From dentures to ductwork
After he graduated from high school in 1971, Keith Wilson planned on a career working with metal - but it was the metal in crowns and fillings, not HVAC systems.
Wilson had already decided to attend dental school that fall. But he took a summer job at what was then called Miller Metal Co. Inc., an Albuquerque, N.M.-based sheet metal contractor. Although he continued to study dentistry for the next year and a half, it became obvious his future would involve tin snips instead of toothbrushes.
"Just the thought of looking at mouths full of metal for the rest of my life, rather than sheet metal," Wilson recalled. "I went the sheet metal route."
It appears to have been a wise decision: Wilson, 52, is now CEO of the modern version of that company, Miller Bonded Inc., a full-service mechanical contractor with an expected $30 million in sales this year.
New titleAnd Oct. 19, he'll become SMACNA's 2005-2006 president. The title will keep Wilson busy, as he becomes a sort of goodwill ambassador for the association, visiting sheet metal shops and speaking in the trade press about SMACNA's programs and initiatives. There are several Wilson says he's particularly excited about - the updated version of SMACNA's duct-construction standards manual and the high-performing contractor program.
"I am really going to be talking that up during my presidency," he said of the high-performing contractor program, adding that he served on the committee that developed it and went through the program himself. "I really, really believe in it."
Wilson has had a long career in sheet metal. After entering a sheet metal apprentice program in 1974, a broken arm sped Wilson's advancement into drawing, estimating and project management at Miller Metal. In 1981, he was named vice president of the company. He became president in 1986, and was promoted to chief executive officer in 1990, after his father-in-law, Ed Miller, who founded the company and had previously held the position, retired.
Changing marketsIn the early 1990s, business in the New Mexico market was slow, with the state and the rest of the United States suffering in a recession. But Miller did something that not only helped the company survive, it led to major growth - it merged with Bonded Plumbing & Heating Inc. The two had worked together on several projects, and Wilson called the merger "much like finding your lost twin." The companies used similar accounting and software systems, and even used the same area bank and accounting firm, which made the process easier, Wilson said.
The merger brought Bonded's president, Ken Otteni, on board in the same position. The new company was called Miller Bonded.
Despite the similar corporate cultures, Wilson said it took about five years for the company's combined operations to really gel. But it's worked out well, with the combined company's 200 or so employees including many longtime as well as new workers. Wilson himself hosts the monthly new-employee orientation.
"This business is all about the people," he said. "We've just got some great people here, people who have been here for many, many years."
Building teamsThe company promotes a team-oriented approach. In fact, Wilson pointed out, he doesn't like to refer to Miller Bonded's business segments as "divisions." He prefers calling them "departments."
" ‘Divisions' sounds divided," he said.
Regardless of what you call them, they've been busy. After a slow 2002 and 2003, the company's business increased 40 percent during 2004. Wilson expects to grow another 10 percent this year.
Part of that growth, he said, is because Miller Bonded has started doing fabrication work for some of its competitors, including projects where Wilson's company was not the winning bid.
"One day we're a competitor. The next day, we're a supplier," he said.
But the company also does plenty of commercial and industrial plumbing, estimating, detailing and installation work on its own. Miller Bonded has done work for several high-profile clients, including New Mexico State University and the University of New Mexico, the Social Security Administration, Marriott hotels and several Native American casinos. One such recent casino contract was worth $14 million, Wilson said.