Rick James describes himself as a “kid with no money.” So in college he entered the Auburn Foundry co-op program to help pay for his tuition. This eventually led to his position as CEO and Chairman of Metal Technologies, headquartered in his hometown of Auburn.
After college graduation in 1977, James was offered a job with Auburn Foundry. His ability to form partnerships with customers and identify opportunities soon put him in charge of sales for the Auburn facility, one of the most respected iron foundries in America.
His business acumen led to a 1989 promotion to General Manager. In 1991 he was promoted to President, a position he held until 1997.
Then, in 1997 he left Auburn Foundry to form Metal Technologies with partner Keith Turner. With financing from Briggs and Stratton, the new company purchased an existing foundry in Wisconsin. A year later, the growing company invested in its Milwaukee Gray Iron facility.
Growth continued with the acquisition of Dock Foundry Company in 1999 and later with the purchase of two ductile iron facilities. Briggs and Stratton also placed 100% of its casting business with the company under a long term agreement.
James credits his success to keeping the sellers of acquired companies involved after the purchase. He also believes in buying mature businesses with strong operating bases and good management teams.
Metal Technologies today has annual sales exceeding $350 million and more than 700 employees, including 300 based in Auburn. James believes people are his greatest asset and that with the right people in place, the company will continue to grow and prosper.
“All I have done is ask people to buy into a vision of being the best at what they do. From there, our team members have exceeded all of my expectations,” James says.
Because “one person cannot do or even know what all needs to be done to serve the customer,” James has empowered his people “to make decisions. They are competent, confident and having fun. It is a joy to work with them.”
He also emphasizes partnerships with his customers. The initial Briggs and Stratton partnership, now entering its 16th year, has served as a model for other customer relationships.
“These partnerships with customers take mutual trust and respect, and are developed with significant effort and time,” James says. “The result is long-lasting rewards.”
In 2000, Metal Technologies broke ground for its Corporate Center in Auburn, fulfilling James’ vision of creating a corporate center focused on supporting a global customer base and its foundry operations. He settled his company in his hometown because he and his wife, Vicki, “place a high value on close family relationships and the local workforce.”
In 2005, the company purchased the former Auburn Foundry Plant 2 operation. It now produces more than 100,000 tons of gray and ductile iron castings and is considered a world class industry benchmark.
“Rick is that rare combination of visionary, entrepreneur, manager and mentor who has stayed steps ahead of the competition, allowing Metal Technologies to succeed in a very difficult industry and to prosper through the recent recession,” says Jeff Turner, Senior Vice President and General Council, Metal Technologies. “Whether it was convincing people to follow him in his vision to build a new foundry company, navigating through a drastic consolidation of the industry, or dealing with the recession, Rick has always been the strong, calming and confident force that Metal Technologies’ employees, suppliers and customers rely on for wisdom and guidance.”
Today, Matt Fetter manages the day-to-day business operations of Metal Technologies, allowing James to improve the quality of life in his hometown and to establish the James Foundation.
He currently serves as Chairman of the Board of Trustees of his alma mater, Trine University, and as a member of the Board of Directors of the American Foundry Society, as well as many other civic and non-profit activities.