MiMfg November 2021 - Page 18

Powell Fabrication & Manufacturing LLC • St . Louis
18 MiMfg Magazine November 2021

2021 John G . Thodis Michigan Manufacturer of the Year — Small Tier

Brent Hardman

Powell Fabrication & Manufacturing LLC • St . Louis

For the past 25 years , CEO Brent Hardman has dedicated himself to the growth and prosperity of Powell Fabrication and Manufacturing , a firm based in St . Louis that engineers and builds custom chemical processing equipment for chemical manufacturers around the world . But his history with the company goes deeper than that .
“ I was given the opportunity to work here in high school as a co-op student , and I just built up from that . The opportunity was here , and I took it ,” says Hardman .
While climbing the ladder from co-op to CEO is a unique and inspiring story , Hardman is quick to credit his team of more than 40 employees , and especially the vision and drive of the company ’ s late owner , Duane Powell , who was the son of the company ’ s founder , Clarence Powell .
“ Duane was the heart and soul of this business ,” says Hardman . “ He was very much into every aspect of what we did .”
Sadly , Duane passed in 2016 and it had a significant impact on employees and leadership . Hardman says they had to go through a soul-searching process to figure out who they were as a company without Duane in the driver ’ s seat . This restructuring led to the development of their core guiding principles : The Powell Principles .
“ The Powell Principles are : Humble Confidence , Assist Leaders , Resilient Curiosity and Do the Right Thing ,” says Hardman . “ These principles guide everything we do , from who we hire to how we interact with customers and vendors .”
Using the Powell Principles as guideposts , Hardman and the leadership team have led Powell ’ s transformation from a management-driven company to a leadership-driven culture , resulting in more employee engagement and support .
When asked about how employees responded to this cultural shift , CFO Norm Winterstein says every employee had a similar response . “ They all said , ‘ I feel safe and important , we have great communication , we ’ re consistent , we ’ re all headed in the same direction , I enjoy my work , I feel challenged , we ’ re all working to be a better company , and we ’ re a family .”
Hardman also says these principles ensure that there isn ’ t a power vacuum : That if he or other leaders are not involved in every single aspect of the business , he can trust and empower his staff to get the job done . They guide hiring decisions , ensuring all staff will fit Powell ’ s core culture . Over time , these Principles have strengthened company culture and productivity , and have earned
Powell a distinction as one of the top manufacturers of bleach production equipment in the world .
“ Eighty percent of the bleach manufactured in North America is made using our technologies ,” says Hardman .
The Powell Principles also make Powell a place where staff want to return to work , year after year . This is exemplified by the 15 to 30 year average tenure of employees .
“ Powell is a great place to work ,” says Kami Tanghe , Customer Service Manager , who ’ s been employed by Powell for 23 years . “ The people I work for are genuine and they allow you to go as far as you want in your career journey . If you want to explore new job possibilities , they allow you to do that and they give you the tools you need to move forward .”
Regional Sales Manager Matthew Brown , who has also been with Powell for 23 years , says that not only is the company a great place to work because of the culture , but because of its position as a leading employer in the small , rural town of St . Louis .
“ I grew up in St . Louis like a lot of the other staff here , and I ’ m committed to the area ,” says Brown . “ Today ’ s narrative is that if you want a career with opportunity and the ability to travel the world , you have to go to a big city or work for a big company . I ’ ve had more opportunities with Powell than I would working at any company within a five-county radius .”
Hardman can relate . He also grew up in St . Louis and is highly engaged with the community serving as Board President for Ithaca Public Schools , supporting local STEM initiatives , promoting manufacturing and trades in local RESDs , lending his expertise and leadership skills to the MMA Partnership Response in Manufacturing Education ( PRIME ) curriculum , and much more . “ I want this community to flourish . It ’ s where I was raised , it ’ s where my family is , it ’ s home . Central Michigan relies on manufacturing , and the more we support the industry by showing the opportunities available , the more our local community will thrive .”
As for what ’ s next for Powell , Hardman and the leadership team have big aspirations .

“ Within the next 10 to 15 years , we ’ d love to see a Powell System sitting in every chemical manufacturer around the world ,” says Hardman . “ We want to be a vital part of chemical distribution throughout the world and repeat the success we ’ ve had being a top producer of bleach production equipment to apply this to other chemicals .” 6