Global Fastener News

2006 FIN – One-Year Job Becomes 50-Year Career

April 29
00:00 2015

December 18, 2006 FIN – “I was going to work for a year and make a few dollars and then go on to school,” Tom Barrett recalled of the start of his 50-year career with Earnest Machine Products. So he began delivering fasteners for Earnest in a 1956 Chevrolet pickup truck.

“It was a very, very good truck,” as Barrett recalled of making deliveries in Cleveland.
In the fall of 1955 Barrett tore ligaments in his knee during a high school football game. That ended his expectation of playing college football.
Within two years Barrett was promoted to manager of inventory control, though he was a one-person department so “I only managed myself,” he told FIN. Earnest was then a small company, so he also helped answer the telephone.
In 1961 Barrett began basic training in the National Guard and kept in touch with Earnest from Ft. Knox, KY.
After returning Barrett rose from inside sales to becoming Earnest’s first sales manager at age 26, and then on through the ranks of vice president of sales, purchasing and vice president of procurement. He was elevated to his current executive vice president in 1972.
He even learned a little accounting. All those titles indicate “I was involved in a lot of things,” Barrett summarized. He knew most jobs so he could substitute “if somebody didn’t come in.”
Barrett began in the era of cardex cards to keep running track of inventory.
Computers have long since replaced those cards to keep track of the multitude of part numbers today. When Barrett began everyone in the company knew the name for a specific item rather than a part number.
“In the 1950s the principals of most companies knew their inventory” even without looking at cardex, Barrett noted.
He remembers when Cleveland had 15 to 20 fastener manufacturers who also provided plating and heat treating, and how that number “has dwindled because of imports. There were some very good manufacturers,” Barrett told Fastener Industry News. “Those who survived and prospered found a niche such as short run special production.”
Barrett has worked at Earnest for 50 of the family company’s 59 years and with three generations of Zehnders.
Barrett has been with Earnest through major expansions from opening a branch in the United Kingdom to “a number of adjustments” in its business plan as the industry changed. Today he describes Earnest Machine’s target as “specializing in certain areas not oversaturated by competitors’. We recognize what we’re good at and what we’re not good at,” Barrett reflected.
He was at Earnest in the mid-1960s when Earnest started importing fasteners from Japan when the exchange rate was 360 Yen to the U.S. dollar. Today the Yen is only 117 to the dollar and fastener production has moved on to Taiwan, Korea and China.
Barrett remembers plenty of stories over the six decades. Once upon a time making a copy of a print required soaking the original and a special paper in a liquid solution. But someone once tried to copy a one-of-a-kind print loaned from a customer and reversed the process making the one and only original disappear.
“He didn’t get fired, but he was in deep trouble for a week or more. Fortunately time heals all & or most & wounds,” Barrett observed.
There were cultural differences such as alcohol flowing more freely at industry events in the 1960s, Barrett recalled. At one Chicago fastener golf outing, Barrett swung his seven iron. “Once you hit a golf ball you have an inkling. I knew it was good.” His ball rolled to less than two feet from the hole and Barrett won the grand prize of a “bucket of booze.” He ended up giving more than a dozen fifths away rather than take them back to Cleveland. Drunken driving didn’t carry the social stigma or prosecution of today and he recalled a “gentleman from Chicago” attempting to drive home through the country club flower garden. “The association was never invited back,” Barrett noted.

Advice for the Next 50 Years
“It is vitally important to have an interest in what you are doing,” Barrett advised those just starting their own 50-year fastener careers. “If fasteners are not a labor of love than it can be tedious.”
Barrett urges fastener freshmen to “spend the additional time to learn as much as you can. Keep up and keep ahead.” Barrett counseled newcomers to “understand peoples’ problems. When you help someone, maybe someday it will pay off.”
Trying to help doesn’t always work. Barrett recalls advising a customer to buy 300 pieces at the bulk rate of 80 cents each rather than $1.60 per unit on a 200 piece order for a $80 lot savings. But the buyer insisted he was authorized to purchase only 200 pieces and a change “would have to be cleared by 20 people,” Barrett recalled. “He’d be fired for changing the order unilaterally.”
Barrett is thankful Earnest Machine allows employees to make those judgments. “As long as the company makes a profit you can make the decision very quickly,” Barrett described the philosophy at Earnest.
Barrett plans to retire in March 2007 at the age of 69 and plans to spend more time with his wife, Maureen, at their Sarasota, FL, home.  Web: ©2006/2015 Fastener Industry News.
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