1 is our culture to treat people the way you want to be treated, with respect, whether they are customers, suppliers, vendors or fellow employees. No. 2 is to share the profits with the workers, not just the executives. No. 3 is make sure you are paying bonuses to everyone who shows up to work every day and helps to make SteelFab successful,” he adds.
“I’m really proud of how our guys have performed on this (Ally Financial Tower) project. The last count I heard was that we had lost 47 days due to bad weather but we will still is topped out at 33 weeks. I’m thrilled with how it has progressed.” - CEO Glenn Sherrill
SteelFab, Inc. | 6 Showcase Projects Ally Financial Tower: The 30-story high rise in the middle of downtown Charlotte required approximately 7,200 tons of steel and added 742,000 square feet of floor space. The steel brace frames required load-bearing columns at the base that weighed more than 1,400 pounds per foot and required the use of a hydraulic crane for precise placement. The project’s location inside the busy I-277 beltway necessitated coordination of an accurate delivery schedule with the city. “I’m really proud of how our guys have performed on this project. The last count I heard was that we had lost 47
days due to bad weather but we will still be topped out at 33 weeks. I’m thrilled with how it has progressed,” Sherrill says. Capital One Performing Arts Center: Sherrill calls this project in Fairfax County, VA “one of the more complex steel projects we have ever done.” The project is part of Capital One’s 24.5-acre mixed-use urban development and will require 3,000 tons of steel. The 125,000-square-foot event center will include a 1,500-seat auditorium, 300-seat black-box theater, conference rooms, and foyer available for corporate use, community, arts, education and civic events. The Center will open in 2020-2021.
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SteelFab, Inc. | 8 “When you look at the complexity of some of the pieces we’ve fabricated, it really makes you appreciative of just how smart the craftsmen that we have in our plants are,” Sherrill notes. Among its many notable projects, Steelfab was presented the Star Award for Excellence in the Face of Adversity presented by the Washington Building Congress for its work on the National Museum of African American History and Culture; won the 2018 Washington Building Congress award for Structural Steel Framing for the International Spy Museum project; and provided 7,300 tons of steel for the 17-story expansion of the Memorial HermanTexas Medical Center expansion that included 160 additional beds, 24 operating rooms, 16 additional emergency center bays, more than 600 new parking spaces, a 335-seat café and seven shelled floors, including six operating rooms, to accommodate future growth as needed.
Day to Day The company builds client teams anchored by Project Managers who operate more like General Contractors, overseeing multiple accounts simultaneously. Sherrill favors an open door management style, dividing his time among marketing and sales; administrative duties; visiting offices and plants across the country; and
ensuring that projects are set up and kicked off on time. The company subs out all of its steel erection and maintains a network of preferred partners in all the major cities that it works. The company’s prequalification program requires subs to fill out a safety questionnaire and to submit annual financial statements, safety data, EMR data and a copy of their safety practices. SteelFab’s risk management team then provides a grade of low, moderate or high-risk for each of our erectors. “We bring in high risk guys and explain why they are high risk and we try to help them get on the right path. Steel
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erection is a hard business and they are a big part of our success so we owe them that much. But if they don’t improve we remove them from our data base,” Sherrill stresses. The company’s attractive benefits package has proven to be an attractive lure for workers. “Guys who work for us now who have worked with other fabricators say that our profit sharing and bonus plans are much more generous and that they feel more appreciated,” Sherrill says. In addition to AISC, the company belongs to the American Welding Society, the Virginia Carolinas Fabricator Group and the Southern Association of Steel Fabricators, among others, and usually sends representatives to the annual North American Steel Conference. Sherrill
cites education and networking as the premier benefits of membership. “We have a lot of very smart people within our organization. If we encounter a problem that I have not seen before, there will be somebody on our team that will have a solution.” Sherrill says. Worthy of note is the fact SteelFab has the largest commercial distributed rooftop solar array in the state of Alabama at its Roanoke location. The Renewvia rooftop system installed in December 2018 includes 2,296 solar photovoltaic panels providing 746 kilowatt (kW) of power. The company’s wide array of software includes Sage and Tekla 3D modeling. It is looking into updating its FabTrol operating software.
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“Once you have been trained … you have to be accountable for your own safety and the safety of those you’re working with. We have no tolerance for someone working unsafely.” - CEO Glenn Sherrill
SteelFab goes well beyond posting the usual informational signs and holding toolbox talks to keep its work force up to date on the company’s safety initiatives. Sherrill says “the number one thing that has helped us when we hire new people is that we bring them through our safety training first.”
“We have a dedicated network of crane operators that we use. We’ve found that most of the bad injuries that happen involve the crane, so we continuously do training for those guys,” Sherrill notes.
Staff Replenishment and Retention
“Once you have been trained if you do something that is unsafe, you’re sent home for three days without pay. If you do something twice that’s unsafe we say ‘This job just isn’t for you and you need to go find another job.’ You have to be accountable for your own safety and the safety of those you’re working with. We have no tolerance for someone working unsafely,” Sherrill stresses.
The company has taken a proactive approach to dealing with the industry wide problem of replacing an aging work force. It has partnerships with a local high school in proximity to each plant to provide summer internships to students interested in pursuing a career in the industry. SteelFab also has partnerships with NC State, UNCC, Georgia Tech, Texas A & M and The Citadel for the recruiting of estimators, project managers and engineers. Following their sophomore year, students work in the office. After their junior year they are exposed to plant operations.
That is especially true of crane operators.
Under the program, interns earn $15 per hour plus available overtime; are
As far as the company is concerned, working safely is an obligation and there are serious consequences for not doing so.
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SteelFab, Inc. | 13 assigned mentors to work with during training; and undergo an exit interview to determine their interest in a full-time position upon graduation from high school. The company prefers to promote from within and performs annual reviews. “We try to find the right fit. On the relationship building side, we place those who are good with people and groom them in the sales side because we don’t have a dedicated sales group and our executive team wears a lot of different hats. Each division has a different way of grooming the next leaders. It’s tough because we have a lot of smart people but there are only so many slots. We’re proud of the fact that the only Division President who did not work his way up is from the division in Oregon we just acquired,” Sherrill says.
SteelFab. We are focused on having SteelFab remain a family-owned and operated business but if my boys are not interested, we have colleagues who are not family members that are very capable of running the business.” Sherrill says. He says he’s never bored and looks forward to coming to work every day. “Every job has a different set of plans, specifications, and stakeholders. Every day and every year presents a new set of challenges. Also we are in a technical business as a contractor and manufacturer and every job is a separate profit and loss center,” he concludes.
Company Name: Steelfab, Inc.
With a burgeoning client list that continues to grow and its plan for measured future growth, the company seems set up for continued long-term success. Sherrill’s older son interned with the company this summer.
“My sons are in sixth grade and ninth grade and I would love for them to come work here. But my priority is for them to find a passion and a career that they enjoy – I don’t want to put any pressure on them to work at
supplier of fabricated structural
Industry: Construction Est: 1955 Premier Service: Manufacturer and
steel. CEO/President: Glenn Sherrill Website: www.steelfab-inc.com
8623 Old Dowd Road Charlotte, NC 28214 United States P: 704-394-5376