Keith Farmer, Vice President of Farmers Copper, joins us to talk about his multi-generational family business.
Please excuse any typos in this hasty transcript.
Matt Register: Hey guys, welcome back to Texas Business Radio. We’re talking manufacturing. And we’re talking family businesses today. And that’s something that I find fascinating because there’s a lot of businesses that attempt to transition to another generation. Very few of them get it right. Most of them end up failing as a result of one of those transitions. Very, not very often is the second generation the people you would actually hire to come in and do those kinds of jobs. Well guess what? We have some family businesses now that are on the way to third generation, on the way to a fourth generation. Very interesting. They’re doing something right. We’re going to pick their brain and try to figure out exactly what that is. I’m your host Matt Register. Jay Curry had to step out. In the co-host chair is George Walden, my business partner. What’s going on George?
George Walden: Well, as an investment banker, you hear us talking about succession planning all time. Transferring power one way or the other. Whether somebody buys the company or, or you’re transferring it to somebody within your company, an employee or a family member. We see often times that family members transitioning don’t always go well because there is usually, usually multiple successors that are available and not everybody is going to be treated equally. This is a family business that seems to have figured out how to do it right. I’m very excited to be talking to the Farmers.
Matt Register: Yeah, no doubt. So who we have here, Farmers Copper. They are down in Galveston Texas or down in close to the port. Texas City. They also have an office in San Antonio. So Keith Farmer is the Vice President. Keith welcome to the show.
Keith Farmer: Thank you.
Matt Register: So tell us a little bit about Farmers Copper. What do you do? Who do you do it to?
Keith Farmer: Well, Farmers Copper, we’re a metal distributor. We’ve been around almost 100 years. And we sell to… we sell to manufacturing. We sell it to industry and we’re selling raw materials; copper, brass, bronze, copper nickel, stainless steel, aluminum, different metals.
Matt Register: So, if I’m a machine shop and I need some copper or some copper alloy, you’re the guy I call that can source that material and get it here. So, you have it on the ground ready to go and you can give it to me quickly. Right?
Keith Farmer: We do. We pride ourselves on quality products and having it readily available for our customers. And we do cutting and processing, you know, for, for customers to what their needs are.
Matt Register: Nope, makes, makes a whole lot of sense, right? And there’s a lot of metal distributors around but there’s very few that actually do copper. Copper is something a little weird, you found a niche in it and do that very well, been doing a long time. Right?
Keith Farmer: That’s right. Since since 1920.
Matt Register: Wonderful. So talk to me a little bit about the history of your company, because you are the third generation of your family in this business. Talk to me a little bit about the founding and how this got started.
Keith Farmer: Well, my grandfather Leslie Farmer came from England in 19… well early, before 1920. He was a coppersmith in England and he came for, for work over here.
Matt Register: Sure.
Keith Farmer: And soon after that he brought his, his brother. And he worked in, in shipyards as a coppersmith back in those days. There’s a lot of copper pipe work in ships. So, he eventually made his way to Galveston, Texas and started the business in 1920.
Matt Register: Well and it’s been going since then and growing. Talk to me a little bit about the transition because, you know, from, from your father who was second generation in the business. You probably weren’t around for the first transition, right? From your grandfather to your father but you certainly were around for the transition from your father to your generation. Now, your generation being, what, three brothers.
Keith Farmer: There’s four brothers.
Matt Register: Four brothers.
Keith Farmer: Yeah. What’s interesting is my grandfather lived till he’s 95 and he came to work every day till that age. So he was always around. So I was aware of kind of how, how things transferred in those days.
Matt Register: Sure.
Keith Farmer: And so, you know, at some point each brother kind of fell into the different interest in the business. So, you know, whether it’s purchasing side or a sales side or I was, I was in the early years, I was involved with water jet cutting. We were one of the first metal distributors to bring in water jets in-house and so we can cut customers, cut material to customers requirements.
Matt Register: No, well, it make sense. So you guys have distribute, divided roles based on your own interests. Have you found that you had to put a brother in a role or they kind of gravitated normally to what they had an interest in.
Keith Farmer: I think everyone gravitated to where our interest where. One brother is more on the IT side. So, we’ve always had a place for everyone.
Matt Register: Well, you now have y’alls kids that are starting to become involved in business. Talk to me about that, because this is generation number four now. Right?
Keith Farmer: That’s right. And… so they, they, you know, out of college they pretty much started right at the bottom and did different roles. And so they’ve done everything from Q.C…. and now all three of the kids in the business are in sales. So they’re on the sales desk.
Matt Register: Sure. Learning the business getting ready to… Now at what point do you think you guys will be ready to start a transference of leadership roles to the next generation?
Keith Farmer: Well, I think that’s a good question. I think we’re, we’re not there yet. We’re all very involved in the business and you know most of our family has you know worked, worked forever and a almost worked till the day they die, kind of situation. So, you know, I think at some point, as the younger group takes more responsibility, there will be a transition down the road.
George Walden: If we go back in time a little bit. Could you talk about the first transition? When Leslie decided to start turning reins over. Did he run it till he basically died or did it…or was there a transition?
Keith Farmer: No, there was, there was a point where he’s step back and you know, he did things that he wanted to do. You know loved to fish and travel and those type of things.
George Walden: And how did you formalize that?
Keith Farmer: Well, you know, I was pretty young at those days but I know that Les Farmer Junior and my dad took on a role. And we have another side of the business that does fabrication and welding and stuff. So there’s another group of Farmer managers that, that run that side of the business.
Matt Register: Yeah, well wonderful. Keith Farmer is the vice president of Farmers Copper, a institution here in Texas. I want to thank you very much for joining us.
Keith Farmer: Thank you very much.
Matt Register: And tell your brother Dicky, hi for me. Were, we’re talking family businesses today on Texas Business Radio. We got a… some very interesting case studies, some very remarkable companies that are on here. That have managed to survive and thrive through multiple generations and sometimes a lot of generations. Right? Which is something that’s very, very hard to do. So guys, go ahead and get your questions in a 844-814-8144, 24-Hour call in line. We’re going to go to quick break. We’ll be back right after this. Don’t go anywhere.
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In addition to hosting "Texas Business Radio," Matt is an investment banker and serial entrepreneur from Montgomery, Texas. He is the owner of RREA Media and Register Real Estate Advisors and a Managing Director and Principal at Corporate Finance Associates. He has a BS from the United States Military Academy at West Point and an MBA from Rice University in Houston. You can read more about Matt HERE.