CEO Sean Wessel and His Father-in-Law, Jim Tims are
at the Helm of this Leading Delta-Based Manufacturer
By Becky gillette • Photography by Holly Tharp
Quality Steel Corp. (QSC) was founded in 1957 by Lowry Tims when he realized he couldn’t find a high-quality tank/pressure vessel in the market. At that time, Tims was in the butane and propane gas business, and realized there had to be a better way to build a pressure vessel. He got into the business of making tanks and QSC was born.
He was joined in the business by his four sons. The company soon gained a reputation for providing a superior product. Over time, one of the four sons—Jim Tims—bought out the other three sons’ shares of the company. Today the company, whose parent holding company is LT Corp., has expanded to do business across the country. LT Corp. now has 427 employees in six facilities (three of those are QSC facilities) in four states (Mississippi, Ohio, Utah, and Pennsylvania) across three time zones.
QSC is headed up by CEO Sean Wessel, who is married to Susannah Tims Wessel, the granddaughter of the founder and daughter of Jim Tims and Frances Tims. Along with Jim, who is Chairman of the Board for LT Corp., and Frances, the four-member board of directors for the family-owned company includes the two Wessels.
“Jim provides much needed counsel to me and the Leadership Team on key decisions and matters that arise and stays aware of any major issues or events, while Frances and Susannah provide support, advice and guidance on various topics,” says Wessel.
Propane tanks/pressure vessels are used in heating homes and businesses, for storing gas used in cooking, storage for fueling generators and other propane-fueled equipment, for outdoor patio heating and cooking, for certain agricultural uses, and in industrial processes, among other many uses.
“The need for pressure vessels has increased over the years as the use of propane in many different aspects has expanded,” says Wessel. “At one point, there were up to forty tank manufacturers in the business. Now, there are probably less than ten, and only a few of those are major players.”
QSC became one of the top manufacturers in the sector in 2013 with an acquisition of the then-current leader in the tank manufacturing business, American Welding & Tank. Internally, they called this the time when “the guppy swallowed the whale”.
“At the time of the acquisition, QSC was a regional player in the tank building space, whereas AWT based in Mechanicsburg, Penn., set the ‘gold standard’ in the industry,” says Wessel. “Today, as a result of the AWT acquisition, we operate one facility in Fremont, Ohio, and another in West Jordan, Utah. In addition, QSC’s sister operating companies include LP Cylinder Services, Inc., a previously family-owned business with two facilities in Shohola, Penn., that provides tank and cylinder recertification and refurbishing services, and Buckeye Fabricating Company, a previously family-owned custom tank manufacturer located in Springboro, Ohio. Both of these organizations also joined our family of companies, led by our holding company LT Corp., through acquisition. LPC was acquired in April 2019, while BFC was acquired in October 2020.”
Wessel says the number one reason for the company’s success is their people.
“Our employees truly make the difference in our ability to provide high-quality products and services with excellent customer service and on-time delivery,” says Wessel. “All of our companies have strong reputations and brand recognition. Having a strong family culture and approach to business has equally made us successful. We treat each other with respect, truly care for each other’s well-being and the well-being of the communities in which we operate.”
LT Corp. provides many of its employees with an Employee Stock Ownership Plan so employees can share in the success of the company they all work so hard to operate.
“Another reason for our success stems from the strong relationships our employees have built with our customers, vendors, and key partners over the years,” says Wessel. “We still do a great deal of our business with a smile and a handshake, and we ‘do what we say we’ll do’ in meeting our obligations—customer’s wishes and demands for our product, as well as in dealing fairly with our vendors and partners. We operate like a family and strive to always treat others the same way.”
The family has found Cleveland a great place for their company to thrive.
“Cleveland is a wonderful community, and we have a loyal and dedicated group of employees who live here in the Delta and who have been with our company for a long time,” says Wessel. “In today’s environment, especially in the Covid-era, we are also able to successfully manage the business with the use of Microsoft Teams video conferencing. The leaders of our company are spread across our national footprint, but video conferencing and an airport reasonably close to each of our locations affords our team the ability to manage and grow this business successfully despite the challenges of operating during a pandemic.”
The biggest challenges they face today include rising raw materials costs (the price of steel has increased 200 percent recently), keeping their people safe at work during the pandemic, and finding and retaining employees.
“We’ve been able to sustain our productivity and meet our customer’s needs through this challenging time by taking care of our employees and by being upfront with our customers about price increases and extended lead times for our product caused by tremendous customer demand,” says Wessel. “We’ve worked well with our raw materials vendors to partner in managing the high costs, and our strong vendor and partner relationships have proven advantageous during these difficult and tumultuous times.”
Wessel says the company’s culture is one of its greatest strengths. While growing as a company, they do their best to stay grounded in their strong family principles and core values which are: Safety First, Integrity Led, Quality Obsessed, Customer Driven, Highly Motivated, and Profitability Focused.
“We strive not to become ‘too corporate’,” he says. “We work hard, but also have fun, and we deeply care about our fellow team members.”
Rising steel costs forced LT Corp. and their competition to raise prices several times over the past year. The company hopes material costs are peaking, and that there is a return to more stability in the steel market as more steel furnaces come online and rational pricing returns.
Labor is a continuing challenge.
“Finding talent has been, and continues to be, extremely difficult,” says Wessel. “We’ve raised hourly wages at several of our locations more than once this year just to be able to compete with the tight labor market. Everyone is having difficulty with finding good team members, and I’m hopeful that we’ll return to a stable labor market in the coming months.”
Wessel grew up in Dothan, Ala., and attended The University of Alabama where he met his wife and received a B.S. in Accounting in 1993 and an MBA in 1995. His background mainly embodies public accounting, including more than ten years with the public accounting firms of Arthur Andersen and Ernst & Young.
“With a strong accounting and auditing base, I migrated eventually into the banking arena working as CFO for a securities brokerage firm, CFO for a growing community bank, and then, in my last role prior to coming on board with the family business, I was the Executive Vice President, Chief Accounting Officer & Controller for a regional, multi-billion-dollar bank headquartered in Spokane, Wash.,” says Wessel. “My father-in-law and I had been talking for a number of years about the possibility of my getting involved with the family business. In 2015, I was working on the acquisition and integration team for my employer at the time, AmericanWest Bank, in order to sell the bank to another company, Banner Bank. I knew that the sale of the bank would likely eliminate my role there, so timing worked out that I was able to assist with the sale and integration with the acquiring bank, and then I agreed to leave to join Quality Steel as CFO in October 2015.”
Wessel ultimately succeeded his predecessor, Virgil Mullins, as President of the company in late 2018, then succeeded his father-in-law as CEO of QSC and President of LT Corporation in 2019.
“We have a wonderful and talented team of people here in Cleveland and across the company’s footprint,” says Wessel. “We’ve been working hard to grow our market share in the propane space, but at the same time working to diversify our interests through acquisition of other complementary businesses. Our team has worked hard to accomplish those goals and to execute our strategic plan.”
Susannah grew up in Cleveland, and the couple married at St. Luke United Methodist Church in Cleveland in 1996. Their three children include Meredith, twenty, a sophomore at The University of Georgia, William, eighteen, a senior at Bayou Academy who plans to attend The University of Alabama next fall, and Patrick, sixteen, who is a sophomore at Bayou.
“Our dog Milo—a ‘Shima’ (shih tzu-maltese mix) is ten, has a cat-like attitude, and keeps everyone in the household in line,” says Wessel. “Our family loves to travel whenever we can. National parks, large metropolitan areas (pre-Covid of course), ballparks, tourist traps, you name it. We also enjoy college football, snow skiing, boating and water activities at Smith Lake (in Alabama), hiking in the mountains of Western North Carolina, and following our kids around with their various sports activities.”
The family attends St. Luke United Methodist Church where Wessel serves of chair of the finance committee. In addition, he is a past president and current member of the Cleveland Rotary Club, current Chair of the Economic Development Foundation Board for the Cleveland/Bolivar County Chamber of Commerce, a member of the Executive Committee of the Cleveland/Bolivar County Chamber of Commerce, and an incoming Board member for the Grammy Museum MS.
“I love getting involved, helping to make a difference, and meeting and getting to know people throughout the Delta along the way,” says Wessel.