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Jack Hatcher: Contributions include rigid frames and market expansion

2016 Metal Construction Hall of Fame


Jack Hatcher's contributions to the metal construction industry continue to reverberate in the widespread adoption of rigid frame metal buildings, at the companies he helped expand and turnaround, in connections made among industry leaders and their support of future generations of entrepreneurial engineers.

Bob Ammerman, who worked in the metal construction industry in various executive roles from 1976 to 2007, is a former colleague of Hatcher. They worked together at several companies including Memphis, Tenn.- based Varco Pruden Buildings and Alpharetta, Ga.-based Magnatrax Corp., as well as the Metal Building Manufacturers Association (MBMA).

"[Hatcher] was a pioneer in the development of engineered steel building systems aimed at competing with conventional designs, emphasizing speed of construction and economy," Ammerman says. "He fostered custom concept design at Varco Pruden Buildings, revolutionizing a standards-based metal building industry."

Jack and Nell Hatcher shared more than six decades together as a married couple before he passed away in 2015. When describing Hatcher's influence on his companies and the industry as a whole, Nell Hatcher points to his intelligence, sense of humor and generosity.

"He was a very innovative person in my opinion, and very smart individual," she says. "He was funny; he was good. He could make the subject any way he wanted it to go, and he always did. I dated him for five years; we were married for 64. In all of that time, I never knew what he was going to say next, so I quit trying."

Rigid Frames

Hatcher began his career as an engineer at Varco Steel in Pine Bluff, Ark., and worked with R.G. "Bob" Varner in the early 1950s. Hatcher and Varner conducted structural steel studies at Mississippi State University, Miss., to prove their rigid frame construction concept, with used metal tubing from oil fields in Texas, was an effective structure and stronger than regular structural steel. This contributed greatly to the acceptance and use of rigid frame metal buildings.

"[Hatcher] was a pioneer in the development of engineered steel building systems aimed at competing with conventional designs, emphasizing speed of construction and economy. He fostered custom concept design at Varco Pruden Buildings, revolutionizing a standards-based metal building industry."

--Bob Ammerman, friend, colleague

Hatcher helped J.B. Fuqua of Fuqua Industries acquire Varco Steel and Pruden Products in 1968 and form Varco Pruden Buildings. Hatcher served as president and led the company to grow into one of the largest metal building system manufacturers in the U.S. This expanded the overall metal building system market.

Growing Presence

Hatcher was president at Varco Pruden Buildings until it was purchased by Montreal, Canada-based Dominion Bridge and its subsidiary, AMCA International, in 1973. He served as president, chief operating officer and board member at Dominion Bridge and AMCA International from 1973 to 1983.

Hatcher led Varco Pruden Buildings to acquire manufacturing facilities on the West Coast in Turlock, Calif., and in the construction of Varco Pruden Buildings' fourth manufacturing plant in Kernersville, N.C., in 1968. The Kernersville facility was built to access the Southeast market and to fill in the company's footprint in Arkansas, Wisconsin, California, Massachusetts (with Priggen Steel Buildings) and North Carolina.

He was well-known among colleagues as fostering loyalty by being supportive of their careers. When AMCA International acquired Indianapolis-based Insley Manufacturing Co., which produced backhoes, in 1975, Hatcher offered Ammerman, who was controller at Insley Manufacturing, a position as vice president and general manger at Varco Pruden Buildings in Wisconsin.

Ammerman says Hatcher became a mentor to him. "He had wonderful personal skills," he says. "People wanted to be on his team and would work very hard to achieve goals. He taught me the power of personal relationships with associates, customers, suppliers, communities and competitors."

Ammerman says he adopted much of Hatcher's leadership style. "People rallied around him, motivated by his challenges and example," he says. "He made people want to excel for the company and for themselves. There was always some incentive to make the challenge fun, might have been drinks and dinner, or a golf game at some special course."

Ammerman says Hatcher built personal relationships that were long lasting, far beyond the level of business convenience. "That's why he and I were loyal to each other for more than 30 years," he says.

Hatcher's vision for the company's national presence resulted in rapid sales growth and expansion of the steel building market as a whole. With Hatcher's leadership, sales increased from $300 million to $1.5 billion at Dominion Bridge, AMCA International and Varco Pruden Buildings between 1973 and 1983.

Industry Support

Hatcher supported the metal construction industry as a board member and chairman of the MBMA in 1968. The MBMA published a proclamation that acknowledged its appreciation for Hatcher's many contributions to the growth and advancement of the metal building systems industry in May 2012.

"[Hatcher], along with other industry pioneers, developed the MBMA to focus on engineering system advancements and to deal with code authorities and specifiers," Ammerman says. "He believed that as an association the industry could be more effective than if they dealt with the authorities as individual companies."

Investment Returns

Hatcher pursued the acquisition and turnaround of multiple companies with friends and former colleagues including Charlotte, N.C.-based Southern Pump and Tank Co., where sales doubled between 1983 and 1987 and it was sold with a 60 percent annual return for investors, Cullman, Ala.-based Inland Southern Co. from 1993 to 1996, Pinehurst, N.C.-based Eagle Ventures from 1995 to 1999 and Springfield, Ore.-based McKenzie Forest Products in 1998. Returns for investors on all the deals were approximately 100 percent compounded annually.

Hatcher left Dominion Bridge, AMCA International and Varco Pruden Buildings in 1983 and became chairman and CEO at Pittsburgh-based H. H. Robertson Inc. in 1987, where he grew sales to $1.2 billion, preserved employment for workers and oversaw its merger with Ceco Industries Inc. to form Robertson-Ceco Corp. in 1990. At Atlanta-based Magnatrax, Dennis Smith, CEO, Ammerman, president of Eufaula, Ala.-based American Buildings Co. (part of Magnatrax), and Hatcher, chairman, brought the company from bankruptcy in 2004 to be sold to Charlotte, N.C.-based Nucor Corp. in 2007.

Entrepreneurial Program

Another way Hatcher, a Mississippi State University alum, supported the future of the metal construction industry was by establishing and endowing the Jack Hatcher Engineering Entrepreneurship Program at the university in 2001. The program promotes careers that combine technical and business skills by awarding certificates to students that complete a certain number and type of credit hours, participate in a seminar series and complete business plan projects in teams.

Nell Hatcher, who is from Mississippi, says she received word from Mississippi State University that the entrepreneurship program has tripled in size. "It's a wonderful program," she says. "That's one of the best things he's done besides all the other things. That's what he loved."