By Ann Ali, Political Reporter - email
WELLSBURG — Joe Eddy may not be the typical president and chief executive officer, but he is quite a team captain, and he runs Eagle Manufacturing in Wellsburg accordingly.
"My background is in petroleum engineering, so I never had to be tied to an office every day," Eddy said. "One of the ways I make sure I get out on the floor and talk to the employees is I keep a birthday list, and it gives me the opportunity to know that I have interaction with every single person, usually more often, but at the very least, once a year."
And Eddy's staff of 170 reciprocates: Each year on his birthday, one of the long-time employees in the factory bakes him a cake.
"I have an open door policy, and it's a very busy door," Eddy said. "I give them the first opportunity to take my time."
It's just one of the many ways Eddy ties the company's values together to impact its output, which currently includes more than 700 industrial safety and hazardous materials handling products, including safety containers, spill containment pallets, traffic safety products and cigarette disposal receptacles.
Eddy grew up on a large cattle farm in Friendly and graduated from Sistersville High School in 1979, where he ran track and played basketball and football. Eddy received four scholarships to attend Marietta College, where he continued to be team-oriented: He played football and rugby while earning a bachelor of science degree in petroleum engineering.
Eddy then traveled throughout the country as an engineer in oil and gas fields through Texas, California, Wyoming, Louisiana and Kentucky for Amoco, Gulf Oil and Spectrum Resources as well as several other companies.
Eddy returned to the Mountain State in 1995 and started an energy and environmental consulting firm, but he said he quickly learned consulting is a lonely business.
He met Jim Paull, whose family founded Eagle Manufacturing Co. 118 years ago, through a mutual friend and joined Paull in a tennis match. Eddy didn't know it at the time, but that tennis game would change his life.
Joining the Eagle Family
Eagle Manufacturing once created gas and oil lamps, globes for gas street lights along with opal discs and metal lids for Mason jars.
Eddy said the company has always been one with a culture of transition, which is why it remains successful today.
When the Northern Panhandle's supply of shallow natural gas was gone, Eagle sold its glass business to Hazell Atlas Glass. The company moved on to lubricating oilers, becoming the world's largest manufacturer of them by 1921, making the oiler found on every Model T Ford and even the Tin Man's oiler for "The Wizard of Oz."
Jim Paull asked Eddy to join Eagle in 1996 as marketing manager, and Eddy said he was impressed with the company's character, craftsmanship and mix of both traditional and modern technologies.
In the winter of 2009, Eddy took over as president and CEO, after having become an expert on the company in his 14 years as marketing manager. Eddy is the first non-family president and CEO, but he is quick to repeat the tenets on which the company was built: integrity, innovation and customer service.
"Taking over as president and CEO when I did, it actually turned out to be a pretty opportune time to make some changes," he said, noting that the recession hit Eagle's sales by the end of 2008, dropping them by 40 percent.
"By focusing on our priorities, we made productivity gains, performance gains, and by reorganizing our work force, we put ourselves in a position to weather the storm," Eddy said. "I have weekly meetings with our operations team, and I believe if it can be measured, it can be managed."
Moving Eagle Forward
Eddy said 99.9 percent of everything Eagle sells is made in the factory, and he meets with each department in the plant for two days in the fall and two days in the spring to update each of the 170 employees on operations and projects.
"We eagerly and aggressively embrace change," he said. "It's an important part of our history and our future."
Eddy said upgrading operations at Eagle has included automated, robotic manufacturing systems that expand work rather than displace it.
"When we automate, we don't get rid of jobs," he said. "We have some of the best craftsmen in the industry."
Several generations of employees are represented on the company floors.
"A lot of people's parents and grandparents worked here," said Eagle Corporate Secretary Ingrid Loy, whose father worked at Eagle. "Everyone here has Eagle in their heart."
Eddy is chairman of the board of the West Virginia Manufacturers Association and said he is proud to be working with the state school systems to implement manufacturing curriculum that gets middle and high school students on career tracks for manufacturing and chemical operations.
Eddy also is a member of Just Beneath the Surface and said he has made several presentations as a sort of ambassador of information about natural gas well drilling in the Upper Ohio Valley.
Eddy also serves on the Foundation Board at West Virginia Northern Community College, on the Grant Review Board of The Education Alliance and the Advisory Board at the McDonough Leadership School at Marietta College.
And he said his team stays just as active as he is.
"We have a lot of baseball, football and basketball coaches, eight volunteer firefighters at three different stations and three paramedics," he said.
"We're a United Way pacesetter company and a partner in education with Wellsburg Middle School."
Eddy and his wife, Debbie, have been married 24 years and live in Wheeling, where they are members of Christ United Methodist Church.