The American Dream

Posted on Friday, January 21, 2022

By Jorge Martinez

My dad, Jesus Raul Martinez Sr. (Raul), immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico in the 1950s. At that time, you could go to the U.S. Embassy and apply for a visa, which in his case took one year to receive. He was coming to the U.S. to visit his brother and to attend Wichita Vocational Technical School for a year. Little did he realize that this was the first step in his journey to achieve the American Dream.

Upon arriving at Wichita Vocational Technical School, Raul studied English, blueprint reading, and machining. Since my grandfather had a little machine shop in Mexico, his intentions were to go back and work for his father. He followed this plan for a while, but after marrying my mom, returned to Wichita in 1956.

Dad worked for Lock Joint Pipe as a helper, welding forms for concrete pipes. Later he moved on to Wichita Steel Fabricators, where he started as a welder and worked his way up to supervisor. After ten years, he had an opportunity to join Tramco Metal Products, a startup company that manufactured conveyor systems and dust collectors for the milling industry. Dad worked for Tramco for ten years. The owner told him, “Raul, you will never make it in the business world, your language will always be a barrier!” Dad responded, “With my faith, family, and challenging work, I have to try!”

Dad decided to take a leap of faith and start his own business in his garage with one welder. His customers were in the meat packing industry and included Kansas Beef (MBPXL) Dubuque, Cudahy, and Sunflower Beef. During the day he would take dimensions and at night he worked laying out parts. Watkins Steel cut and bent material for him and he would weld up the parts in the garage. Our neighbors always knew when Raul was working because the welding would interfere with the television antennas.

During these formative years, our dad set the vision for the business that would become JR Custom Metal Products (JRCMP). Early on, it was about providing for his family and serving his customers. Dad’s perseverance would make it happen. My brother, Raul Jr., was his second employee, I was the third, and my sister Patty the fourth. All three of us were still in school, but we would come home to work. The Hispanic culture is all about family sacrifices and working together for one common goal.

Raul Jr. and Patty went to study at Kansas State University but came home on weekends. Their friends would ask if they were homesick, not realizing that they were clocking hours in the family business every Saturday and Sunday. I started working for my dad full time in 1978.

Perseverance Pays Off
JRCMP may have started out as a mom-and-pop business business and is an accomplishment we are proud of. The four of us have faced and conquered this challenge many times for forty plus years. As leaders we wear three hats—owner, family, and board of directors’ management. It is essential that each of us understand and be able to distinguish the difference between, in my parents’ garage with one welder but as a result of hard each role. We use a number of tactics and resources to ensure work and a strong family commitment, the company now has 136 employees. Today, four family members own JRCMP, each of which is significantly involved in the management of the company. The family ties extend beyond the four owners and include two in-laws, seven third generation employees, and one fourth generation employee. Seven hold degrees, two are engineers, three are involved in business administration, and one specializes in graphic design.

Communication is the key to JRCMP’s success, to protect family wealth, and preserve the family legacy for generations to come. Effective collaboration and reaching agreement can be a challenge for family members who work together in a business and is an accomplishment we are proud of. The four of us have faced and conquered this challenge many times for forty plus years.

As leaders we wear three hats—owner, family, and board of directors’ management. It is essential that each of us understand and be able to distinguish the difference between each role. We use a number of tactics and resources to ensure effective communication, set and achieve goals, and build for the future. We hold what we refer to as family council meetings and established an advisory board that we meet with quarterly. In addition, we have regular strategic planning sessions to map out JRCMP’s future as well as succession planning. In fact, we’ve invested in professional development coaches to help us prepare the third generation to lead the business. In addition to utilizing professional development coaches, as members of the Kansas Family Forum we have access to their Fambition program, in which they coach our next generation to become future leaders. They provide reading materials, regular training sessions, and professional coaches.

While it’s clear that JRCMP’s four owners are devoted to the family business, it is important, particularly for succession planning, to check in with the third and fourth generation employees from time to time and get their perspective of working for the family business. I recently asked my daughter Amy how she felt about working for a family business. She replied, “Working for a family business can bring many different dynamics and emotions. There is a sense of pride that is like no other when you are working for a business that your grandfather and parents have put so much into. Although not every day is easy and some are just downright hard, I wouldn’t change it for anything.” I posed the same question to my niece Monica, manager of customer service, and she shared, “Carrying the legacy our grandfather started is an honor.”

My nephews, Eddie and Scottie, manage our powder coat facility. They shared their feelings about adding powder coating to JRCMP’s capabilities and about working in the family business. “Our grandfather would be proud of the family working together for the growth of our company. It took time and research and a major investment to build our powder coat facility. We are glad we did; it has opened the doors to new opportunities both in manufacturing and coating for our customers.”

It is important to note that all of our employees are family, whether related by blood or not. They are our greatest asset, and we are proud to work together with them every day. Open lines of communication and feedback from all employees are crucial to the company’s success. So, I asked our operation manager, Alan, his thoughts about working for a family business. Alan explained, “Working for a family- owned company provides you the opportunity to feel like you’re a part of something more than just a business. It creates an atmosphere that allows everyone to feel like you are part of a family. The legacy of the company is felt and known by everyone which helps to create a culture where people want to stay and be a part of it.”

Committed to the Community
Responsible and successful business ownership extends beyond simply being profitable. Giving back to the community is of vital importance to JRCMP and is woven into our culture. Whether it be through volunteering your time, treasure (money), or talent, the community benefits. JRCMP and its employees contribute in a variety of capacities, from serving on a Chamber board and helping the United Way with annual campaigns, to hosting Red Cross blood drives and collecting donations for food banks like Lord’s Dinner and Catholic Charities, who serve community members of all faiths.

In addition, JRCMP established a scholarship program named after our parents Jesus Raul and Luz Martinez with the Hispanic Education Foundation. The program provides financial support to Hispanic high school students pursuing a college education. JRCMP has also been involved in other education-related projects like exhibits at Exploration Place, a children’s science museum, and the new airplanes display at the Wichita Public Library.

JR Custom Metal Products is living proof of the American Dream. Anyone in this country has the opportunity to dream the impossible dream and to achieve their highest aspirations and goals.

Jorge Martinez is vice president of sales for JR Custom Metal Products.