Beating the Odds

In our world, it seems we often seek wisdom from people as they reach particular milestones in life.  When a person turns 100 years old or when a couple celebrates 50 or 60 years of marriage, we gather round them and ask questions such as “how have you managed to live so long?” or “how did you beat the odds and stay together so long?”  We long for an answer that reveals a secret we can all adopt; we often receive an answer that reveals the simplicity of purpose.

As I sat down to talk with Dave McArthur, fourth generation owner of McArthur Sheet Metal, I was seeking a similar secret.   How did this family-owned business reach its 85th year of operation and employment of the 5th generation of McArthurs?   Statistics tell us only 12% of family-owned businesses will reach their third generation and few have any succession plan – McArthur Sheet Metal is one of the few who have it figured out.  It’s a story of perseverance, communication and passion.

Dave proudly shows me a fragile document detailing the partnership agreement between Lloyd McArthur and EM Dyke entered into on March 1, 1930, for a specified duration of 5 years, which formed the company, Sioux City Sheet Metal.  In 1935, with the country still in the midst of the Great Depression, Lloyd and his nephew, Harold McArthur, bought the business for $1,000. Located on the 2nd floor of 418 Court Street, above a laundromat, the business was strong and viable.  

In 1952 a fire in the laundromat resulted in the building being deemed unsafe, and McArthur Sheet Metal moved to 401 Dakota Avenue.  Located just at the foot of the Combination Bridge spanning the Missouri River, the building and business survived the great flood of 1952.  

Less than a quarter century later, the business would once again be forced to move when the land they occupied was purchased for the construction of the Veterans Memorial Bridge in 1978.  Their move to 501 W 9th in South Sioux City continues to be the current location.  

By this time, Harold’s son, Terry McArthur, had become an employee of the business – beginning the first generational transition.  When Harold died in 1983 the business was 51% owned by Terry. Terry would eventually buy out his brothers. Terry has two sons, Dave and Bill, who grew up around the business.  Dave remembers he and his brother playing on the dirt piles and writing their names in the concrete as the business was moved and buildings went up. “We played hide and seek in the shop a lot as kids.”   Dave recalls, “This is where I grew up. “ By 1986, Dave had begun working part-time in the shop on weekends and in the summer, learning first-hand what the business entailed by working alongside his father and others.  

In 1987, he made his way to Arizona to study mechanical drafting, was drawn home after graduation, and returned to full-time employment at the family business in 1992.   He entered into a 4-year apprenticeship learning every aspect of the business and around 1997 became the shop foreman; then vice-president. In 2015, he purchased 100% of the business from his father, becoming one of those “beating the odds” and transitioning a family-owned business past its third generation.  

Looking to the future, in 2016 Dave took the leap of expanding the business and evolving into current technology to keep the custom sheet metal business at the cutting edge.  In the four years since, that investment has resulted in a rapidly growing business. As demand for his products rose, he has nearly tripled the number of employees to 14 today. 

The family-owned business engages in all kinds of sheet metal fabrication, catering to food processing and construction industries, while also proudly producing custom fabricated parts for individual consumers.  The main-stays of the business are on-time delivery of high-quality products that focus on the customer needs. “One of the things I love about the business is being around people who have sound mechanical minds,”  Dave says, “It is easier for me to communicate what people want because I started in this business so young. I’ve learned I just have to keep them talking about their vision until I get enough detail to sketch out what I think they want.  It is so rewarding to see eyes light up and hear, ‘That’s exactly what I was thinking!’”

The shift to the leadership role of the company means he doesn’t get to engage in the hands-on design and production work as much as he used to; instead he spends time planning out workflow, interacting with customers and keeping an eye out for potential employees who have fabrication background, experience with Solid Works software and the desire to work hard in a family-owned business.  

Dave describes growing up in the business as never having had a “real boss”.  He said he was never yelled at and was always treated like the other employees.  He strives to be the same strong communicator his father was. In speaking with Will and Tonya, two of the 14 employees of the business, he seems to be doing a fine job.  “There’s nothing like working for a family-owned business,” Tonya says, “we become part of the family, there’s a sense of understanding that you wouldn’t get at other places.”  Will agrees adding, “You get to have some input into the company.”  

And as Dave begins to look towards retiring in the next decade, he plans to turn the business over to the 5th generation of McArthur’s.   His son, Drake, will be graduating from University of South Dakota in the spring.  Drake, like his dad, has been working part-time at the business during the summers and on breaks from school.  It seems the passion for the business is in his blood as well.

McArthur Sheet Metal marches into its 85th year of operations as a strong, growing business serving the sheet metal fabrication needs of Siouxland and beyond.  In answer to that question – how has your business managed to transition through generations? The answer is simple “it’s just in my blood,” says Dave McArthur, “I can’t imagine doing anything else.”

Sidebar Facts:

1930 – McArthur-Dyke partnership formed

1935 – Lloyd & Harold McArthur buy-out Dyke 

1952 – McArthur Sheet Metal Works moves to 401 Dakota Avenue

1952 – The Great Flood of 1952 means equipment is suspended from the ceiling and the premises is sandbagged to protect as much as possible.

1973 – Terry McArthur becomes a third-generation employee of the business

1978 – The business moves to 501 W 9th Street to make way for the construction of Veterans Memorial Bridge

1983 – Founding patriarch Harold McArthur passes away

1986 – Dave McArthur begins working part-time at the business

1992 – Dave becomes third-generation full time employee of the family business

2015 – Dave purchases 100% of the company, successfully transitioning to 4th generation ownership.

2016 – Business expands with construction of additional laser and CNC press brake facility

2020 – McArthur Sheet Metal celebrates 85th anniversary

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