Leaping from one industry to another

They say when one door closes, another one opens. Jim Neville can tell you all about it.

After he was laid off from his geologist job with U.S. Steel Corp. in 1982, he took a chance on a Lawrence-based process control company, Equipment and Controls, Inc. Now he’‍s the vice president.

“It ended up being a lifelong career,” Mr. Neville said.

During his 30 years with the company, Mr. Neville has seen many changes in the manufacturing industry. One particular change was Pittsburgh‘‍s evolution from a steel-producing city.

“At that point in time a large portion of our business was involved in the metals industry, including aluminum. When both of those industries slowed down, and many of the steel mills were demolished, that created a void in our business,” Mr. Neville said. “There were a lot of questions. Where were we going to find our next business?”

Equipment and Controls, Inc. chose to direct its efforts towards other manufacturing industries such as original equipment, oil and gas, paper, and food and beverages. The company also works with steam and nuclear plants, but because of the new EPA regulations on carbon emissions, it is focusing more on oil and gas.

“At that time we couldn’‍t spell Marcellus,” he said. “Now, it‘‍s one of our largest business sectors.”

Mr. Neville’‍s hobbies also cross with his work. He owns a blue 1967 Alfa Romero Duetto, which he claims to have fixed up in every way possible, and volunteers with the Pittsburgh Grand Prix, which took place last week.

“I‘‍m a car enthusiast so understanding the mechanical nature of this business came rather naturally to me,” he said.

Q: What is one mistake you notice leaders making more frequently than others?

A: I would say not treating employees well. That’s a big one. I’ve seen companies squander employees over mishaps. I’ve seen employees at other companies leave because of mismanagement, and that’s a shame. Our employees are our most important resource. Even the most difficult employee can be managed.

Q: What are some of the oddest businesses you work with?

A: We sell special control valves to swimming pool companies that enable water to move. We sell to dog food companies. We work with Heinz. They make gravy and have to heat it up and make sure the temperature is just right. We provide the valves and the systems to do that.

Q: In what instance is it OK to break the rules?

A: We prefer not to say breaking rules, we say making an exception. Certainly it’‍s OK when safety or well-being is at stake. The rules can be broken primarily for human interest.

Q: If you found a magic lamp, what would you ask the genie for?

A: I never really sat down and thought “what’‍s a wish?” for me. My wishes are really based on the health of the nation, the future of our next generation. Should I say world peace? That’‍s Miss America that does that one.

I have all these thoughts going through my head because there‘‍s a lot of things I’‍d like to see in the U.S. I would wish the needy in the U.S. were taken care of but that's a huge thing. ... I don’‍t know how you do that. I think our energy policy is not the best. ... When we overlook energy reserves in the U.S. I think it‘‍s a grave error. I would say a stronger, long-term energy policy for the U.S. that utilizes our resources in the best way possible. 

Q: Tell me what you were like in high school.

A: I ran track early in my high school career but stopped and decided making money was more exciting so I got a job as a bicycle mechanic. It’s a funny story. I bought a bike using my paper route money, brought it home, and it was put together so incorrectly I made my dad take me back to the store. I got the manager and told him I was upset it was put together incorrectly and he looked at my father and he asked, “‘Can he start today?”’ And my dad left me there! It was my “first day on the job.” I don’t know ... I guess I was a little bit on the nerdy side.

Madasyn Czebiniak: mczebiniak@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1269. Twitter: @PG_Czebiniak

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