Monday, April 20, 2009

No Frills 'Fab

During a recession, one of the worst things a person can be called is a showboat.

If you know the majority is struggling but you still find ways to flash cash, you’ll be vilified. Maybe that’s why you hear so many people complaining about rappers who boast about bling, or why people cringe each time the terms of a new professional sports contract are made public.

In business, we can simplify this concept down to three letters: A-I-G.

But there’s no need to revisit exquisite travels and lush parties. You resent that, and probably don’t want to read any more about it.

Instead, we’ll talk about Tru-Fab Technology Inc. President John Stegh, who appears to be quite the opposite. During the interview for this story, while the two of us stood in the lot between the Eastlake fabricator’s two buildings, we got sidetracked and began talking about current affairs. In the middle of his “GM and Ford need to get their acts together” stream of consciousness, he pointed over to what was, to be honest, a very unsightly vehicle.

It was a bulky, rusty light blue 1987 station wagon. It was also his.


“I don’t want to be stereotypical, but I’ve got the money to buy just about anything,” Stegh said. “I won’t kid ya. But you know what, if I’m out there bragging on the fact that I drive a Denali ... (Tru-Fab) employees are working just as hard as me. They come to work every single day, and they’re not living high on the hog, so why should I?”

This is the guy who just pumped $2 million into his company. Some executives would say or do this kind of thing for show, but I don’t think that was the case with Stegh. He seemed pretty genuine about this. So genuine that it took a good 10-15 mins before we got back on the topic of welding, laser cutting and his new facility. You’ll just have to trust me on this one.

And, excuse me if I already used the phrase “stream of consciousness” in this post. I don’t know any other way to describe THIS:

“I love that car. I drive it everyday. I grew up in station wagons. I’ve got three kids of my own. It’s just what I do, there aren’t a lot of frills with me. I’m not going to say that I want to just capitalize on everybody else’s hard work. I just want to be like everybody else. I want a place of work where everybody can, at least, enjoy coming.

“I’ve been there before. I’ve gone to the job that I hated. I hated that boss who treated me like I was second class, and he was pimpin’ around his Caddy or his Lexus or something ... I’m going to get cut, and all you have to do is thank me as you and your wife drive away and take another vacation? I’m just trying to make overtime, and you take that away from me, now I can’t make my bills. So, really, it’s an investment back to Tru-Fab. From ‘96 to 2009, all the profits I’ve made, I rolled back to Tru-Fab. I crave equipment. I crave being able to supply a person with a job. Because I was there, I was on the flipside of wanting a job from someone who was prominent. Now, I feel like we’re a player ...”

Wow. Yes, I did get him to say the word, ‘pimpin,’ but more importantly, I got him to show his human side, something that people let get away from you on this job. Apparently, he does this naturally, so I can’t take much credit.

Trust me, I tried pressing him about the car, but he didn’t waver. It’s his. He says his wife drives something more reliable — a 1998 minivan. He says his employees don’t think much of it. It fits his persona, the boss who gets his hands dirty with them on a regular basis.

Good for them. That’s one less group of working Americans that won’t have to duck from debris falling from a golden parachute.

--Brandon C. Baker

Photo: Duncan Scott

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