Bazemore named Business Innovator
HUNTINGTON -- "Trust in the Lord, and he will direct your path."
Ask Jack Bazemore, president of JABO Supply Corp., what his best advice is -- in business and in life -- and that's what he'll tell you.
It's on that principle that he has raised a family, invested in his community and built a business from the ground up in Huntington. JABO Supply is on the brink of its 50th anniversary, and the wholesaler of industrial pipes, valves and fittings has grown from a four-man operation in an old Amoco service station to a company of more than 80 employees in four locations, including a 100,000-square-foot warehouse/office and 11 acres of yard space in Huntington.
It customizes and sells pipes sized from one-eighth of an inch to 60 inches in diameter to the mining industry and various others. It has done it so exceptionally well that the company was inducted into the PVF (Pipes Valves & Fittings) Hall of Fame last year -- a feat for a company that may not be one of the largest in the industry, but one of the best.
For running an honest, successful local operation and setting a tremendous example in the way of community involvement, The Herald-Dispatch is presenting Bazemore with its 2012 Business Innovator of the Year Award.
This is a man who has opportunities almost weekly to sell his company, but has decided to keep it local and watch it progress as a homegrown, hometown business, said Joe Holley, executive vice president and CFO for JABO.
Bazemore, he said, "knows the product as well as anybody," he said. "He's been in the piping business all his life."
Now 78 and living in Ona with his wife, Lillie, Bazemore founded JABO in 1964 with his brother, Bob. The name of the company is derived from the first two letters in each brother's name.
A Barboursville High School graduate, Jack Bazemore attended Marshall for two years before leaving to start working full time at the Huntington waterworks company C.I. Thornburg in 1953.
"I got married and had to get a job," he said.
Although C.I. Thornburg has been run by great people, Bazemore said, he and Bob were mostly interested in the industrial piping end of the business and decided to venture off on their own.
They started with just two other workers in an old Amoco station at 519 27th St., now the site of Long John's Silvers.
"The first year, we really struggled," Bazemore said. "But then we started growing and adding people."
In 1972, they moved to a 10,000-square-foot space at 600 31st St. and they continued their growth. In 1978, Bob Bazemore died suddenly from a heart attack at age 52.
With the help of loyal employees, Jack has guided the company since, living the motto "service is more than a promise."
Today, Bazemore said he expects the company to do about $38 million in sales, operating out of four locations. Along with Huntington, it has sites in Beckley and Parkersburg, W.Va., and the newest in Norton, Va., opened last year. Another recent sign of growth is a new 10,000-square-foot fabrication shop, where crews customize mostly polyethylene pipe into any configuration a company needs.
"If they can draw it, we can build it," Bazemore said. "We're the only one in the area that has this. It's been very good for us."
JABO has "the best employees in the world -- wonderful," said Bazemore, who these days has scaled back some and works from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily.
Great employees make all the difference, he said. And many of them at JABO have more than 20 or 30 years with the company. When asked why they've stayed so long, they say simply, "It's a great place to work."
Curtis Drown, vice president of Sales and Marketing, started sweeping the floors at JABO 43 years ago and has done "about every job there is here," he said.
"Probably the main thing I've seen over the 43 years is that (Bazemore) treats people not only with an employer-and-employee relationship, but he tries to make people feel part of the organization," Drown said.
Bazemore stays focused on growth and getting better, and told Drown, "As the company grows, you'll have an opportunity to do so," Drown recalled. "I guess I'd be a prime example of that."
Holley has been at JABO 38 years. He may be the chief financial officer at the company, but he said he marvels at Bazemore's keen mind when it comes to numbers.
"He has a unique ability to manipulate and manage numbers in his head," Holley said. "It always amazed me."
Holley said Bazemore is "easy to work with, pretty kind to everyone here -- a little more considerate, probably, than I would be. ... I think he's been more than generous with wages and compensation."
Employees range from age 19 into their 70s because JABO finds value in older employees and wants to keep them, Holley said.
Not quite reaching 20 years with the company but definitely a key figure is Jack's son, Jay Bazemore, vice president, who last year was named chairman of the Industrial Piping Division of the American Supply Association.
"Even though I have strengths and weaknesses as a man, I can attest that many of my good points I adopted from listening to and observing my father," Jay Bazemore said.
He said most of the lessons he's learned from his father came through observation. There have been times when, "especially when I was younger, he has directed several points of view at me, and most of them were not open for interpretation," Jay Bazemore said. "But my father, from an early age, taught me to love and fear God, to always treat people with respect and how to dress appropriately for every occasion, which sadly is becoming a lost art.
"Later, after I had entered the workforce, he taught me that there is only one way of doing business and that is to always be fair, respectful and just. Never do anything someone could interpret as below board."
Jay Bazemore also noticed that his father has "surrounded himself with people of the same character and culture, knowing that having equally intelligent people yielded lots valuable ideas and opinions."
Another lesson has been to speak up and voice his opinion if he didn't want someone else to choose his path, Jay said. His dad also taught him to give back to his community -- not just with money, but time.
That is something that Jack Bazemore has done in abundance.
He's been board president of the Huntington City Mission for 21 years and been a board member since 1974.
"That's my second job," he said.
He's also active in his church community as chairman of the Deacon Board for nearly 40 years at Fellowship Baptist Church. He's participated in national and international mission trips and helped establish a medical mission to India, among other projects.
Bazemore also is a board member for A New Beginning Crisis Pregnancy Center and has been actively involved with United Way of the River Cities, having served as board president and campaign chairman. He also was a charter member of the organization that founded the Yeager Scholarship at Marshall University, is a past board member at Twentieth Street Bank, and is a member of Marshall's Big Green Scholarship Foundation.
"I love doing it," he said of his community involvement. "The community has been very good to us."
In counting his blessings, Bazemore credits his wife, Lillie, as the "best person in the world for me." They have three children -- Jay, Tracy Thompson of Watkinsville, Ga., and Vicki Lemons of Franklin, Tenn. They have six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
"The Lord has truly blessed me, my family and my business," Bazemore said. "I could never thank Him for all he's done in my life."