Editor's Notebook: The Human Touch

March 2013, Vol. 240, No. 3

In a way, Mitt Romney was right. A corporation is people.

Let’s take a pipe coating mill. Once that lovely pipe is buried, it is forgotten except to those who monitor it for wear. It’s the people who make that product you will remember. People like Mike Reeder.

Reeder, 66, is plant manager for Dura-Bond Industries’ new coating mill in Duquesne, PA. The mill opened in November, an expansion necessitated by the Marcellus Shale. Reeder is more than a plant manager for the Norris family which owns Dura-Bond. He is the best advocate the industry could ever hope to find to explain natural gas and oil development to the public. With Mike on your side, you don’t need $200-an-hour PR people. Mike understands these folks. He is one of them and one of us.

Mike is the real deal - a genuine character. Put a white beard on his round face and stocky frame and he could resemble Mr. Claus, but take it off before he lights up that foot-long stogie. He is outgoing and articulate, exemplifying the virtues of small-town America. Born to a family of machinists and master machinists, Mike grew up in Lewistown in central PA and graduated from Lock Haven State College with a degree in chemistry.

His first job was with Koppers, a chemicals company in Pittsburgh where he worked with coal tar enamel coatings. That was his introduction to the pipeline industry “which always fascinated me.” In 1994 he joined Dura-Bond as plant manager. Mike’s passion for the business remains. He plainly enjoys helping those who work for him succeed and prosper.

“I’ve been drawn back to this like filings to a magnet. The excitement of this new plant and the people that work for me has re-energized me. I don’t want to retire. I like it too much. It’s really about them, not about me. All I am is the guy who rearranges the deck chairs on the cruise."

Between the mill and pipe yard, there are about 75 employees mostly in their late 30s, early 40s. They learn the technical or mechanical aspects of their assigned jobs as well as other work, increasing their value to the company and ultimately to themselves.
He tries to hire people with a high energy level, “reasonably intelligent” and willing to do this work. “We make sure everyone understands exactly what we do so there’s no surprise. We train people to do this work the correct way. ”

What kind of a career can a pipe coater expect?

“Two different levels,” he said. “We have some very bright young men up from the ranks, with some formal education, and we insist they learn what it is to do a lot of jobs. They will be our future and management. The other level is for people without a lot of formal education who prefer to stay in a blue-collar trade. That’s the majority. We have rated jobs with more responsibility and they can work their way into those jobs.”
Mike’s management style is a cross between a slap on back and a soft reprimand. It’s a light touch, but rest assured he doesn’t miss a thing.

“I try to be firm without being unreasonable. People know what I expect and they do it because they’ve been trained to do things a certain way. I’ve also found the native ingenuity of the people working for you can be pretty fantastic. They can solve a problem in ways you might never have thought of.”

A hunter and fisherman who loves the rusticity of central PA, Mike compares the shale boom to a “modern-day gold rush without stripping the land of its beauty.”