American Cast Iron Pipe Company
Some will struggle with their attempt to pronounce the name (Ah-SIP-Co). Others may admit that they’ve never even heard of this organization. However, all of us have benefited from the products and services provided by the largest individual iron pipe casting plant in the world, nestled among the Appalachian foothills of Birmingham, Alabama.
ACIPCO produces 1,500 tons of products annually, including ductile iron castings, steel pipes and tubes, fittings, fire hydrants and valves for the waterworks industry as well as electric-resistance steel pipe for oil and natural gas pipelines. Their diversified product line also includes spiral-welded steel pipe in diameters up to 144 inches (Can you imagine walking through a 12-foot pipe?), fire pumps, centrifugally cast steel tubes, static castings and fabricated assemblies.
It may not sound exciting to the average person but try to imagine getting through a typical day of your life if we had no way to transport natural gas, oil or water.
Boasting seven production facilities across the nation and in Brazil, ACIPCO’s Birmingham headquarters has grown into the largest individual iron pipe casting plant in the world. It’s located on a 2,100 acre site that runs the length of 52 football fields and has nearly 60 acres under roof. It has to be seen to be believed!
I’ve had the rare opportunity to visit this facility to provide two keynote presentations to a very enthused, interactive staff of seasoned professionals. Prior to the presentations, I received a guided tour … conducted, I might add, by two very enthusiastic and obviously proud employees who knew the 100+ year history of every inch of the compound. I broke bread with staff members in the company cafeteria and found it intriguing to observe white-collar and blue-collar colleagues sharing conversation, laughter, camaraderie and nourishment as though they were home with their family. In fact, the majority of the employees I met considered ACIPCO to be their “home” and their fellow employees as “family.”
Culture, tradition, environment … call it what you will. It’s rare. It’s refreshing. It’s difficult to understand in this day and age of cynicism, unrest and distrust. However, knowing the history of this unique organization not only restores your faith in mankind but explains why you feel you’re entering Alice’s Wonderland as you pass through the front gate.
Consider the following:
- They’ve located their headquarters in the city nicknamed “The Pittsburgh of the South” because Birmingham’s major industries are centered around iron and steel production.
- ACIPCO was founded in 1905 and has long been recognized as an innovative manufacturer.
- Fortune magazine has recognized ACIPCO as one of “The 100 Best Companies to Work For” the past eight consecutive years.
- Temperatures in a pipe casting shop can reach 130 degrees. ACIPCO has installed individual air conditioners for its employees in parts of its Birmingham plant.
- ACIPCO is renowned for offering its employees an “outstanding” pension plan, on-site training programs, tuition reimbursement, and a state-of-the-art wellness center for employees, their families, and retirees.
- Workers at ACIPCO have one very good reason to stay. Collectively they own the plant and share in its profits — even after they retire. Founder John Eagan was a firm believer in running a business based upon the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Upon his death, Eagan created a trust that made employees beneficiaries. Last year, employees enjoyed bonuses of more than $29 million. Eagan’s philosophy and legacy have reigned for 102 years and continue to be the cornerstone for the company’s prosperity. As this organization celebrates 102 years of success, it is quite evident that the more than 3,000 employees not only believe but support and practice this philosophy.
- One of ACIPCO’s most unique characteristics is their on-site health care facility, which provides primary care to 10,000 people — not only their employees but also all retirees. Having personally toured the facility, I can attest to the fact that it rivals anything you’ll find in any major city in the country. I also found it very interesting that they actually reward their employees for maintaining good health in areas such as proper weight, body fat percentage, blood pressure, cholesterol, etc.
- ACIPCO is proud to boast the title of producing the first 16-foot-length pipe in the world as well as being the first to provide cement lining of water pipe and pioneering the development of centrifugal pipe casting.
- Add to that these other perks: wages that are 10 percent higher than the industry average; the employee suggestion system, which pays workers for good tips that result in increased efficiency of operations; and a continuing education program.
- The company has also implemented a Threat Response Team to prevent the workplace violence that threatens many industries.
- This summer the company is spending $70 million to add 61,000 square feet of space to house a state-of-the-art, electrically fired, pollution-friendly furnace that will be one of only two in the world. This venture could create 35 more jobs in the area.
- They created an employee-at-large position, which was added to represent employees to management, and a continuous improvement program made up of current and retired employees.
- A few years ago, ACIPCO established Eagan College, an expanded employee training program and the Eagan Center for Wellness with an employee participation rate that exceeds 80 percent.
- While the industry is challenged with a turnover rate ranging from 80% to 100%, ACIPCO has a turnover rate of LESS THAN A HALF PERCENT PER YEAR!
- In my pre-appearance research on this very unorthodox organization, I included conversations with Birmingham locals at the airport, in the taxi, at several restaurants, and in a major shopping mall. I began to believe that everyone I talked to had been coached before our conversation. It’s very evident that the city of Birmingham respects, supports, and appreciates ACIPCO’s presence.
- I heard only one compliant, but I heard it several times. People wanting to go to work at ACIPCO must expect a long wait for a job opening. One gentlemen told me that everyone monitors the retiree announcements as well as the obituary page of the local papers because that’s the only way there’s going to be an opening at ACIPCO. I have a feeling that’s a complaint ACIPCO can live with!