ACI, Inc.

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 15, 2010

ACI, Inc. marks 20 years in Panola Co.

By John Howell Sr.

ACI Building Systems, Inc. marked its 20th anniversary with a dinner for employees Saturday night.

Company owners Tim Richie, Ron Knapp and Bill Watkins planned the event to honor ACI employees; then Richie and Knapp joined employees in a conspiracy to focus the evening’s spotlight on Watkins — “Mr. Bill” as he was fondly addressed throughout the company.

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Richie served as emcee, recognizing employees with 15-plus years of service and 10-plus years. Together, “34 percent have been with the company 10 years or longer,” Richie said.

The ACI president said that 70 percent of companies fail during their first 10 years of operation and said that three groups — dedicated employees, loyal customers and vendors — are responsible for ACI reaching its 20th anniversary.

The manufacturer of metal building systems has grown from the 20,000 square foot facility on Highway 6 West/278 that formerly housed a tractor dealership to over 270,000 square feet in multiple buildings of ACI’s own manufacture in a quarter mile that stretches east and west of that original location. The site is one of the largest in the industry and reflects ACI’s reinvestment into plant expansions and new equipment, according to an industry publication.   

Richie recognized Tom Watkins as ACI’s biggest customer “over 200 buildings” during the last 20 years.

Vendors — ”suppliers that partner with you to be successful,” Richie said, include Corey Howell who made a presentation on behalf of Liberty Mutual Insurance recognizing ACI for four years without a lost time accident.

When the top customer, vendor and employees had been recognized, Richie turned the focus on his partner.

“Your leadership is important, but I think we’re most proud of your friendship,” Richie told Watkins, bringing employees to their feet for a lengthy ovation.

Richie presented Watkins a plaque listing employees with 10 or more years of service and a cookbook with employees’ recipes compiled — a gift that was also made available to other employees as they left the Panola Country Club at the end of the dinner.

Then, acknowledging Watkins’ wish to place a flagpole in front of the manufacturing facility, Richie told him, “In your honor, we bought three flagpoles” to carry the U. S. flag, state flag and the ACI flag.

Joining ACI employees and their spouses were members of Watkins’ extended family from Texas, including decorated Vietnam War and Desert Storm veteran Lt. General Randy House (U.S. Army, retired), a first cousin.

“I’ve known a lot of great men; Bill Watkins stands at the very top of my list. “He leads by example, sets the example and works harder than anybody else,” House said. “I’ve always thought of him kind of my cousin, kind of an uncle, but he was always a friend,” the general continued.

“It’s been a good day; a wonderful day,” Watkins said after House concluded his remarks. “I consider everyone that works for ACI a partner. … I know we’ve having some hard times right now, but we’ll get through it. I want to thank every one of you,” the ACI senior founder said.

Following the program, employees lingered in the Country Club’s dining room to greet Watkins personally and shake his hand. “This is all kind of embarrassing,” the notoriously reticent ACI founder kept repeating.