Top 100 CEO Public Company: Tom Ferguson: AZZ galvanizes reputation with 30 years of profitability

Tom Ferguson 

AZZ Inc.

One Museum Place

Suite 500

Fort Worth 76107

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AZZ Inc. is one of those workhorse companies that doesn’t get a lot of attention outside of its industry. That can cause confusion about AZZ (pronounced A-Zee-Zee).

Community-minded CEO Tom Ferguson had to wince when an arena announcer at the Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo thanked sponsors including “As Incorporated.”

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But what should not be confusing about the company is that it has recorded 30 consecutive years of profitability.

The company was founded in Fort Worth in 1956 as Aztec Manufacturing to design and distribute steel, iron, metal and plastic products for the oilfield industry. Aztec was listed on the New York Stock Exchange in 1997 under the trading symbol AZZ, which became the company name in 2000.

Ferguson graduated from Texas A&M University in 1978 and took his industrial distribution and technology degree to the oil patch, where he worked for several oilfield service businesses in marketing, sales and operations. During a 25-year career at Irving-based Flowserve, he spent more than half of each year traveling overseas to reach customers and work with Flowserve’s far-flung business units. He eventually became president of the company’s Flow Solutions Group, a $3 billion global manufacturer of engineered pumps and mechanical seals.

Retirement was his next career move, but it didn’t stick. After only a few months Ferguson was recruited to become president and CEO of AZZ Inc. in 2013.

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AZZ is a global provider of specialty electrical components, tubing and highly engineered services to the power generation, electric transmission and distribution, oil and gas, petrochemical and various industrial markets. It reported $858.9 million in revenues for 2016. It helps the North American steel fabrication industry with corrosion protection with hot-dip galvanizing services.

It operates from 50 locations on four continents; six of those locations are in Fort Worth, including its headquarters. It employs about 4,200 workers worldwide, including 600 in Fort Worth.

With such a diverse line of products and services, with customers in business sectors ranging from food processing to nuclear power, and with facilities scattered across the globe, you’d think the CEO would devote himself to the balance sheet and an impossible onslaught of issues and demands for attention. Ferguson sees it differently.

“I’ve always viewed my primary task, in all that I do, as developing leaders of the highest character committed to serving the greater good.”

He has been busy instilling a values-based culture that emphasizes accountability and requires him and others in the company to support their fellow workers.

“What I see too often today is too much focus on the numbers and results, not what drives those results,” he said. The keys to achieving great results, he says, are having great people with the right direction and the right vision, and communicating with them, giving them the right tools and the right leadership.

“And that’s how you sustain companies. To me, that’s why AZZ is as successful as we are today,” he said.

Ferguson regularly takes groups of about five employees, from receptionists to welders to vice presidents, to lunch and he believes he has had lunch with just about everyone in the company.

He stresses communication in a relaxed, nonthreatening way and has gotten email feedback, for example, from a few hundred employees across the company.

Ferguson describes his company as having “two distinct operating segments – energy and galvanizing.”

AZZ Galvanizing provides metal finishing processes for corrosion protection from more than 40 plants in the United States and Canada. Hot-dip galvanizing is a metallurgical process in which molten zinc is applied to steel to prevent corrosion for up to 50 years.

“We typically serve fabricators or manufacturers that provide services to the electrical and telecommunications, bridge and highway, petrochemical, general industrial markets, and numerous original equipment manufacturers,” he says.

AZZ Energy’s specialized products and services are designed to support industrial, nuclear and electrical applications. Products include custom switchgear, electrical enclosures, medium- and high-voltage bus ducts, explosion-proof and hazardous-duty lighting, nuclear safety equipment and tubular products.

AZZ also offers repair and other services that aim to extend the life cycle for power generation, refining and industrial infrastructure.

AZZ Welding Services does technologically advanced maintenance, repair and overhaul services through automated welding, weld cladding and weld overlay technologies that extend the lifetime and maximize the value of assets throughout the energy industry. AZZ has delivered planned and emergency response services to a wide range of facilities around the world, including repairs in more than 130 nuclear power plants.

Ferguson remains a loyal Aggie, lecturing on campus and serving on A&M’s Dwight Look Engineering College Advisory Board and its Industrial Distribution Advisory Council.

He and wife, Mary-Ann, have made multimillion dollar donations to Texas A&M that support scholarships, graduate research and programming at the Department of Engineering Technology and Industrial Distribution. The scholarships are for industrial distribution majors enrolled in the university’s Global Distribution Study Abroad Program, a five-week course that includes two weeks traveling and learning in China.

“Anything we can do to help students experience other cultures and ways of doing business, particularly in areas where we’re going to export goods or establish operations, is not only beneficial but almost mandatory,” he told the Texas A&M Foundation’s Spirit magazine. “Companies of all sizes now participate in the global arena.”

The values he embraces came, in part, from his time as a student in College Station.

“As a CEO, I love hiring Aggies,” Ferguson said. “I know they are ready to work, have high ethical standards and bring a service mindset that companies need. We are passionate about anything we can do to help Texas A&M embed that philosophy in our future leaders.”