By Sarah Cimarusti, Assistant Editor
A high performance wholesaler and 2007 PVF Hall of Fame inductee, Porter Pipe & Supply, based in Addison, Ill., is an example of a successful company with means and structures built around a strong, yet simple and clear set of principles and tight core of people. And not just their own people, but also community members in need of assistance.
It seems that in any given industry, we hear the loosely spoken phrase tossed about all the time: “Our people are our biggest asset.” Upon closer inspection, it may be realized that the phrase mirrors Porter Pipe and its associates, who broaden the definition of “family” to include all employees, customers as well as individuals in the community who could use the boost and support.
As with a lot of company success stories, they can be traced back to their roots, to the beginning works of a solid foundation. In 1976, Ralph Porter, father of eight children, rented an 8,000-square-foot building and went to work as Porter Supply Co. Ralph’s sons, Jim and Bud, started off at Porter Supply driving trucks and meeting people. In 1996, the brothers purchased the company from their father and renamed it Porter Pipe & Supply Co. Today, they continue to expand upon their long-term relationships and follow their dad’s lead.
Porter Pipe’s most important mantra is first and foremost to provide unfaltering, excellent customer service. With 24-hour service, as well as incentive- and quality-driven service, it’s no wonder why customer loyalty runs deep.
“We do a lot with our customers. We have strong relationships here. If I were to die, the six guys carrying my casket would all be customers,” said Porter Pipe & Supply President Jim Porter.
Vice President and head of outside sales Bud Porter expands on the interconnectivity the Porters have with their customers. “Like others in our industry, we do a lot of events and gatherings for our customers. Our customers are our best friends,” he said.
Not only do the Porters get to work with their best friends, but they also get to work with their children. This new energy and the transitioning to the third generation of the Porter family line has everything to do with its continuation of success.
Bud added, “We know so many businesses — successful businesses — where there’s no succession. And all their work, all their blood, sweat and tears are just going to end. They may be sold off to some big company, which is very uncomfortable for the employees.”
Jim’s three sons are the faces behind continued excellence at Porter Pipe. Nick serves at the Operations Manager, Frank as the Will-Call Manager and Jimmy Jr. as Inside Sales Manager. Jim's other sons, triplets currently attending college, have worked at Porter Pipe every summer for the past 10 years.
“I was recently on vacation with my boys, and I was hugging them. And I remembered that I get to see them the next day at work,” said Jim. "Normally you would be saying ‘son, I hope to be seeing you in the next month, let’s visit.’ There’s so much personal joy in getting to meet with them every day. We have a very neat perspective with how things are running in each department. Like any family business, how do you put a price on that?”
Bud’s daughters have also joined the family in the summer. His daughter Stephanie worked in marketing, and Isabella provided filing and administrative duties. Overall, Porter places many college students looking for jobs during their downtime in the summer, many of them children of employees. Family or not, each person must take interest in the work and earn their place on the Porter team.
“It’s extremely flattering when your daughter or son want to make your career his or her career. I was hoping that of my six sons I could get at least one or two guys in here. When my oldest Nick made the decision to lead here, he and his brothers were extremely close. That helped influence them a lot too,” said Jim. “But my sons do not have silver spoons. These guys work their butts off.”
Bud added, “There’s no easy in. Just because your name is on the business does not mean you don’t have to know the business inside and out.”
Jimmy Jr. has been with the company for three years. He started off in the warehouse, working under his brother Nick. Now he works in inside sales, quoting piping jobs, helping customers on job sites and continuously building relationships. He says his customer relationships all boil down to trust: “My customers have to trust that I’m doing my job right and giving them the best pricing that I can so they don’t have to be shopping with our competitors.”
According to Jimmy Jr., there’s a lot at stake in working in family business. “There is a sense of pride in the work here. Because it’s family, I really want the business to grow and do everything I can to help in that regard,” he said. “Seeing how hard my grandpa, my dad, and my uncle have worked over the years, drives us to keep that going so that our kids can one day do the same thing that we’re doing.”
Jimmy Jr. has received a tremendous amount of support from his family. “I like learning from my older brothers. They are such good role models. And also my younger brothers, the triplets, will soon be coming into the company. I want to set a good example for them. I look forward to getting to see them every day too.”
As with many family businesses, the Porters aren’t immune to the struggles in regards to personal and professional relations. While working under his brother Nick, Jimmy commented on how they “sometimes butted heads” as brothers in competition frequently do. However, over the years the brothers have grown even closer. “It’s hard keeping work and personal separate sometimes, but I think we do a pretty good job separating the two. My dad and uncle have done a good job with that.”
Jimmy Jr. plans to expand the scope of his work in sales. “I would like to one day be doing what my Uncle Bud does. I’m in inside sales now, but one day I would like to get on the outside so I have more face-to-face relations with customers. I think I’d be good at that. I’m trying to learn as much as I can inside now about the industry and the product that we sell, so I can go out confidently one day like Uncle Bud and do the same thing he does.”
Ralph, Bud and Jim Porter have not only instilled pride and hard work into their children, but also the importance of “giving back,” and reaching out beyond the family borders. Their involvement with national and community charities is expansive and has continued to grow since the company’s beginnings. Porter Pipe is especially known for its work with programs that address and support adults and children with severe developmental disabilities, such as the Ray Graham Association, Misercordia, Meadows Home and Marklund.
“We started the tootsie roll drive for Ray Graham when I was born. This became a national project for the Knights of Columbus. Dad was a Grand Knight. He was ahead of a 600-man counsel,” said Jim Porter.
The Rayham Graham Association serves over 2,000 people throughout DuPage County and surrounding areas. Their goal is to support individuals with severe developmental and intellectual disabilities. What’s different about this association, both rewarding and challenging, is that it pushes independence for these individuals. This is includes job placement and housing resources. Other resources include educational, community, respite, early intervention, and recreational. The association believes in finding “the right way to empower each of the amazing, gifted individuals” they serve.
Employees at Porter Pipe & Supply hold the Ray Graham Association in high esteem, especially because it touches them on a daily basis. In June 2013, one of Porter Pipe’s very own and a Ray Graham placement, Ray Strzewski, was featured in a spotlight on the Chicago’s ABC 7 News. Ray, who has a variety of duties in the office, has been with Porter Pipe for close to nine years.
“Ray is very special to us. He does so much more for us than we do for him. He’s valuable part of our family,” said Jim Porter.
Ray’s two brothers, Ralph and Paul also work for Porter Pipe & Supply. Ralph works as a warehouse manager and Paul works as an inventory manager. “We like seeing Ray every day. We can look out for him that way, too,” said Paul. “Everyone in the industry who has worked with Porter Pipe knows about how much they do for their employees.”
Bud and Jim Porter as well as other family members and employees participate in annual events for the various charities in which they’re involved. This includes Marklund, a nonprofit founded in 1954 that focuses on housing and skilled nursing care for over 200 developmentally handicapped children, teens and adults. They have two locations, one in Geneva and the other in Bloomingdale. Recently, Porter Pipe participated in Marklund’s 18th Annual Top Hat Ball. The event, which was held at the Grand Ballroom of the Chicago Marriott Downtown, included dinner at $350 per plate and live auctions with bids that reached as high $10,000. The event was attended by 580 guests and raised over $350,000.
“This annual event for Marklund is a fundraiser that always sells out. It’s an event that’s attend by a lot of officials, and receives lot of support from various companies. I started attending 14 years ago. I sat on the board of directors for Ray Graham, and as a result I started to get involved in other charities, like Marklund,” said Jim. “The Top Hat event raises so much money and is such a flagship for Marklund as an organization. It supports a lot of people in different facilities all over.
During the 18th Annual Top Hat dinner, Marklund President and CEO Gilbert Fonger presented the 2014 “Friend of the Year” award to Jim and Bud. The Porters have been involved with Marklund for nearly 20 years, taking on leadership and major sponsorship roles at the Marklund Golf Classic and the Top Hat Ball.
In a recent article from the Tri-Cities, a city contributor quotes Fonger. “What Jim and Bud do best is share — their resources, their blessings, their network, and are always willing to introduce others to Marklund,” Fonger told Tri-Cities. “Porter staff and family have become event committee members, volunteers and supporters. They use every opportunity to engage others in Marklund, including holiday parties, events and personal one-on-one requests for support. Marklund is grateful for the Porter family leadership involvement at both of these events and can’t wait to see what personal legacy they leave behind.”
Jim and Bud are also excited to be co-chairs on Marklund’s upcoming annual golf outing, which is set to raise another $160,000.
“There are so many great charities out there that companies align themselves with that are looking for a cure for an illness, which is important. With Marklund and the work they do with individuals with developmental disabilities, there is no cure and the monetary need is immediate. So the money you provide is for services that they need to live.”
The Porter family involvement has inspired other employees to get involved. For example, seven of them volunteered to be special Olympic coaches. They also participate in companywide blood drives and select a charity to donate presents to each year during the holidays. “We give our employees a lot of opportunities to get involved in giving back also, which we really encourage,” said Jim.
The best part about the companywide participation in supporting charities and attending their events is in knowing that together as large group, they can all make a difference. This effects the work environment entirely. “The best thing about this company is its culture. We try to be that place that isn’t just a job, that truly is a place that employees like to come to,” said Jim. “We want there to be an excitement about the work we do — here and when we’re giving back.”