With the fairly sudden slump in hotel, condo and apartment construction in South Florida in the beginning of 1975, the three steel mills of Jacksonville found themselves in an uncomfortable position. With tons of steel on order from Europe, ships heading for the Port of Jacksonville with the suppliers expecting to be paid and with production and income down, the mills had to turn to their bankers for help. Ivy Steel and one of the other mills were quite strong financially and could, (and did), ride out the storm but the third mill, Container Wire Company had dramatically over-bought steel and was doing it with borrowed money.
One of my regular golf companions was Rahl George, the Executive VP of Unicapital Corporation, an Atlanta holding company that owned the First Bank of Cape Canaveral, Rhodes Furniture Company, Production Operators Inc. in Houston and Container Wire in Jacksonville. Rahl and I had been talking about the steel glut problem and comparing notes and when I told him I was thinking of resigning from Ivy Steel he made me promise to not take another job until I talked to him again. This led to me being offered the job as President of Container Wire that was to be re-organized and renamed, Adcom Wire Company.
Container Wire had been formed by a Mr Bisplinhoff in the sixties, solely to produce soft, black annealed wire for the wire-bound box industry in Florida. The wire was used to hold wooden slats together to form crates for the Florida citrus crop and was the principal product of the company.
Over the years, they started serving wire customers in all kinds of business and had also added a galvanizing line to sell wire to fence companies. These sales were handled by sales representatives but sales to the wire-bound box industry were handled by Bisplinhoff’s son, Donald. He used his prowess as a golfer and his customers loved to play with him when he called on them. He had been a student at the University of Florida and had made a name for himself in amateur golf in the fifties when he won just about every major amateur tournament in Florida and the South and in one year won both the Florida Open and the Florida Amateur. He was invited to play in the 1956 Masters and was on the 1957 Walker Cup team. He turned pro for a short period and earned his nick-name, “Blister” for being the longest hitter on the tour, but because of his 300 lb bulk, he could not walk four rounds easily and applied for and got his amateur status back.
When I joined Adcom Wire, Mr. Bisplinghoff Senior had died and Donald, who had only been with the company for two years, was acting as its president as well as still looking after the citrus crate builders and also ordering the steel rod. He confessed to me that he was happy to be relieved of all his management duties but he definitely wanted to keep his cliché of box builders and be treated as another independent sales representative which I happily agreed to do.
He also confessed that he had recognized that he was over-ordering tons of steel rod, but was scared of being the cause of certain rod sizes not being available and machines having to be shut down. As a consequence, they had about six or eight months of steel rod supply on order and due to arrive and be paid for in the next three months. I visited the bankers in Jacksonville with Donald and the VP Finance, Tom Ingram and discovered that the problem was far worse than anyone had realized. The bank had actually committed more money to Adcom Wire than the Government established lending limit of the bank and the bank itself was in trouble. This entailed introducing myself to the banks head office in New York where I went with Tom Ingram to explain that we were re-organizing because of the problem and I would be advising them on a regular basis how we were turning steel rod into money. To allow us to keep operating required enormous concessions for the bank to agree to but they understood that the alternative would be that if they shut us down, they would not only own a company yard full of steel but would also own the company. With this realization, they agreed that their best bet was to let us stay in business.
On a later visit to the New York bank with Unicapital’s Rahl George, the bank chairman admitted that they put their faith in the reorganization and they were comfortable about the way we were gradually using the rod and the way we were keeping them advised of our progress. We wound up operating in this way for close to a year, with constant monitoring by bank officials taking monthly photographs of our yard inventory. Two problems arose when we noticed the older rod became difficult to clean off the added rust and when we had to get approval to order some popular sizes of rod when we still had excess tonnage of other sizes in inventory.
While this was going on, I had been learning where our wire was going and what industries we were serving. A first shock one day was when I found our largest customer was General Electric in Kentucky and I expressed surprise that we were shipping this high tonnage so far. I was told for the first time, that we had another wire mill in Nicholasville, KY and it was operating almost 100% for General Electric’s appliance production of wire racks and shelving in their refrigerators, dish washers and ovens. I immediately arranged to visit the plant and spend time with the sales representative who dealt solely with GE. I found a well-equipped and well-run plant that bought mostly domestic steel, acid washed it and had their own wire drawing machines. The sales rep knew his customer and had a fine relationship and record with us and his customer.
Back to family matters, it was near the end of 1974 and Nigel, 20 was going into his third year at Georgia Tech, living in the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity house and paying his own living and car expenses by working at Allastics in the summers. We were paying the college fees which had converted to out-of-state with our Jax move. Nick, 18 was getting ready to graduate from Episcopal High School and was applying to colleges. He was accepted at Emory, Duke and Vanderbilt, all of which Doris and I visited with him. He finally settled on going for a major in English at Vanderbilt and we helped him move to Nashville. Melanie, 16 was still at the public school and was talking about studying Art History at Florida School of Arts on the St. Johns River at Palatka.
We bought Doris a bright red 1974 Buick Apollo and I was driving a company Buick. Nick only had a bicycle for his first year at Vandy but we bought him a used Mercury Cougar and he later had a Cutlass Supreme. When it was college time, we bought Melanie a Chevy Vega. When Nigel made one of his rare visits to Jacksonville, still driving the 1969 Olds Cutlass, we had five cars and a boat and trailer in our back yard. With three of them at college at the same time, our finances got a little strained during this period but in lieu of going on trips, we settled for golf and tennis at Deerwood GC and lots of trips to beaches from Fernandino to Ponte Verde with many visits to St Augustine, just a few miles away, where we got interested in collecting shells.
I got to play some company golf with Don Bisplinhoff at his Hidden Hills Club and on sales calls with him to his 12 to 15 wire-bound box manufacturers and we also hosted a golf tournament for their Association annual meeting. I will describe some of the many things we later did at work, college and at home but it will be another memory for another day.