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The Third Generation of Schad Leadership!


In the 1970’s and 1980’s, the third generation of Schad leadership began to take shape.  After forty years of service by Phillip Schad and his son, Jim, the next generation of leaders would be found in Jim’s two son-in-laws, Jim Choate and Dick Lee.  These two brother-in-laws are who many of Schad’s current customers, partners, and employees have recognized as the leaders of the organization for more than thirty years.

Not surprisingly, Jim and Dick share a lot of observations and opinions about their careers, how the company and industry has changed, and an optimistic outlook for the future of the company.

Jim Choate, Sr.

Jim Choate met Mary Schad, his future wife and the daughter of Jim and Mary Louise Schad, in 1973 in Ypsilanti, Michigan while he was attending Eastern Michigan University.  The two quickly hit it off and before long were married.  Jim quickly began his career at Schad, and credits a lot to his father-in-law, Jim Schad.  “He taught me a lot in the 1970’s.  I really admired his leadership style.  Everybody loved him and he would consider everybody’s perspectives, but was strong enough to make his own decisions and stick with them.”

Jim also spent a lot of time learning the industry from previously featured Schad project managers, Bo Calvin and Tex Jarvis.

Some of Jim’s earliest memories include several projects in the Detroit area converting coal fired boilers to gas, as well as a large heat treat furnace reline for Lear Sigler in Detroit, and two large projects for Grosse Pointe – Clinton Incineration.

Before too long, Jim began to become more independent and started to develop his own areas of expertise.  He developed a lot of contacts and trusted customers, especially in the glass industry.  “I managed to get a project for Chrysler working on their glass bending lears, which are used to bend/curve automotive glass.  I learned a lot and the project went really well.  Before too long I was working on this type of equipment for Ford, Owens Corning, and others,” Choate recalls.  “Strong relationships and trust went a long way.  That trust from the customers is something that I have really valued in my career.”

This professional development led to Jim serving as the organization’s President from 1983 – 1995 and as Vice President from 1996 to present.

In addition to glass, Jim also developed accounts in the metals industry.  Initially in brass manufacturing at several Mueller Brass locations and eventually, in steel, especially re-heat furnaces and galvanizing lines.

When reflecting on his career, Jim is amazed at the opportunities it has provided him to travel and experience things that he would have never done otherwise.  “Refractories are used in so many industries and really are involved in cutting-edge technologies.  I even had a chance to stand on the space shuttle launch pad in Florida!”

Although, he is moving toward retirement, Jim hopes to stay up with the people and projects at Schad and is looking forward to spending more time travelling with Mary and enjoying his children and grandchildren.

Dick Lee

Dick Lee did not envision a career in the refractory industry.  Graduating from Livonia Franklin High School in 1969, “I thought I would go earn a good income in one of the automotive plants, but my dad had other ideas.  He told me I was going to college,” says Lee.  It was at Michigan State in 1972 that he met his future wife, Barbara Schad, another daughter of Jim and Mary Louise Schad.  Even then, he had different ideas and had a lot of different jobs.  “When I graduated, the economy was bad.  I couldn’t get a job.  I took a job as a bill collector for a bank.  That is the worst job I ever had.”  He eventually got into sales with Ralston Purina and Motorola in Iowa and Colorado.  When he married Barbara in 1980, he joined Schad full-time.

When he joined Schad he worked in the warehouse and the shop driving the smaller trucks and making pre-cast shapes prior to going out into the field.  “My first project in the field was a Marathon Refinery turnaround in 1981.”  Eventually, Dick moved into the sales/project management role, where he credits Tex Jarvis, Bo Calvin, Jim Choate, Sr., and George Kitto with teaching him a lot.

Those guys taught him to make cold calls, “chasing smokestacks” as they called it, and eventually Dick began to have some positive results.  “Some of my earliest accounts were heat treat projects for Commonwealth Industries, incineration work at Dow Chemical, boiler work at Detroit Edison, and eventually a lot of multi-hearth and fluidized bed incineration projects,” he says.  More recently, aluminum furnace projects have occupied much of his time.

This work led to Dick serving as company president from 1996 to 2015.  When reflecting on the third generation’s leadership, Dick is, “really proud that we are still here.”  “A lot of the places that we used to work have gone away, but we have managed to survive and even grow throughout the years.”  He is also very proud of the safety culture at the company, and feels it is one of the biggest changes since he began his career.

Dick thinks it is humbling how hard people have worked for the company over the years and finds the team-oriented nature of construction particularly rewarding.

His advice for current and future Schad employees is to stay focused on being dependable and highly responsive to customers.  While him and Jim Choate, Sr. both agree that business has become much more complicated over the years:  “It is no longer enough to just do a really good job for a customer.”  They feel that ultimately high performance is the path to strong and long-lasting relationships with clients.

As Dick transitions into retirement he is looking forward to staying connected to the company, travelling with Barb, time with his future grandchildren, and walking his dog, Penny.

“I really wish Jim Schad would have been around longer to see this.  He would be really proud of what we have accomplished and really excited about the future at Schad,” said Jim Choate, Sr.