New SMACNA president Nathan Dills: Leveraging our legacy
In his new role, Dills will work to leverage SMACNA’s 75-year history to build better businesses
Nathan Dills, president of the Oklahoma-based ACP Sheet Metal Company and managing partner of Midwest Fabricators LLC, still remembers working in the shop at seven years old for the family business. “On Saturdays, my brother and I would go to work with my dad. He would go over to work on an estimate, and we would go in the back to knock duct together,” he says. “When I turned 16, I was the delivery driver all summer long.” ACP was founded in 1977, and Dills purchased the company from his father, Harold, in 2010. Midwest Fabricators was split off from ACP in the early 1990’s, and after his father passing in 2016, Dills took over that sister company. Since stepping into the top leadership position at ACP, Dills has been committed to propelling the 41-year-old company forward with technology while stewarding its rich history.
“My father had the opinion to never be scared of technology,” says Dills. “As much as any contractor can afford, technology is a differentiator and one of those areas in which we all must invest. But you must make sure it fits within your company, and that it will be beneficial to the company in the long run.”
As incoming SMACNA president, Dills says his first priority will be to help members embrace technology while harnessing SMACNA’s 75-year history to build better businesses.
“I am in a great position because the day after the convention, the 75th anniversary of SMACNA’s starts,” he says. “So, using that 75-year history as a platform to raise awareness of sheet metal contractors and the work we do will be at the forefront of my agenda. At the same time, if we can help contractors develop their own platforms by leveraging the anniversary, we can help increase their business.”
Dills’ second priority will be to address the shortage of manpower in the industry by helping members diversify their labor resources.
“The manpower shortage is affecting everybody, and we are looking at how SMACNA can help in the arena of attracting and retaining manpower. It’s in our strategic plan,” he says. “SMACNA is working on ideas for that and will be sharing those ideas with our contractors and chapters throughout the year.”
Dills shared his family’s experience with the importance of recruiting the right people. “My father didn’t have to know how to run every piece of equipment he purchased, but he did have to know who to put in charge of each piece of equipment. This year’s SMACNA convention sessions are designed to give contractors the tools they need to make the right staffing choices,” he explains.
“The shortage of manpower makes us look at every job we bid and ask ourselves: If we get the job, can we man it? And it takes a lot of shuffling people around. It takes us being proactive looking for people that we think will be a good fit for our organization and bringing them in. So, it’s had a very strong, big impact on how we manage our business. And we have to have an open dialogue with our labor partners on what our needs are,” says Dills. “I believe SMACNA is being very proactive at the convention in helping contractors attract, develop and retain good, qualified people — from trades people, all the way to office staff.”
Dills has served as co-chair of the SMACNA/SMART Best Practices Market Expansion Task Force, and chair of the Fire, Smoke, and Radiation Damper Task Force, while being a member of the Director Nominating Committee. He is also a member of the Sheet Metal Contractors Association of Oklahoma. But he explains his journey back to the family business and to the sheet metal industry was a circuitous route that began with law school.
“I joke that I am a recovering lawyer,” says Dills, who is a member of the Oklahoma Bar Association and received his law degree from Oklahoma City University School of Law in 1995. He graduated from the University of Central Oklahoma in 1992 with a bachelor’s degree in political science.
“I had nothing to do with the business after my first year of law school,” he explains. “I spent almost 10 years as a state’s attorney on the prosecution side of criminal cases. I started off at the Oklahoma attorney general’s office, where I did criminal appeals from the prosecution side. Then, in two and a half years, I was hired at the Oklahoma County District Attorney’s Office. For the next six years, I did narcotics cases and homicides with an emphasis on meth labs and large drug trafficking organizations.”
Then he got a call from his father to talk about taking over the family business.
“So my wife and I talked about it, we prayed about it, and decided this was a good option for our family,” says Dills. But he hasn’t given up on all of his law schooling. “There has been a cross over benefit there as well. And that’s also what got me involved in SMACNA originally back in 2007. I attended SMACNA’s Business Management University, where I was introduced to what was available to contractors, and I was a vocal participant during BMU. After that, SMACNA asked me to serve on a task force. So that is my pathway to where I am today.”
To now step into the role as SMACNA’s president, Dills says it is a humbling experience. “As I attend various meetings over the next year, I have the honor and privilege of discussing SMACNA’s history and share with members how they can celebrate and leverage it,” he says. “It’s a great opportunity for SMACNA and contractors to better communicate the benefits of working with, and for, union contractors.
In addition to promoting the benefits of our industry, I will also be sharing the benefits that SMACNA provides to its members. I am sure I will be touching on the latest updates to SMACNA’s industry standards and the services offered by the technical services department, SMACNA’s top-notch educational programs, services offered by premiere and associate members, and the critical work and support of the labor relations department. I look forward to exploring the many ways SMACNA can leverage these opportunities as well as the work and rich history of its contractors and local chapters.”