Global Fastener News

2002 FIN – Oberton Succeeds Kierlin as Fastenal CEO

October 01
00:00 2012


December 12, 2002 FIN – “I had a friend who worked at Fastenal, and I needed a job. It’s as simple as that.” That’s how Fastenal Company’s new CEO Will Oberton described his start with the company in 1980.
Fresh out of college with a business and marketing degree, Oberton began working for what was then a much smaller Fastenal with 13 stores.
Last year the fastener distributor giant recorded revenues of $818.3 million and has about 1,160 stores to date.
For the first nine months of 2002 the Winona, MN-based distributor of fasteners, tools and components has seen an 11% increase in sales despite a sluggish economy.
The secret to Fastenal’s success? “We hire good people and hold everyone to a high standard,” Oberton told Fastener Industry News.
Oberton has been with Fastenal for 23 years and was named COO in 1997, to the board in 1999 and president in 2001.
Oberton replaces Robert Kierlin, who remains chairman of the board. Kierlin, 63, is one of the five founders of Fastenal.
Kierlin was elected to the Minnesota state senate in 1999 and turned over Fastenal’s day-to-day operations to Oberton.
In 1997 Inc. magazine named Kierlin the cheapest CEO in America. Inc. reporter Marc Ballon wrote that Kierlin “is to cheapness what Michael Jordan is to basketball: the best ever.”
As a state senator Kierlin has “played a key role in every tax cut we have accomplished over the past few years,” according to senate leader Dick Day.
Oberton admits he spends his personal money a bit differently that Kierlin, but Kierlin’s fiscal legacy at Fastenal endures. “At work I’m as frugal as he is.” Oberton explained that the new title doesn’t reflect a change in direction for Fastenal. He’s been effectively running the company for the past few years. The announcement publicly confirms a plan of succession, he said. “The investment world has long known I’d be the one to succeed [Kierlin].”

Other appointments include Nicholas Lundquist as COO, Daniel Florness as CFO, and Steven Appelwick as vice president of products, marketing and logistics.

Fastenal’s Future
So what does the future hold for Fastenal? More of the same, if Oberton has his way. He told FIN that Fastenal is looking to expand into hundreds of new markets in the coming years, opening new stores at an annual rate of 15%.
What has allowed Fastenal to expand in a shrinking economy, Oberton explained, is an aggressive business plan that promotes fiscal responsibility. This provides Fastenal the capital to open stores without borrowing money. Oberton emphasized that the decision to open new stores is made by district managers, not the home office.
Currently fasteners make up between 57% and 58% of Fastenal’s business, Oberton stated. That share will slowly decline as other product lines increase, Oberton told FIN, but not anytime soon. “For many, many years fasteners will be our main products.”
Oberton said Fastenal’s biggest supplier is Infasco, followed by other North American manufacturers. The company also imports a range of products from Asia. “You can’t buy low-carbon items competitively in North America.”
Fastenal has a reputation for operating as a tight, self-contained business, with little participation in fastener trade associations. Oberton said that’s not going to change. “It’s not that we’re arrogant, we’re just busy doing our own stuff.”©2002/2012 Fastener Industry News
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