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More often than not, when one starts on his or her career path, there tends to be a bend or turn with each job — a steppingstone on the road to one’s greatness. In this context, greatness is characterized by what provides fulfillment and joy, while leaving an impression that makes a change for good. For exceptional greatness, awards are given, honors bestowed, and individuals are celebrated.
In the PVF industry, we do so by honoring the individual with an induction into the PVF Hall of Fame. This year, we celebrate Harold Armstrong of Armstrong/Weatherly Associates, a manufacturers’ representative based in Houston, for his integrity, honor and service in the PVF industry. He is the 2020 recipient of The Wholesaler Magazine’s PVF Hall of Fame award.
More than 40 years ago, Armstrong, Texan born and raised, started on his career path — as an accountant. With an eagle eye for figures and calculations, it would seem like a realistic fit. Armstrong was good at his job but realized there was a greater opportunity to be made on the sales side of the business. It was probably where his talents were best suited.
“I knew early on that I wasn’t going to be much of an accountant,” Armstrong recalls. “What I did realize was that selling was where there was an opportunity, so I took a job in the fittings industry. I didn’t know a lot about it, but I read everything I could find in technical publications, trade magazines and asked a lot of questions.”
He ultimately became very familiar with the PVF industry. From there, he learned that a manufacturers’ representative was an extension of a manufacturer’s salesforce. Prospects were especially bright in the piping components area. “I liked sourcing products and realized that putting the deal together was exciting — how it all worked, and I enjoyed helping people,” Armstrong notes. “I realized I had a knack for it and wanted to strike out on my own.”
So, in January 1979, Armstrong borrowed a 1950s vintage Remington typewriter from a friend, a table from then girlfriend and now wife, Kathy, and an investment of $3 and Armstrong started his agency. After a few years, he brought in a partner, Bill Weatherly and Armstrong/Weatherly Associates (AWA) had additional horsepower. They worked together, supplying piping components to the channel. The partner retired from the business in 1996, and Armstrong continued.
Today, the company employs 32 individuals who, collectively, have more than 200 years of specialized PVF industry experience. The rep agency specializes in sales and engineering specification influence in Texas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma. Its customers range from the largest refining and petrochemical companies in the world to dabbling in space exploration, food and beverage processing companies, to a mom-and-pop oilfield distributor.
The company has two locations — its headquarters in Houston that features an office building and stocking warehouse, and a new office building and warehouse with shop facility in Karnes City, Texas. The company sells through distribution but understands the important link we provide between manufacturing and distribution.
“It has been 41 years now, and there have been challenging years,” Armstrong says. “One day I finally understood that through difficulty, you can appreciate how good it can be. It’s like heat treated steel. Heat treating steel is a violent process; you can destroy the steel, or you can make it stronger. One could say I have been heat-treated for the future.”
AWA supports its’ manufacturers with inside sales and warehousing, which provide an integral local support system. The company specializes in manual and automated valves, molded tanks, pipe, tube and fittings, oilfield equipment and piping components, servicing the oilfield, industrial and commercial markets. “If you are moving a fluid, whether it be a gas, a liquid, or a mixture of slurry, we’re involved,” Armstrong says.
Another offshoot — AWA Oilfield Services, formed in 2013 to provide Completion and Production Solutions, Refurbishment Services, Testing, Products, and well site support to their South Texas customers. This company is based in Karnes City, Texas to support one of our principals and also to be close to the customer. Armstrong’s a firm believer in customer service, from product availability and customer support. “If your inventory isn’t close to your customer — you don’t sell it,” Armstrong notes.
However, he acknowledges that AWA has controlled growth. With excessive growth, you get beyond your capability to support your customer base,” Armstrong says. “Our goal is to take care of the commitments we make.” And, to him, that is of utmost importance.
“I have known Harold since the ’80s, and he is one of the most professional, kind and intelligent men I know,” says Mark Skibin of Sunbelt Supply Co. “His honesty has always made him an individual who people can go to for product and receive a fair price. Harold is a true friend and an incredible man.”
Giving Back by Building Up
I asked Armstrong how he has seen the market change over the last 10 years — and he was quick to reply: “I’m seeing the industry that we’re in has more grey hair; we need younger people in it.”
This simple observation speaks volumes as to his focus, drive and dedication, for he has made it his mission to bring folks into the field he loves, and to enrich the lives of others. Armstrong’s personality is that of a gentle-giant — reserved, always observing, engaging, quiet yet impactful. When he engages in conversation about his passion — of helping others, especially students — one can feel the energy and drive he has.
“I don’t know if people understand how important it is, what the PVF Roundtable Board is doing, and the money that they’ve raised — it’s incredible,” Armstrong says, adding that he fights for the time to volunteer.
Nearly 20 years ago, he received a call from Don Caffee, a personnel consultant. Caffee was involved with the PVF Roundtable — an organization of volunteers entrenched in the PVF industry, committed to providing information, education and networking to strengthen the industry channel. An additional mission was to encourage young people to enter the PVF field and prepare these future generations through the funding of educational and training institutes.
Caffee wanted Armstrong to get involved, and he did. For several years, Armstrong served as a board member, then held the position of Vice President. Around 2010, the PVF Roundtable Board — well aware of the need to draw tradesmen / women into the industry, established the trade’s scholarship program. “There was money available from the government and corporations to fund brick and mortar schools, but not as much money available to defray the cost of an education for students,” Armstrong explains. “That is where we focused our attention.”
While the full board is responsible for fundraising, Armstrong manages the schools eligible for endowment and scholarship funding. He carefully vets each school, its programs and the financial impact it can make on students entering the trades.
The PVF Roundtable scholarships were first established as endowment programs, with one at the University of Houston and second program at Texas A&M University. These programs take earnings of the funds donated and award scholarships to worthy students who are studying in the PVF area of studies. Today, the fund has grown from the original two schools to seven. The recent programs are “Current Use” programs using our entire contribution each year for the trades training such as welding, pipe fitting and related studies.
“We keep the PVF scholarship program as simple as possible — all funds shall be used to defray the cost for a student,” Armstrong adds. “We don’t ask for specific grade point averages, and we don’t have specific requirements.”
Armstrong’s passion for helping to guide, mentor, and make a difference in the PVF industry are heartfelt. He closely monitors how the funds are used and aligns the PVF Roundtable with trade schools and programs that meet and keep the obligations — and it’s simple. He makes the schools’ job easier by knowing the funding is there, and its direct impact on a student’s life is lifechanging.
It’s not unusual for Armstrong to visit the schools; he spends a lot of time on the road ensuring the integrity of the process and programs. It’s a full-time job managing the process, but that does not deter him from involvement. When one speaks with Armstrong on the subject of students and helping them on their path — it hits him to the core. “When you meet the students, they are just incredible,” he says. “America’s in good hands. All we have to do is educate and train them.”
“When I joined the PVF Roundtable board, I was excited to be a part of an organization that gave 100 percent of monies raised directly to students,” recalls Sara Alford of Newmans Valves, and PVF Roundtable board president. “It was Harold’s passion for the students and scholarship program that made me feel like I was a part of something big. Harold is someone I look up to and am glad to call him my friend. I can think of no one more deserving than Harold for this award.”
To date, the PVF Roundtable has contributed more than $1 million to scholarships that went directly to those in need. And Armstrong estimates that the funding has impacted more than 500 students.
“There is no more deserving individual to be honored by The Wholesaler Magazine for the Hall of Fame Award than Mr. Harold Armstrong,” says Joe Pro, PVF Roundtable board member and president of Penn Machine. “I have had the great privilege to work with Harold on the PVF Roundtable executive board of directors. In addition to serving as vice president of the board, Harold took on the daunting task as committee chair of the scholarship program. He has brought his passion for our industry to his role in distributing scholarship funds to deserving schools. Every discussion we ever have has been about helping people. We are grateful to have had such a role model to learn from. Congratulations, Harold!”
Armstrong says: “I remember interviewing the dean of Lee College in Baytown, and he was telling me about their students, and how many of them were the first generation in their family to go to college. These students are artists with their hands. This is what companies are looking for. Yet some of these kids couldn’t pay a $200 tuition bill, let alone the $58 charge for welding supplies. These financial barriers keep students from the needed trade training. It was then that I realized how vital our contributions are, and how important our efforts to maintain and establish new programs would be — and they genuinely are lifechanging.”
He is quick to point out that the monies for the program are raised by the dedication of all PVF Roundtable board members. “I am honored and amazed by the efforts of the PVF Roundtable board who raise these funds,” Armstrong says. They are generous with their time and dedication to the mission — it amazes and inspires me. The program has been so successful because we’re helping people who desperately need it. It’s been gratifying for every one of us, and that is why we are successful.”
Armstrong’s next mission is to take on the plight of hunger among students, and the desperate need for foodbanks on or near campuses to take care of this rapidly growing problem. “It’s heartbreaking when you see the need — and we should figure out a way to implement a dignified change,” he says.
“Harold is one of the wisest men I know,” notes Ruth Keenan, executive director, San Jacinto College Foundation. “His common sense, generous heart and unfailing concern for the well-being of others is unsurpassed. I have known Harold for many years. He is a surprise and a delight, with his varied interests, incredible stories and deep concern with mentoring the workforce of tomorrow. Congratulations on the best choice for this incredible honor! It is well-deserved.”
The Next Step
Armstrong’s managerial style is simple. He empowers his team to take charge, take care of customers and to use all the tools they have at their disposal. “You’ve got to encourage people and give them a lot of leeway, inform them what the needs are and let them run,” he says. “I’ve done every job in the place, so I can walk through here and tell you what’s going on pretty fast. But if I’m going to grow, if I’m going to be a successful business, I’ve got to let people do their jobs.”
The company is heavy into technology and engages its manufacturers and end-users weekly with online engagement, email marketing and a monthly blog. “To keep up with demand, we employ technology to succeed,” Armstrong explains. “This includes the latest equipment and servers, laptops and equipment for staff, along with staying connected via direct visual engagement with the other locations. Our team is strong and knows that if they make a mistake, they will learn from it — and we do, then move on.”
He went on to discuss how the team is vital to the success of the business. Many individuals have been with him for more than 20 years, he adds. “One needs to find how to satisfy the needs of the people in their work,” he notes. “If you push people too hard, they ball up — so you need to pull them along, keep raising them up. Many times, the folks here have pulled me along — and they were right.”
Armstrong admits he can do what he loves because of the incredible support of his team at Armstrong/Weatherly, as well as his family — wife Kathy and daughter Katie. When asked about his family, he beams from ear to ear. The love of those he holds close is evident — from the smile on this face, to the beautifully framed photos in his office of family and friends, to family photos on his iPhone. The bond he and his family share is palpable.
He talks about how, for fun, he and Katie take his cars out for a spin. And by cars, one should note they are stunning — a 2016 Mustang Shelby GT 350 R and a 2013 Mustang Boss 302. Katie, from the sounds of it, is an adventurous spirit like her father as they drive the Houston highways like a controlled Smokey and the Bandit. The need for adventure and giving back is instilled in Katie, who just completed her third degree — this time in the medical industry. Giving back and helping others runs in the family.
Armstrong relays a story to me about a situation requiring him to make a difficult decision. His wife told him how Katie was watching on the sidelines to see how he would handle it. And it reaffirmed her faith in her father and an example of how to take care of others. “Sometimes we do things in life that can influence people, and you have no idea,” he says. “But treat people with compassion, and you will always do right.”
Armstrong lends his passion, talent, ability and wisdom by being a guest lecturer at Texas A & M in its Industrial Distribution Program. “It takes me back to my college days, and man, I’m having a great time — it charges my battery!” he says. “These kids are sharp, and they want to learn. Our country’s youth is in good shape — let’s keep fostering their path.”
I ask Armstrong what he does for himself — to take care of the body, mind and soul. He has a passion for planes and owns a high-performance Beechcraft plane, where you’ll find him in the pilot seat, soaring the skies to clear his mind. “When you are up there, you have to be able to focus, so your mind is off everything else,” he explains. “The beauty you see from the cockpit is incredible.”
If you ask, he may tell you how he deftly survived a plane incident (crash). Armstrong was flying a friend’s plane to another airfield when it suddenly lost an engine. He needed to make an emergency landing. Gliding and coaxing the plane, Armstrong managed to land it in a field. He was able to walk away from the incident.
As he tells me the story, I stand there, fascinated, at this gentle giant who, soft-spoken yet with a presence that lights up a room, calmly details the harrowing steps he took to survive that plane crash. A good maxim for the crisis situation the world finds itself in today: Stay calm and focused on what needs to be done.
Just like his dedication to the PVF industry, Armstrong is staying calm and focused on the future. I ask him what was his defining moment. “That is probably the toughest question you’ve asked me,” he says. “There are so many things that make up my life; it’s hard to narrow it down to one defining moment. I’ve got a whole lot of miles behind me and many more to go in front of me. And I look forward to all of them.”
Thank-you, Harold Armstrong, for your dedication, passion and gentility in the PVF industry. You exemplify the goodness and greatness of forever giving of yourself to help others, which is why we welcome you to the PVF Hall of Fame.