By Jim Ross - email
When Dan Pochick's dream of running a business came true, it wasn't exactly easy.
He was asked to rebuild a company from what was left of one that was, for all intents and purposes, in liquidation.
Pochick retired from Rish Equipment in 2011. He's officially its president emeritus. He remains on its board of directors, and he also acts as a consultant to the company. Two of his sons work there.
It was a trek from then to now.
Pochick graduated from Virginia Tech in 1966. Soon after, he got a job at Rish Equipment, at the time a subsidiary of Bluefield Supply Co., a distributor of construction and mining equipment for International Harvester in Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia.
Around 1986, International Harvester got into trouble and was selling off parts of its business. The coal business was changing at that time, so International exited that market. Without a supplier, Bluefield Supply went into what amounted to liquidation.
Jack Davis owned 30 percent of the stock in Bluefield Supply, and he traded his stock for Bluefield Supply's assets that were in Rish.
"I had worked my way up the corporate organization, in charge of credit, collections, finance, etc. I was basically prepared to leave. He called me and asked if I was interested in staying and running the company for him," Pochick recalled.
"We were leveraged 9 or 10 to 1. We didn't even have an account to sell."
So, with inventory left over from a previous owner that was getting out of the business, no accounts and very little cash, Pochick and others went to work. Rish sold Komatsu equipment and acquired markets in various areas to where it had about a dozen stores. He spent time in Clarksburg, Charleston and Bluefield. Rish went from nothing to about $200 million in sales.
"Jack Davis gave me the opportunity to run a business, which was a dream come true for me. You have to have good people around you, and a supportive family, and I was fortunate."
Pochick said building the company took a lot of time, travel and trips to Japan. And that's where his wife, Nancye, helped.
"You had to have a partner who was supportive and looked after the home life, and she did. She was invaluable to me."
Along with good employees, Pochick said, Rish benefited from the cooperation of manufacturers and a good customer base with faith the company would support the product it sold. The construction industry was a good customer, but the mining industry was the core of Rish's business, Pochick said.
Rish sells a lot of equipment to the mountaintop mining industry, and that equipment runs 24/7. Rish has to make sure it can provide the products, parts and service its customers need, Pochick said.
"The key to it was being able to build customer relationships so if you said you were going to do something that you followed through with that promise and you didn't let them down. We were able to do that," Pochick said.
One of Pochick's sons works for Rish in the department that monitors the equipment as it works on the mine site. Because modern equipment has sensors that transmit data to remote locations, someone can sit in a Rish office in West Virginia and monitor functions such as oil pressure in an earthmover on a mine site and notify the owner that a problem is developing that needs to be looked at, Pochick said.
One obstacle that Rish had to overcome was the fact it sold Japanese-made Komatsu equipment at a time when one of its major competitors sold American-made Caterpillar equipment. The late 1980s and early 1990s were a time when the "buy American" sentiment was particularly strong.
"Obviously there was some resistance to buying a Japanese product," Pochick said. "There were some things we had to overcome. We had to convince the customer that if we bought the product that it was a quality product and we would have parts for it and service it."
Komatsu had an excellent reputation in Japan. That helped, as did the favorable yen-dollar exchange rate at the time, giving Komatsu a price advantage, Pochick said. The exchange rate then was about 248 yen to $1, he said. Last month, the exchange rate was around 95 to $1.
Today Rish has 12 locations in three states: Bluefield, Beckley, Bridgeport, Logan and St. Albans in West Virginia; Frostburg, Md.; and Chesapeake, Chester, Coeburn, Salem, Staunton and Bealeton, Va. The company sells new Komatsu, Lee Boy, NPK and Wacker Neuson equipment, and it also sells used mining and construction equipment.
Steve Hamilton is vice president, chief financial officer, secretary and treasurer of Rish Equipment. He said he joined the company with Pochick when it restarted in 1986. Pochick, he said, "did a great job" getting the company running again, considering the obstacles it faced.
"I think very highly of Dan. We worked together for 26 years with the new Rish, as we call it. We had some down times and we had some trying times, but we ended up on the right side. I attribute that to Dan's leadership," he said.
Along with running Rish all those years, Pochick has also been active with Bluefield Regional Hospital, the Bluefield Chamber of Commerce, Wheeling Jesuit College, the Flat Top Insurance Company and the West Virginia Coal Association, among other organizations.
Pochick said he and Nancye have seven children: Sheryl Hobert of Fairmont, a comptroller for a software company; Karen Smith of Bluefield; Lisa McGuffey of Huntington, in sales for a media company; Tom Pochick of Culloden, who works for Rish; Scott Pochick of Morgantown, who works for a software company; Laura Hayes of Charleston, a partner in a law firm; and Christopher Pochick of Bluefield, who also works for Rish.
Pochick said he has eight grandchildren, including one at Fairmont State University and one at Marshall University. He said he doesn't know how many of his grandchildren will follow him at Rish.
And after all that, Pochick has a simple way of describing himself:
"He's just an ordinary guy."