We’re going to party like it’s 1919! Pittsburg Tank & Tower Group is celebrating its milestone 100th anniversary in 2019. Founded in 1919 in Pittsburg, Missouri by Joseph Boyd McClelland, Pittsburg Tank initially concentrated on water tanks and smokestacks maintenance. McClelland’s son, Cloyce McClelland, eventually took over the family business and moved it to Pittsburg, Kansas in the 1940s. The company was relocated to Henderson, Kentucky in 1983 after Don Johnston bought the business, which has remained in the Johnston family for more than 30 years.
“There are very few family-owned companies that can boast of a 100-year heritage,” said Jess Elger, the ground division’s vice president of operations. “It is evidence of significant distinction in carrying forth the traditions and culture of excellence of the family and its business. There is a realization that change is inevitable and by being flexible, the changing dynamics of the construction business can be an opportunity for success.”
The family-owned company is “committed to the key global issues that not only impact the business but its employees as well,” said Elger. As a result of the company’s quest for continuous improvement, PTTG differentiates itself from competitors and provides customers overwhelming reasons to contract with Pittsburg, he added.
As Pittsburg marks its 100th anniversary, PTTG family members were asked to reflect on the past and look toward the future.
Reflecting on the past
“My first thought is to stop and count our blessings,” said PTTG President Ben Johnston. “Pittsburg’s 100-year anniversary is the anniversary of our incredible PTTG family. For without our current and past families, we would not be celebrating this amazing event. It means we will continue to provide for our PTTG families by providing a valued service to our customers.”
Chris Johnston, vice president of risk management, said he doesn’t think the full significance has set in yet.
“I’ve only been alive for 30,” he said. “But to know that something has been around for three generations and potentially more, it’s exciting. It is truly an exciting time.”
“To me, it means that we have a dedicated group of friends and family that encourage the success of the business, allowing us to continuously grow,” said Levi Johnston, quality assurance and quality control manager for Allstate Tower.
Married to Ben Johnston for the past 36 years and mother to Chris and Levi Johnston, Denise Johnston has been around the company in one way or another – from working in accounting, in inspections, as a secretary, and even on the road – in one way or another for four decades. She said she only recently started reflecting on what it meant for PTTG to celebrate 100 years.
“It’s exciting,” she said. “It’s been an honor to be a part of it. It’s just amazing to watch the company turn 100 years old and I’ve been here for 40 years of it.”
Celebrating Pittsburg’s 100th anniversary means being thankful, grateful and hopeful, said Allstate Tower President Keegan O’Daniel.
“Thankful for the opportunity to play a part at this specific time in the company’s history, grateful for those who came before and hopeful for those who will follow.”
“Naturally, we spend a lot of time and energy in the present,” said O’Daniel. “I’m most looking forward to spending some extra time on the past – learning, appreciating, and celebrating our history.”
Ben Johnston is most looking forward to marking the milestone with the first ever group meal for the entire company on Dec. 21st and August’s community event.
“Sadly, 100 years falls on the one-year anniversary of losing Dad, so it comes with bittersweet thoughts.”
Don Johnston passed away on Jan. 2, 2018 at the age of 85. He had worked in the tank industry since his teens and had purchased Pittsburg Tank in the mid-1980s, merging it with his own company and moving it east from Pittsburg, Kansas to Henderson, Kentucky.
A success story
Asked to ponder why Pittsburg has been able to last 100 years while other companies have fallen to the wayside, Ben Johnston answered that it was a mixture of God’s blessings, hard work, determination, fairness, and quality service – which he sums up as PTTG’s culture.
“We have multiple markets that help during tough times in the economy as well,” he said.
Pittsburg’s four core values are heritage, relationships, integrity, and discipline.
“If we look at heritage as our cornerstone value, its foundation was built on 100 years of reciprocal relationships, consistent integrity, and intentional discipline,” said O’Daniel. “Such values stand the tests of time.”
It also helps that the company is not beholden to outside interests.
“In the absence of stockholders, PTTG has the ability to focus 100 percent of our resources and decision-making on stakeholders – employees, customers, suppliers, and partners,” said O’Daniel. “This allows us to invest in employees, guarantee customer satisfaction, maintain quality suppliers and establish strategic partners.”
Asked why Pittsburg has been able to last while other companies have fallen to the wayside, Administrative Assistant Amanda Dawson said it’s because “they stay ahead of the game” She added Pittsburg’s management team is always coming up with ways to build and maintain the business. Plus, employees are treated like family members.
“This is a company where leaders believe deeply and passionately about the purpose of the organization; challenges the status quo constantly; conveys deep respect and trust in others and desires to help them grow; pursues and stands for what they believe in with wisdom, courage, and persistence,” Elger said.
Elger said the company exhibits a commitment to training and excellence, as well as leading by example.
“There is a drive, commitment, and passion that endures through a 100-year period of changing economic conditions, flexibility, and commitment to knowledge and continuous improvement,” Elger said. “The company leaders work for the good of the employees and organization, leading toward a high level of customer satisfaction.”
The anniversary “gives you a sense of security to know that the company has been able to adapt and overcome the test of time,” said Herdegen.
Project Manager Dillon Herdegen credits Pittsburg’s longevity to three things:
- Upper level management placing the right people in key positions
- Having a sales team that is knowledgeable about the product and savvy enough to know when to bid high or when to capitalize on a good order
- Having field employees who have successfully completed some very tough projects
- Making a difference in the lives of so many people is PTTG President Ben Johnston’s greatest source of pride. Pittsburg is a caring, capable company that provides a quality service to its customers, he said. The company does all of this while providing for the needs of its employees and extended PTTG family.
O’Daniel quoted businessman and author Harvey Mackay.
“Harvey Mackay once said, ‘You can’t buy a good reputation; you must earn it.’ The reputation of this family and the people who make it up are what make me most proud. We have a great team.”
One big family
The Pittsburg family has grown from a small business to more than 350 employees in the past 100 years. It’s always been a family business, though, whether owned by the McClellands or the Johnstons. Aside from Ben Johnston, his brother Johnny, and sons Chris and Levi are all integral parts of the PTTG family.
What’s it like to be from a long line of tank specialists? The answer would vary day to day, according to Chris Johnston.
“It means you can’t sit still, you can’t get idle,” he said. “The second you go idle, you’re three days behind. It’s very time consuming, very demanding, but very rewarding.”
Following in the family footsteps is a little intimidating, according to Levi Johnston.
“Dad is a great leader and knowing that Chris and I have to follow that up gets nerve-wracking at times,” said Levi Johnston. “However, I have enjoyed working in the field and in the shop to grow my knowledge of the company.”
Getting to work with family and friends makes PTTG a truly special environment, said Levi Johnston.
“It always makes for an interesting day,” he added.
Chris Johnston starts and ends his days the same way – by hugging his dad, Ben Johnston.
“No matter what happens after that, at the end of the day, we hug it out and we move on,” he said.
Chris Johnston also enjoys the extended family atmosphere of PTTG.
“We get to celebrate the highs and help people dig out of the lows,” he said. “We’re in it together and here for each other, so that’s my favorite.”
Denise Johnston said it was exciting to see how the employees have grown along with the company.
“It’s just been a real blessing for the Johnstons and Pittsburg to have employees that turn into your family and close friends, she said.
The next decade or two should be exciting, said Chris Johnston. Inevitably, there are always obstacles and challenges facing any company. Lasting 100 years signifies that Pittsburg has overcome these obstacles and is still standing.
“If we just keep learning that way, we’ll be standing for the next 100,” Chris Johnston said.
Herdegen said he sees the company growing larger in the future since there will be new reasons for liquid storage, and older units will either need to be replaced or refurbished. Technology will also play a bigger role in PTTG’s equipment and efficiency in the future.
He could also see the company utilizing more advanced welding processes and procedures. He added that he anticipates the company will utilize advanced fabrication equipment that will integrate quality assurance and quality control automatically from files uploaded.
“The company is committed to the growth of top-line revenue in areas that make common sense and is parallel to its current business,” said Elger. “It is flexible enough to withstand the construction industry’s ups and downs.”
As far as the future goes, Levi Johnston envisions that the company will acquire more equipment to spur greater in-house production over the next five to ten years. It’s a little harder to predict a century from now.
“In the next 100 years, we will have to see how the industry has guided us,” said Levi Johnston.
What lies ahead for the company’s next 100 years is hard to say, but PTTG stakeholders envision a successful future – one where quality products and service are still integral to its brand.
“They will continue to find new advancements on the tank and tower field and hopefully keep those core family values that make us such a great company,” said Dawson.
Ben Johnston said, “We will continue improving upon our strengths, learning from our weaknesses, be bold when necessary and never forget how we came to be.”