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Charles W. Wilson - Wilson Concrete Company

June 2004

Name: Charles W. Wilson

Date of Birth, Place: Red Oak, Iowa 1919

High School: Red Oak High School, Red Oak Iowa

College: Iowa State University – general engineering and civil engineering degrees 1941; and an Honorary Doctorate in Economics from Bellevue University in Omaha.

Family: Wife Norma and three children: JoAnne a homemaker; Randall worked with his dad in the business and is now retired; and Robert who works in the industry in Grand Rapids, MI.

Hobbies: Staying involved with PCI, traveling with his wife and playing tennis and golf.

First Position In Concrete Industry: Wilson Concrete Company 1941.

Present Position in Concrete Industry: Retired from Wilson Concrete Company in 2000.

Boards and committees: President of the Mo-Sai Institute 1962, President of PCI in 1969-70 , Chairman of the International Committee of PCI and Chairman PCI Plant Certification Committee in 1968-69.

Most Significant Mentor: His father who started Wilson Concrete in 1905, making the first reinforced concrete pipe in the U.S. “He guided me for many years,” says Wilson of his father.

Project of which He’s Proudest: The athletic fields and ball parks in St. Louis and Kansas City.

Most Significant Improvement To The Precast Industry: The addition of prestressing strand because it extended the use of precast concrete to compete with traditionally brick and stone projects.

Upcoming Challenges for the Industry: Product Quality. “Quality is always a challenge,” Wilson says. “It has to be a part of everything you do.”

Advice to Future Industry Icons: The one thing every industry leader needs is cost accounting skills. “It’s extremely important to know which parts make money and which parts lose money,” he says. “If you don’t you will forever be dependent on your accountant.”

More about Charles Wilson:
Charles is a lifetime resident of Red Oak, Iowa where he and his wife, Norma, raised three children. He earned Civil and General Engineering degrees from Iowa State University in June 1941 and an Honorary Doctorate of Economics from Bellevue University of Omaha, Nebraska in June 2001.

Following graduation from Iowa State he came back home to work for his father. His father and grandfather started Wilson Concrete in 1905 – 14 years before Charles’ birth – making the first reinforced concrete pipe in the U.S. and he knew, even as a youngster, he wanted to follow in their footsteps. Charles spent two years with his father, and then took the only significant time away from the company in his 60-year career, when in 1943, he joined Uncle Sam’s Army Air Force as an engineer. He attended Central Fire Control System School for the B29 Bomber Gun-sight System at Lowry Field in Denver, CO. His overseas service was in the Pacific Theatre and at the time of his discharge was a Staff Sergeant.

After returning home from service he became foreman of the Wilson Concrete plant, which at the time employed from six to a dozen people. His father retired in 1950 and he took over the reins of family owned Wilson Concrete Co. from his father, C. Franklin Wilson. It was during this time that he purchased land for a plant in Omaha, Nebraska and expanded the business into the architectural and structural precast concrete industry. “I had drive. I wanted more to do,” says Wilson of the move. He also liked the portability of precast products, noting that concrete can only be shipped within a 75-mile radius, but precast products can be shipped 150 to 500 miles. That meant he could bid on projects as far away as Chicago or St. Louis. “It allowed us to be more competitive,” he says. Over the next couple years, Wilson built a second plant in Grand Island, Nebraska, then another plant in Omaha, Nebraska. Eventually he had 11 plants in Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri, with over 700 employees. He also joined the Mo-Sai Institute, a national organization of precasters who adhered to the Mo-Sai method of producing exposed aggregate architectural panels. He eventually became President of the Mo-Sai Institute in 1962. Over the years Wilson did structural and architectural jobs all over the Midwest, winning success and admiration from his colleagues. Larry LaFollette, President of Rocky Mountain Prestress in Colorado, credits Wilson with helping him learn how to run a concrete business. “Charles Wilson created opportunities for his people to succeed,” LaFollette says, noting that he gave many of his employees opportunities to be a leader in the organization. “He made a lot of people very successful.”

Wilson credits much of his success to his commitment to quality. “Without quality you are sunk,” Wilson warns. LaFollette also admired Wilson’s adherence to excellence. “If a product wasn’t good enough he wouldn’t ship it,” LaFollette says. In one instance, he remembers Wilson smashing some faulty product with a sledgehammer to guarantee it wouldn’t get sent to a client. “He drew the line in the sand, and I’ve drawn inspiration from that ever since.”

While there is no one project Wilson considers his greatest achievement, he is especially proud of the ballparks and athletic fields built in St. Louis and Kansas City. Wilson also marvels at the many changes that have occurred over the years in the precast concrete industry. He considers the introduction of prestressing strand to be “the greatest advancement” in the business in his lifetime.

Wilson Concrete was one of the first companies to use prestressing strand in its products, which enabled the company to build precast elements that spanned 100 to 200 feet, instead of 20 feet. “It extended the potential use of precast way beyond what it had been,” he says. “We were able to compete against architectural and brick and stone companies for all kinds of projects, including bridge work.”

Charles has served on numerous Boards and Committees: President of Mo-Sai Institute in 1962. President of PCI in 1969-70. Chairman of the International Committee of PCI. Chairman of PCI Plant Certification Committee in 1968-69. He received the Medal of Honor and Fellow of the Precast/Prestressed Concrete Institute in 1994. He is Past Chairman of Iowa Manufacturers Association (now known as Iowa Association of Business and Industry). The Corporate offices of Wilson Concrete Co. have always been in Red Oak, Iowa.

In addition to Charles’ professional accomplishments he has served the Boy Scouts of America in various regional and national volunteer positions for more than 50 years. He has earned the Silver Beaver Award and the Silver Antelope Scouting Leadership Awards. Both of his sons are Eagle Scouts. Charles is Past Commander of Red Oak Masonic Commandry. He is Past Commander of the V.F.W. Post in Red Oak. He currently serves on the Executive Committee of the Board of Directors of the Herbert Hoover Library Association. He is on the Board of Directors of Bellevue University in Omaha, Nebraska.

Charles’ hobbies are hunting, fishing, snow skiing, tennis, golf and travel. He and his wife feel very privileged to have been able to travel to many countries through involvement with manufacturing and business organizations.

Wilson retired four years ago but he still stays connected to the industry, attending an occasional PCI meeting. Both Charles and Norma remain actively involved in the community and economic development of the area. Charles is President of Gold Key Homes, Inc., a developer of homes and commercial sites.

Charles’ commitment to quality and excellence continue to resonate with the many people whose lives he touched over his 60 years in the business.

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