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Leading the third generation

Business, Management | May 1, 2016 | By:

The Chism Company’s steel frame-supported shade sails offer protection and identity to a variety of spaces such as playgrounds, restaurant patios and poolside areas.
The Chism Company’s steel frame-supported shade sails offer protection and identity to a variety of spaces such as playgrounds, restaurant patios and poolside areas.

Ryan Chism, estimator and project manager at The Chism Company Inc., San Antonio, Texas, is the third generation working in a family-owned and managed company. Founded in 1951, the company has grown from a small home improvement business to a recognized industry leader in fabric and metal shade and protective solutions. Here, Chism shares his thoughts about growing up in the business, the values of social networking and his predictions for the future of an industry that continues to evolve from one generation to the next.

How did you get involved in the company/industry?
When I was about 12 years old, my father woke me up and said, “Get out of bed, the guys need an extra hand in the shop today.” My brother, sister and I were always around [the business] as little kids. My father, Roy, and my mother, Terri, have always worked together, so from kindergarten on we came to the office after school. I spent most summers through middle school and high school as a helper in the shop and out on installations.

How long Have you worked at the company?
As an adult, I’ve worked for the company for 10 years.

What are the biggest rewards?
It’s extremely rewarding to work with people you trust. There are no internal politics—we are all on the same team—so the lack of stress is a daily reward. Additionally, it’s satisfying to see your work in place. To make something tangible and somewhat permanent is a special thing today.

What are the biggest challenges you face?
The movement of urban renewal has been a great thing for our business in recent years. But as architecture is turning back toward the city centers, we find ourselves working with many more constraints than we did in the past. The logistics of getting materials into a dense area and working safely have been a learning curve. It has challenged us to make our products or our scope of work more modular so that we can work at a reasonable pace and stay competitive on costs.

What do you anticipate for your industry in the next five years? Ten?
I think many young people were done a disservice over the last 20 years by being steered away from skilled trades as a career option. Many of us are still reeling from the one-two punch of a dramatic drop-off in people retiring and not having enough trained young people to fill their positions. There are many young people stuck in the service industry who are underemployed and can’t get out. Because of that social factor, I think we’ll see steady growth over the next five years, but slower and smaller than we would prefer. There has been a successful effort to re-establish skilled trade education nationally. In the next ten years I think this correction will bear fruit, and we will see a boom from younger millennials who have more skills and better earning power outside the college track.

Why did you join IFAI? Which services/benefits do you use the most?
I participate in IFAI so that I can learn about the best practices of others in our industry. The benefit I use most is the social network that comes from participation. It is great to be able to sit down and speak with a supplier or a fellow fabricator and ask, “How are you solving this problem?” It is also a great benefit to understand how others operate their businesses.

What are your hobbies outside of work?
We spend a lot of time in the outdoors: hunting, fishing, water sports. My kids are at the age where they are really starting to enjoy those things. I also love live music. The Texas music scene is pretty vibrant, so whenever I can, I like to get to an outdoor concert with my wife or friends.

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