By Alicia Cunningham | Jun 06, 2016
Salt Lake City, Utah
Employees: 35 Employees In Utah, 250 Overall
Salt Lake City, Utah
Over 125 years ago, Samuel Robinson moved his family to the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania area. An engineer in coal mining, he was acutely aware of the dangers of deep mining and methane gas. No longer willing to depend on a canary to warn of the presence of deadly gas, he and his son, J.R. Robinson, built the first fan which could draw methane gas out of the mines.
“J.R. Robinson, particularly, was amazing,” says Carl Staible, CEO of Robinson Fans. “He was an engineer student at Cornell, and he wrote a book on mine ventilation. It is the bible for the deep mining industry. In fact, it’s still around, I think. But not only did he have the interest and the ingenuity, he also had the know-how.”
So was born Robinson Fans, and over a century later the company is still a family-owned enterprise. “They would be surprised at what we are today,” says Tricia Staible, Executive Vice-President and sixth generation employee. “We have made jaw dropping changes. But I think they would be satisfied that it’s still a family business.”
Robinson Fans manufactures heavy-duty industrial fans. “Though they go into a lot of different applications, they are normally used in heavy duty industries such as mining, utilities, aluminum, and cement,” says Carl Staible.
In the 1990s, Robinson Fans expanded to Salt Lake City because the location offered a solid industrial base and was also centrally located.
Location is vital because Robinson also repairs fans. “It is expensive to ship them back east for repair, and we noticed there was no one back west who could do it. So we moved to Salt Lake,” says Tricia Staible. “On a whole bunch of levels, working out of Salt Lake works really well.”
Today, the Salt Lake facility is capable of designing, engineering, building and repairing all Robinson Fan products. “There are some testing requirements that may be done elsewhere,” says Carl Staible. “But Salt Lake has every capability, and we will continue to invest and expand the facility.”
Choosing where and when to expand is a struggle. “How fast can you grow and how much can you afford? Who will you serve? Initially, the company served the coal mining and steel industries. We had to learn to see opportunities elsewhere. We had to move in and find new directions,” says Carl Staible.
Challenge: Generational transfer. With a 125 year history, transferring the business from generation to generation has been complicated. “Sometimes the transfer is planned for, and sometimes it is not,” says Carl Staible. “Every generation struggles to determine what can be done and what can happen.”
Opportunities: The aftermarket. Carl Staible says many of the fan manufacturers which were in business just 20 years ago are gone. “They have been bought up, closed up, and disappeared.” When existing fans need to be repaired, owners face shrunken options. “They have big equipment, need significant repairs, and they need it done quickly. It is a fun and exciting opportunity to serve them,” says Tricia Staible.
Need: Enthusiasm to seek out new opportunities. “When the marketplace is stagnant, it can be depressing,” admits Carl Staible. “We need people to look for opportunities. To be willing to leap where they have never been before. That’s a rare personality trait in an employee.”