USGNN Original StoryU.S. Aluminum Celebrates Gene Irwin’s 50 Years in the Industry
September 4, 2009

Gene Irwin of United States Aluminum Corp. in Waxahachie, Texas. is celebrating 50 years in the aluminum industry this week—but there’s no retirement in the plans for him.

Irwin says he began his career as a draftsman for Amarlite Corp. in 1959, adding, “I found an advertisement for them and I’ve been in it ever since.”

From his beginnings preparing shop drawings for storefront products, he later took on customer service and soon became a sales representative for the South Central Region. He progressed steadily from that position to become the vice president of Amarlite Corp., South Central Region, in 1987. In 1989 Irwin became the national specifications manager, during which time he designed and produced a new method to provide architects and customers with product details and specifications for use on computers. He continued to innovate in other roles, including implementing a computerized business program called Material Replenishment Program.

In 1994, Irwin began his employment with United States Aluminum Corp. He worked in the customer service department and as an outside sales representative, calling on existing customers and locating prospective customers. He then took the position of EPG sales manger and now works in the EPG estimating department.

“There have been a lot of changes. Thirty years ago the way aluminum was marketed was entirely different than what it is today,” Irwin says. “Back then, manufacturers only sold to distributors; those distributors then sold to the smaller glass shops in a particular geographical area. Then over time … everybody started selling to everybody, so it changed your whole way of selling. Before you promoted the company and you serviced the distributors, but then once you started selling to everyone … your sales have an entirely different focus.

“The marketing today is different,” Irwin adds. “[Amarlite] did a lot of architectural work where we would call on architects and work with them developing specifications for particular projects and educational-type things. As time changed again, the competitive market made it more where you had to sell every job on an individual job basis rather than selling the benefits of the company.”

Irwin notes, “The complex shapes that we have today couldn’t be extruded then, the technology wasn’t there … It’s a completely different product line today—I have some of the old brochures from during those years and I show that to some of the people today,” he chuckles.

One thing that hasn’t changed, exactly, is the cyclical nature of this industry. Irwin notes that he hopes to continue at U.S. Aluminum, his health and the economy permitting. On that note, he admits he has seen tough times before.

“It’s a cyclical thing, it comes and goes, and some [cycles] are better than others. It’s a challenge to management to try to make the adjustments, because you have to do that but yet still maintain your position in the market,” he says.

Irwin’s 50 years in the industry are hardly going unnoticed. His colleagues at U.S. Aluminum treated him to a special lunch—followed by a surprise ceremony honoring his time in the industry.

“They had my wife and three kids there,” Irwin recalls. “When I went in I was kind of stunned at all these people so they had me sit down in a chair at the front … and I glance up and look and there’s my family sitting there!

“It was quite special,” he adds.

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