Ed Kirby, President of Kirby-Smith Machinery
Legacy donors have helped turn the AGC of Texas Scholarship Fund into a powerhouse as it approaches its 24th anniversary celebration this fall.
The Scholarship Gala earned exclusive responsibility in 2011 for funding a scholarship program that—through the indefatigable motivation of AGC members—has sent hundreds of men and women to college. Each year’s final tally tops the year preceding it—a record $870,000 raised last fall (2017) financed $10,000-a-year scholarships for 27 students.
Since its founding, support for the event comes mainly from companies whose membership and record of support go back decades—Williams Brothers, Hunter Industries, JD Abrams, AR Daniel Construction, HOLT Cat, Mustang Cat, and Warren Cat.
Other longtime associate members have also supported the event since its inception—including McCourt & Sons, who donates a trip to Ireland to the live auction every year, and Ritchie Brothers Auctioneers, who donates a Canadian fishing trip and their auctioneer services.
Add to this group Kirby-Smith Machinery, a relatively recent (2009) transplant into the Lone Star State. Nearly a decade ago, Kirby-Smith Machinery made a major expansion into north and west Texas with the acquisition of the former Komatsu dealership. President Ed Kirby believed the Lone Star state’s business-friendly environment, diverse construction opportunities and large highway budget were attractive to his Oklahoma Citybased company. Kirby-Smith Machinery now operates six branches in Texas that include Dallas, Fort Worth, Abilene, Midland-Odessa, Lubbock and Amarillo, with plans to expand further in the coming years.
Kirby-Smith Machinery actively seeks new technicians and pairs new hires with veteran service personnel in an on-the-job training program. “Mentors and training are effective in teaching technicians how to be more efficient in diagnosing and fixing equipment,” said President Ed Kirby.
“Joining AGC of Texas was a priority when we expanded in the state,” remembered Kirby. “It’s a close-knit group of individuals and companies that are active in promoting the construction industry. Many of our customers are involved with AGC and other institutions. They support us, and we think it’s important to support them. The AGC of Texas members are part of our lifeblood and success in the state. Participating in its auctions and other fundraising efforts for scholarships is an honor and helps the future of our industry.”
The concept of “giving back” provided further incentive to the company, who has facilitated other educational programs to rejuvenate the industry. Supporting the Scholarship Gala provides a similar investment in industry education.
Like other equipment distributors, Kirby-Smith Machinery faces a constant challenge to find new service technicians. During recent years, the company took proactive steps to address the situation, including creating recruiting/ mentoring programs and partnering with technical schools such as Texas State Technical College in Waco (TSTC) and Oklahoma State University Institute of Technology (OSUIT). Kirby-Smith Machinery has 86 technicians covering its Texas operations and 162 company-wide. More than a quarter of all Kirby-Smith Machinery technicians graduated from either TSTC or OSUIT.
Bob Lanham of Williams Brothers Construction shifts from “low bid” to “high bid” mentality at the 2013 Gala.
2.5 Carat diamond earrings donated by Kirby-Smith Machinery in 2011. The earrings, valued at $4,900, were won by AR Daniel Construction with a high bid of $7,250.
“The only way we are going to meet the labor demands in the industry’s current state is through continuous recruitment and training,” Kirby emphasized, noting that Kirby-Smith also actively recruits military veterans.
In many cases, students who commit to work for Kirby- Smith receive financial assistance and a basic set of tools upon graduation. Within the past year, Kirby-Smith has hired more than 40 graduates for positions company wide, with approximately half landing in Texas. Kirby-Smith places the new hires in a branch shop where they begin the company’s on-the-job training program. They are assigned mentors, who provide both assistance and guidance.
“Kirby-Smith promotes lifelong careers,” said Kirby. “We use a deliberate selection process to choose from the graduating classes those to whom we make a job offer. Maturity is a factor – not by age, but by a display of knowing what they want – as well as who shows commitment and those we believe will be a good longterm fit for our shop culture. In turn, we provide a living wage with full company benefits, and their pay increases with their skill level.”
Both new hires and seasoned technicians receive ongoing education both from Kirby-Smith Machinery corporate trainers and the manufacturers it represents. “Mentors and training are effective in teaching technicians how to be more efficient in diagnosing and fixing equipment,” explained Kirby. “The technicians’ knowledge increases constantly, as well as their practical skill sets. Kirby-Smith and our customers both benefit from educated, welltrained service technicians.
Auctioneer Alan McVicker (Ritchie Brothers Auctioneers) opens the bidding at the 2016 Scholarship Gala as Seth Schulgen, Williams Brothers, looks on.
2014 was the “Emerald Anniversary” of the Scholarship Program, which prompted Kirby-Smith to donate something worthy of the milestone: a diamond and emerald pendant necklace, valued at $7,400. The pendant was won by JD Abrams for $15,500.
“Today’s equipment is much more sophisticated than it was when I first got into the industry almost 50 years ago,” he added. “Changes are happening at a rapid pace now, so continual education is essential to ensure all our techs’ skills and knowledge are up-to-date. We provide training for other employees as well, including our sales and parts personnel.”
Kirby has always believed in giving back, and that’s why he supports organizations such as the AGC of Texas and its scholarship program, which provides scholarships to students committed to the construction industry.
As an added plus, he’s thoroughly enjoying himself.
“I’m having fun again,” Kirby stated. “Gaining a foothold in Texas with the right people in place, a great business environment as well as the size and potential of the markets is exciting.
“We anticipate that within the next year or two the company will have more than 300 employees in Texas,” said Kirby, noting that Kirby-Smith Machinery also has two locations in its home state, as well as one each in Kansas and Missouri. “That’s up from approximately 60 in 2009, and around 200 employees today.”
Lori Walterscheid admires her new jewelry after husband Doug Walterscheid (J. Lee Milligan) offered the $21,000 high bid for the Blue Topaz diamond necklace and earrings, donated by Kirby-Smith Machinery.
The increase is commensurate with the company’s live auction donations, which began with a 2.5 carat diamond earrings in 2011, valued at $4,900. It resulted in a high bid of $7,250. Each year their donated item has increased in value--as well as its bidding power. In 2017, Kirby- Smith donated a Master’s Package valued at $20,000, which included badges and lodging in Augusta during the Master’s Golf Tournament. The package was won by Tracy Helmcamp-Schieffer for $36,000.
In total, Kirby-Smith has donated roughly $65,000 in auction items, resulting in over $133,000 in proceeds to the scholarship fund.
While the worker shortage is already a serious issue in Texas, the shortage will predictably intensify as Propositions 1 and 7 increase highway funding by as much as $70 billion throughout the next 15 years. And while the “solution” to the skilled labor shortage will include numerous initiatives spanning several demographics, the AGC of Texas Scholarship Program is one of the oldest and most successful means to invest in the future of the industry.
The next Scholarship Gala will be held September 6, 2018 at the Hyatt Hotel in Austin. We hope to see you there.