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In May 1974, after college and marriage to Susan French in 1973, I was hired by ITT Grinnell (Princeton, Ky.), a full line domestic manufacturer of carbon steel fittings and flanges. While I was there, the most radical evolution in the U.S. fittings manufacturing occurred.
True domestic fittings manufacturers, including ITT Grinnell, gave way to converters and importers. It was, simply, less expensive to buy Japanese roughs and bevel than to buy the U.S. Steel pipe and form, etc. By 1985, ITT Grinnell was gone. Taylor Forge, Tube Turns and Crane disappeared.
During this decade, I became a sales manager, added about 88 graduate hours in various disciplines, but, more importantly, Susan and I became the parents of two stupendous sons. Humanity’s best contribution to the world so far — well, ever.
With the closing of ITT Grinnell (I do not take credit for that!), I was offered a position with Louisiana Valve and Fittings (Lavalco) and another ground-floor job in Louisville, Ky., with some company called Sprint. Being the genius that I am, I chose Lavalco and relocated the family to Shreveport, La.
After three years of emersion into marketing and negotiation tactics by a superior talent, it was time to move on. In 1988, Canadoil Forge offered me a position as executive vice president and we moved to Kingwood. Lavalco cratered after that. (That wasn’t my fault, either.)
After the move, I discovered Canadoil was virtually bankrupt, but by 1998, it had risen to a multi-million-dollar global fittings manufacturer. It is still around today, making top-of-the-line large O.D. fittings. Of course, I do take some credit for that!
A New Beginning
In 1998, after 10 years of extraordinary exposure to the owner — one of the most astute businessmen I have ever known — and his two sons, Susan and I decided to buy a company for the future of our sons, Gabe and Graham. A close friend had connections to a “grooved fittings” fabricator in Indianapolis and we were able to make a deal.
The market failed and we quickly went neck-deep in debt. Susan, through seemingly heroic efforts, kept and continues to keep the company financially viable.
Switching to beveled laterals and mitered elbows, we redefined the company. Gabe and Graham’s first first-hand exposure came when we returned our first shipment of shoddy laterals to our home in Kingwood and “reconditioned” them with grinders and cans of spray paint on our back deck! All four of us were experiencing the labors — physical, that is — of ownership.
By the end of the ‘90s, Gabe had traveled to Louisiana to grind out welds on our first 60-inch mitered elbows. We are absolutely sure both the elbows and the laterals never failed. I can’t take credit for that either.
On Sept. 3, 2000, Graham, a freshman at Baylor, was killed in College Station. Gabe skipped a semester at Baylor and stayed home with us, his devastated parents. Everything changed.
The next year, 2001, we moved the entire operation to New Caney, Texas, and put the company 100 percent in Gabe’s name. In 2003, I left Canadoil — which has never gone out of business, I might add — and limped along ever so gradually, growing OK Pipe and Fittings and waiting for Gabe. Soon after, in 2004, Gabe married Krystal and added two more gems to the Hatfield clan.
After graduation with a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Baylor — and a sabbatical into the trucking industry with my brother, Mark — Gabe returned in 2007 to begin his true ownership of OK. At that point, all our marketing was word of mouth. Social media reigned and Gabe began modernizing our exposure. He designed and implemented our ISO certification, and we began to grow.
In 2017, while leading the charge at OK Pipe, Gabe completed his MBA at Baylor and Krystal joined OK Pipe as director of marketing and sales. The momentum began to rise exponentially, almost like magic, on Jan. 21, 2017 — a day after Graham’s 35th birthday.
An old, old admonition is. “Lead, follow or get the hell out of the way!” That is the most beautiful part of the growth in life. As we age and get staid in our patterns of doing things, youth has a way of blasting in — ideas, energy, starlit goals. Faith in seemingly unreal possibilities is the eyes of youth.
Gabe and Krystal massaged control out of my hands and OK Pipe and Fittings, much to my joy and somewhat chagrin, grew. I’m equally sure I had nothing to do with that! Now, they own it, and I sit around a potbellied stove with other old, potbellied men and recount in great detail the good old days. Live on the successes of Gabe and Krystal.
Oh, and mow the grass.
“I remember having a conversation with my dad when I was young, where he told me the reason for his success in the industry was because of his integrity — people knew he was an honest man and that made him trustworthy,” recalls Gabe. “I’ve heard this and versions of it since. I have always made it a part of my business practices — and life practices — as well.”