Nov. 30, 2016 - Zampell Companies recently celebrated its 50th anniversary, an impressive milestone for any business in any industry. The organization, which calls Newburyport home, got its start in 1966 when Tom Zampell launched the company after a 30-year career at General Electric in Lynn.
A family business, Zampell’s primary work is the engineering and construction of refractories, insulation and scaffolding in the industrial sector and facilities maintenance and management in the commercial sector.
In addition to its Newburyport headquarters, Zampell has offices in Maine, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Florida, Texas and Oregon, along with subsidiaries in Denmark and England. It has grown from a single employee in 1966 to about 500 today.
To mark the 50-year milestone, Jim Zampell, Tom’s son, is now the chairman of the board, focusing on the strategic direction of the company, and Brian Zampell, Tom’s grandson, became president and CEO.
Brian Zampell, who has a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering and a master’s of business administration, joined the company in 2006. He spoke about his company’s milestone.
How do you explain to people outside the industry what your company does?
The easiest way I would describe it is we’ve a done maintenance for years on Bertucci’s wood-fired ovens, the insides. Our stuff is the stuff that doesn’t burn in really hot processes.
We have some affiliates. We have a refractory distribution company. We’ve also expanded our services in the industrial sector so we don’t just do refractories anymore. We also do insulation, scaffolding, sandblasting. And back in the ’80s we diversified and got into facilities management. So what we do there is full turnkey facilities management work. And alongside that we have a sister company that does janitorial products distribution.
To what do you owe the company’s 50-year success?
It’s really the employees. We really feel strongly about that. My grandfather might have had the foresight and the vision to start the company and set it up with certain values. But it’s really the fact that the employees carry on those values for us every day and live them in terms of their customer service and craftsmanship and doing right by the customer, doing right by your fellow employees. My grandfather always had a motto that really if you take care of the employee, the employee takes care of the customer and that takes care of the company. That’s really our ethos. It’s the company’s milestone but it’s really their milestone. They’re the ones who brought it there.
There have been a lot of economic changes in 50 years. How did you weather those ups and downs?
The one that was really bad for us was in the early ’80s, when I was a little kid. There was a solid year there when my dad didn’t take a paycheck to keep the company afloat. It was all the little manufacturing and stuff that was the backbone of the company. And then the industry really died right then. We were doing a lot of work in that end of the world. So it was about that time, too, that my father said, ‘I’m never going back there. We’re going to diversify and get into some other services.’ That’s why we were pretty open to facilities management. So that was good for us for a while and we expanded what we were doing.
We got more and more into waste-to-energy, which is the market that really carried us into Europe. We have offices over there. So we started opening offices and building the company. We didn’t want to just be beholden to one area, one market, one mindset.
We’ve taken our hits here and there. But nothing dramatic since then. That was really the one that I think my father particularly learned from and changed the company around.
What is the biggest challenge for your company going forward?
I think, like for any company that’s a long-term company, it’s just developing and finding new talent. Throughout the ranks we do a pretty good job of that. We try to bring in a lot of young engineers right out of college and try to train them our way.
But as everyone reads about, that’s a changing environment as far as finding and retaining people. We’re not a glamorous business. My grandfather and my father have always had a policy that if anyone starts with the company, they have to start in the field, even our engineers who get out of college. We’ll put them out in the field for six months and they’ll be right alongside the guys, working hard and getting dirty. It’s not for everybody. So it certainly takes some work to find the right people and develop them.
And the same thing on the craft side. There’s not a lot of people going into the trades right now. So, that’s another side that we’re working on. It’s a little different oversees in Europe. There’s a much stronger dedication toward trade schools and things like that. I think that’s coming back to the United States. So I think there will be some opportunity there. But it’s just the usual challenge of any company, I think, just success in planning and continuing to find good people.
What are you most proud of as far as the company’s accomplishments?
Well, certainly I’m proud that we made it to 50 years and into our third generation. You look at the statistics on both of those, we’re definitely an anomaly. So that kind of says it all that we’re doing something right. I think that’s a testament to everything we do — the job, our employees, what that does for our customers, what our vendors do to support us. It’s a whole system and a whole team. And how we do that with our mission and our value system, it’s really what drives us, I think, and that’s why we’re here for 50 years. Hitting that milestone really says it all.
Along those lines, what advice would you have for other business owners?
My advice in terms of building a sustainable company — this is going to sound crazy — is to not always obsess over the numbers and money and make everything black and white. You have to take care of people. Not everyone’s an angel all the time. You have to work with people. People go through ups and downs in their life. I think a lot of companies don’t weather the downs of their employees. But I think if you do and you work with them, you build long-term loyalty and people will work hard for you.
And on the financial side, if you focus on everything else that makes the company successful, the numbers will take care of themselves. In our company — this probably drives our CFO crazy — we talk about numbers very little. We really focus on all the little things, all the details that make us successful and I think that’s really why we are successful.
At the end of the day, it’s really all about what are your assets. And for us it’s our people and what are they delivering to our customers and what kind of service are we delivering.
One thing that keeps bringing people back is customer service. People want to have that customer service and that touch and that family business experience. That’s the whole story.
So you really can’t get too bogged down in all the financial end of it, the price end of it. You really want to focus on the value you’re actually providing, which is all the other aspects of it. That’s your differentiator. By doing that and reinvesting in the company and reinvesting in those elements, while you might have to have a very long-term view to see a return on those things, that’s really what makes you a sustainable long term company.
Do you have more expansion planned for the company?
We’re currently working on opening an office in Louisiana. We’re trying to nail down the building right now. We’re trying to continue our expansion on the West Coast. And back in November (2015) we opened up a service arm in the UK so we hope to grow that. It looks like we’re doing our first waste-to-energy plant over there, in Scotland. It’s going well.
Do you believe you have responsibilities as a North Shore neighbor?
BZ: We definitely believe in acting locally. My parents are very generous with the money that they’ve received from the success of the company. They contributed to the new power plant in Newburyport. They both went to Merrimack and they give a lot there. But they definitely believe in giving back and being a good steward to the community around them.
For you, what’s the best part of being based on the North Shore?
It’s where I grew up, so it’s close to home. Newburyport’s a nice place to live. It’s a good place to be, but I’m biased, I guess. But I’ve traveled enough and spent enough time abroad that every place has its charm if you look hard enough. But I think we definitely have a nice area.
What would your grandfather think of the business today?
I think he’d be pretty blown away. I don’t think he ever imagined it would be anything like this, that it would be here for this long and this big. I don’t think he ever aspired to that, either. I think he liked having his customers and going out and servicing their furnaces and boilers. But my father had the foresight to grow it and build it into a big company from a small local contractor. So I think he’d be really impressed. He’d be really proud.