By Eric Peterson | Nov 04, 2014
100 percent employee-owned
CEO Mark Jenkins drives growth at Utah's standout welding and fabrication company with innovation and employee ownership.
Dennis Petersen started the company in a garage on the west side of Ogden in 1961. "It's right next door," says Mark Jenkins from Petersen's current, million-square-foot facility. "I'm looking at the garage right now."
While the company has grown into one of the most respected welding and fabrication companies in the country in the time since, its focus, like its location, hasn't strayed far from its roots. "Dennis was a gifted welder," says Jenkins, noting that the apple didn't fall far from the tree. "His son, Steve, took [the company] where it is today. He was a certified welder at the age of 13 or 14."
More than 50 years after the garage days, Petersen sticks to its strengths. "We pride ourselves on the quality of our welding and machining," says Jenkins, noting that the game is the same on projects that range from "a swing set to a nuclear glovebox."
The company works on projects from customers in a variety of industries: aerospace and defense, mining, nuclear, and petrochemical. "The secret sauce is diversity," says Rob Despain, VP of business development.
"That's not by chance," adds Jenkins. "That's by design." He says that Petersen was once heavily leveraged in the mining business, to the tune of about a third of the company's sales. "That went south, and we got into the nuclear business," he explains. Since that pivot in 2012, the company has worked in numerous decommissioning and safety projects as well as making some 20,000 vessels for spent fuel.
Jenkins describes the Petersen strategy as industry-agnostic. "You've got to ride those ponies while they're hot," he jokes. "Nuclear and petrochemical have been our strong ones in 2014. Aerospace is making a run."
A lot of the latter business comes from Boeing. "They have planes sold for the next seven years," says Jenkins. "They have a bigger backlog of any company we know of in the world."
Beyond the manufacturing operations, Petersen operates the worldwide tooling warehouse for Boeing. "They call for tooling from us and have it delivered all over the world," says Jenkins. "We have a two-hour requirement to get it out the door. We average 20 minutes."
This innovative system, conceived by Jenkins, Despain, and company in 1999, earned Petersen one of 16 "Supplier of the Year” awards from Boeing in 2012 -- which is really saying something when you consider the aerospace giant has 23,000 suppliers in all.
"We've really revolutionized their third-party logistics," says Despain.
Petersen also regularly pushes the innovation envelope for its clients. "We're good at refining processes," says Despain. "This is a big company that competes with small companies on a regular basis and wins. It's a really innovative factory."
Large-scale items are another specialty, adds Jenkins. "One thing that sets us apart is our ability to machine big stuff," he says, citing a 70 foot by 15 foot boom for a mining shovel for the Kennecott Copper Company. "That's a unique capability we have at Petersen and that sets us apart from the competition. It's pretty cool."
There's also some geographic diversity, in the form of a 75,000-square-foot facility in Pocatello, Idaho.
Jenkins credit the company's employee ownership as an innovation catalyst. "We're really embracing change," he explains. "If you were to ask our employees, resting on our laurels from the past is unacceptable."
He lays out the company's three key values. "Take care of our employees and their families. Take care of our customers. Give back and take care of our community. If you do those three things, I think you make a profit."
Challenges: Recruitment. "The challenge for us is a skilled workforce," says Jenkins. "It's hard to find good people right now. Every time I go to a chamber of commerce meeting, I hear the same thing."
Opportunities: "I think we have a huge opportunity to help Boeing meet demand," says Jenkins, referencing the aforementioned seven-year backlog. Automating welding represents another big opportunity to boost productivity "if we can Lean out some of that repetitive work," he adds.
Needs: Stable government. "A lot of our work is in the nuclear world," says Jenkins. "When the government shut down, that was an immediate impact to our business. Keeping sequestration and government shutdowns to a minimum, that would be refreshing."