By Wally Kennedy
JOPLIN, Mo. —
It takes time to write a history of a company that would start with one man’s dream in 1944 in Joplin’s old streetcar barn, overcome formidable challenges and eventually grow to 14 plants with 1,200 employees nationwide.
The people who are familiar with the beginning of TAMKO Building Products know when and where it started, but it was all new to Jeff Rodengen, a History Channel historian who is writing a history of TAMKO in connection with its 70th anniversary in 2014.
Rodengen is getting started on his book now because he has a lot of ground to cover. On Wednesday, he began a series of 60 or so interviews with retirees, employees and company leadership whose stories are to be included in the book.
“It will be a comprehensive history that starts before the founding of this company by E.L. Craig in 1944,” Rodengen said. “It will look at the family behind this company, the growth, the innovation and adaptation of the company, and the continuity of the culture that has put TAMKO in the top tier in its industry.”
Rodengen said the story of TAMKO is a story about families and not just the founding family.
Among those interviewed Wednesday was employee George Hosp Jr., a Joplin native whose father worked for TAMKO for 41 years and whose grandfather worked for the company for 20 years. Hosp has worked 36 years for TAMKO in various positions related to the production of roofing and building products.
“If I can live three more years, we will have worked a combined 100 years at TAMKO,” Hosp said. “It’s a family business for a lot of folks.”
Ron Cook, director of communications for TAMKO, said there could be 50 families within the company in which two to three generations have been employed at a particular plant.
Hosp, 61, has worked in warehousing, sales and customer service. He is now in the quality improvement department, where he is “managing intentional culture change” within the company.
That culture change will be a key chapter in the book. In 1981, J.P. “Jay” Humphreys, president of TAMKO, was introduced to the concepts of W. Edwards Deming’s “total quality” management. Deming, who helped revolutionize industrial production in Japan after World War II, believed that improving quality would reduce expenses while increasing productivity and market share.
Humphreys was so impressed with Deming’s concept of “continual process improvement” that he implemented it throughout TAMKO. Today, the Deming methodology still serves as the foundation of all of TAMKO’s improvement efforts.
Rodengen, who has written 149 books about industry and technology, said successful companies, like TAMKO, often have certain things in common. He said his research indicates that TAMKO has succeeded, in part, because of its concern for customer relations and its respect for its employees.
Rodengen said the company has prospered because its core culture has not been influenced by “blind ambition and greed. The companies that make a lot of money quick don’t make it.”
The book will cover the 1965 fire that destroyed the company’s felt plant in Joplin, a period of union strife and other challenges. The company’s strong profit-sharing position with its employees also will be emphasized.
For Hosp, the decision to stay with TAMKO for 36 years has a lot to do with its people.
“I’m here because of the way it’s run and the people they have collected to do the job here,” he said. “It’s a great culture. For me, it’s like the culture of my church family.”
THE TAMKO ANNIVERSARY BOOK will be coming out a year from now. It will be a hard-cover, full-color book in a coffee table style. An electronic iPad book also will be created. Images will include photos, documents and other historical items. The company is asking Joplin-area residents for stories about TAMKO and its employees, and for items related to the company, including photos, newspaper articles, documents, ads, telegrams, letters, signs and marketing materials for use in the book.
IN 1944, at the age of 69, E.L. Craig began a roofing business in an old streetcar barn in Joplin. Mary Ethel Craig named the company TAMKO — using the first letters of the five states they anticipated as their sales territory: Texas, Arkansas, Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma.
SHE ASSUMED the leadership of TAMKO in 1954 because of E.L. Craig’s health, although he continued as chairman of the board until his death in 1960. The Craigs’ daughter, Ethelmae, directed TAMKO’s operations during the 1950s and has continued as the company’s chairwoman to this day. In 1960, her husband, J.P. “Jay” Humphreys, became TAMKO’s president.
DAVID CRAIG HUMPHREYS, son of Jay and Ethelmae Humphreys, assumed TAMKO’s leadership as president in 1994, the same year that TAMKO Asphalt Products Inc. changed its name to TAMKO Roofing Products Inc.
IN JUNE 2006, TAMKO Roofing Products Inc. changed its name to TAMKO Building Products Inc. to more accurately reflect the breadth of products and services the company provides.