Fort Worth, Texas - Acme Brick Company President and CEO Dennis Knautz has guided Acme Brick through a challenging decade that included the best of times and the worst of times. For his leadership during what was one of the worst housing recessions in U.S. history, Fort Worth Business has named him the publication’s Top CEO of a public company for this year.
“In summer 2006, everything dropped,” said Knautz. He watched brick orders fall by 20 percent in a single month. Instead of slashing the payroll and closing offices, Knautz took a more measured approach, viewing the downturn as an opportunity to prepare for the following spring. Surely, orders would pick up by then, he thought. “Spring came and it just got worse,” said Knautz, who idled 16 plants, including six in Texas. The company’s workforce was cut as a result. “We had to get small. It was tough,” Knautz said.
Despite idling operations at several plants, no sales offices were shut down.
“If you close a sales office, you’re leaving that market. It’s like pulling your hand out of a bucket of sand. It’s harder to get back in,” said Knautz. He credited Berkshire Hathaway’s backing for his ability to downsize less than he otherwise might have.
A resurging housing industry is making business better for Knautz and Acme these days. “We’re starting 2016 budget planning now and are looking at next year’s demand,” he said. He foresees greater demand for Acme products as builders construct new homes.
Knautz makes a point of spending as much time in the field as possible. “I travel a lot,” said Knautz, who is scheduled to spend half his working days out of town for the rest of August and all of September and October visiting Acme’s 70 sales offices spread around 15 states. “If I go to a market, it gives me a chance to understand what business conditions those markets are in. Keeping up is very important.”
Acme Brick Company, founded in 1891, is the nation’s largest brickmaker. Acme owns 26 brick plants and has 70 company-owned sales offices across 17 states, plus a nationwide network of independent distributors.