Maybe there’s something in the water, or perhaps the clay.
In this job-hopping era, where no one seems to stay in one place very long, Acme Brick Company stands out. Nearly every Acme workplace has at least one employee with 20 or more years of experience.
And on June 13 of this year, the ranks of the 40-year men and women increased by one – as Ed Watson, Acme’s President and CEO, celebrated his 40th anniversary with Acme.
Watson is actually an Acme “lifer,” having been part of the Acme Brick “family” since he graduated from Texas Tech University, with a degree in engineering technology.
“My first official job was working as a plant engineer for Featherlite Building Products,” he said, which was then a sister company to Acme Brick within Justin Industries.
That job was in a small West Texas town called Ranger. “We mined shale and burned it in rotary kilns,” he said, “which caused the material to expand. This is how we manufactured a lightweight aggregate which was used in making concrete block as well as for road construction.
“I was the plant’s first engineer, and part of my job was to develop a safety program and improve the maintenance program at the plant,” he said. “We worked five and half days a week, Growing up on a family farm, in Muleshoe, Texas, I was used to working long hours, so I didn't think only having a half day on Saturday and Sunday off was that bad.”
A Job Becomes a Career
Six months into his Featherlite tenure, Watson and his wife, Kim, married. Ranger would be their home for another five years, but Watson let it be known that he sought opportunities within the company. “I felt like Justin was a good company, with a lot of opportunities that I saw could be in my future,” he said.
This led to a meeting with Featherlite’s acting president, and a transfer to Featherlite’s Texas Quarries operation, near Austin – originally as an engineer and then, at age 29, as general manager.
“Having the opportunity to take some of what I'd learned in Ranger - particularly on the need to operate safely, properly maintain equipment, and make prudent capital improvements - provided the vision of what we could do in Cedar Park. This was very, very enjoyable,” he said.
Opportunity soon called again. Featherlite’s president, Corky Moss, began a succession plan. “He wanted me to learn more about the other aspects of Featherlite, particularly the concrete-block side of the business,” he said. Watson became a regional manager, responsible for not only Texas Quarries but also two concrete block plants. In 1999 he was named General Production Manager for all of Featherlite Building Products.
“I worked directly for Corky for over ten years,” he said, “and I am indebted to him for mentoring me and giving me the opportunity to establish a great career with Featherlite - and, ultimately, to transition to a senior leadership role at Acme.”
That transition began the same year.
A corporate restructuring made Featherlite a division of Acme Brick Company, which gave Ed Watson a new boss: John Koch, Acme’s vice president of production.
“When Mr. Koch decided he was going to retire at the end of 2003, he asked me if I would be interested in becoming the VP of Production for Acme,” Watson said. “Although I knew very little about manufacturing brick, I believed this was my opportunity for professional growth within Acme.”
The Watsons relocated to Fort Worth in 2003, and Ed took an office next door to Koch’s in Acme’s general office. He succeeded Koch the following January, reporting to Dennis Knautz, Acme’s COO and later CEO. He served as Acme’s head of production until 2021 when he became the Executive Vice President - Operations responsible for all sales and production operations. In April of this year, he succeeded Dennis as Acme’s 12th President and CEO.
More Than Ever, Opportunity Is Knocking
As mentioned before, Acme Brick is a company populated with, and sustained by, associates who have many years of service. Key to this, Watson said, is providing the kinds of opportunities that were available to him.
And for Acme’s next generation of managers, he adds, the timing is excellent.
“I think the timeframe to become a leader is shorter today than what it had been historically,” he said. “There may be opportunities to move up more quickly. And so that's what we're looking for.
“When I talk to new associates, or even associates who've been with our company for a long time, about opportunities within our company, I need to let them know there are many, many paths for them within Acme. We've recently developed a Leadership Academy, and so we're really focusing on succession planning with those associates who are in a leadership role or desire to grow into one.”
An Acme priority, he added, is “to identify people who may not even know that they have leadership potential, and let them know, ‘Hey, I've seen something in you and believe there's an opportunity for you to take on more responsibility.’
“I would encourage anyone who's working for us today, or even contemplating going to work for Acme, to consider that when they look long-term for their career.”
The Pride Is Everywhere, Even in Traffic
Throughout his 40-year tenure, Ed Watson pointed to one common source of satisfaction: seeing one’s work out in the world.
“Driving around the country with my children, I would tell them, ‘Hey, look at this road, or some building that used Texas Quarries limestone, Featherlite block, or Acme brick.’
“We like to advertise Acme Brick on the back of our delivery vehicles with a big sign. We package the brick in such a way that you can identify them as Acme. So, if were driving down the highway and we passed a truck with Acme brick on it, I'd say, ‘There goes another load of love.’
“Not that long ago,” Watson said, “one of my daughters was stuck in traffic, and there was an Acme truck parked next to her. She took a picture of it and sent me a message stating, ‘Hey, Dad, here's a load of love.”
And that may just be the key to building a 40-year career with a steady upward trajectory, love: your family; what you do; the people you work with; and the products that you produce.